Though the NFL draft had concluded, Seahawks fans woke up Monday with a feeling of anticipation.
Was it going to be the day something would finally happen with Jadeveon Clowney?
Many wondered if the team’s moves the day before — releasing veteran offensive linemen Justin Britt and D.J. Fluker — foreshadowed a deal with Clowney. The two moves cleared out about $12.2 million in salary-cap space, and some wondered if the Seahawks were prepping to make a major addition.
Monday also marked the end of the date when signings would impact the formula for awarding draft picks as compensation for free agents lost for the 2021 draft, which wouldn’t influence Seattle’s efforts to re-sign Clowney but was thought might impact those other teams around the league trying to land him.
But Monday came and went with no action on the Clowney front, and no apparent indications that there had been any appreciable movement toward a signing.
In fact, one report — from veteran NFL reporter John Clayton of ESPN 710 Seattle, who also is part of the Seahawks’ gameday broadcast team — indicated nothing had changed at all from Clowney’s standpoint.
Clayton reported Clowney might wait “for months’’ to sign, having not gotten offers close to his original asking price in the $20 million-a-year-plus range, and willing to wait until NFL restrictions related to the novel coronavirus clear up enough to make visits to team facilities to take physicals.
That corroborates what has been the conventional wisdom for a while now. Clowney is willing to play the long game.
Interestingly, Clayton also reported that Seattle’s offer is thought to be in the $15-16 million range and not the $13-15 million that some had speculated.
And indeed, the general thought around the league is that right now, Seattle’s offer to Clowney is likely the best he has. But, it also isn’t quite what he wanted, which has helped lead to the stalemate that currently exists.
So why wouldn’t Clowney just take Seattle’s offer if it’s the best he has? As noted, since it’s not what he really wanted, and because he hasn’t been able to take physicals, he might think a better offer could still come down the road.
Sure, Seattle could put a deadline on Clowney at some point, and as general manager John Schneider said after the draft, the Seahawks did tell Clowney a few weeks into the free-agent signing period that they were going to have to begin filling out the rest of their defensive line, which they have done by signing veterans Bruce Irvin and Benson Mayowa and then taking two other rush ends in the draft (Darrell Taylor and Alton Robinson).
Both Schneider and coach Pete Carroll indicated that Seattle has yet to give the free agent a deadline, and might never.
“If there’s an opportunity that makes sense, we’ll dive back in and pursue it,’’ Carroll said Saturday of Clowney.
So, the Seahawks will apparently continue to keep tabs on Clowney.
As Pro Football Talk noted Tuesday, Seattle could have extended a “May 5’’ tender on Clowney, as the New York Giants did Monday with linebacker Markus Golden (that deadline, previously listed as being May 5, had been moved up and passed on Monday. The NFL on Tuesday released the names of players who had not been tendered, with Clowney’s included).
The tender is rarely used — it had last been used in 2017 — and is somewhat complicated. But in essence, it would have meant Seattle would have to pay Clowney $16.5 million in 2020 but that he could continue to negotiate with other teams until July 22 or the beginning of training camp, whichever is later.
By enacting the tender, if he signed elsewhere, then Clowney would count against the comp-pick formula. That wouldn’t have helped Seattle since the Seahawks don’t appear in line to get any comp picks whether they got one for Clowney or not because of the additions they made in free agency.
But it could be have been viewed as dissuading other teams from making an offer to Clowney since it could impact their comp picks for 2021. That could have been a factor specifically with Tennessee, which has been thought to be a team interested in Clowney. As of now, the Titans are in line for a third-round comp pick in 2021 for the loss of tackle Jack Conklin, and the passing of Monday’s date means the Titans could now sign Clowney and not worry about any impact on that pick.
Pro Football Talk noted that Seattle not wanting to use the tag indicates its offer is less than $16.5 million a year (110 percent of his 2019 salary), the amount the tender would assure Clowney (though it’s also worth remembering any one-year offer means all the cap hit has to be taken in 2020 and Seattle would likely prefer more cap flexibility).
Seattle, though, also promised Clowney when he signed that it would not use a franchise tag on him. Seattle could view this as being similar, though the tender wouldn’t have restricted Clowney other than extending the comp-pick eligibility period. And it could have set a market for him at $16.5 million for the 2020 season.
But that’s moot now with the passing of the deadline, meaning Clowney is now completely free and clear.
As for the timing of the moves with Britt and Fluker and suddenly clearing up a bunch of cap room, the reality is that Seattle has always had access to the cap space it needed to re-sign Clowney. Seattle can also make other cap-clearing moves like converting some of Russell Wilson’s $18 million salary for 2020 into a bonus, which would spread out the cap hit through the life of the contract and add up to $13 million in cap space.
Seattle on paper has roughly $22 million in cap space after the moves with Fluker and Britt. But in reality it has less. Irvin’s contract, for instance, has yet to go through and is thought to be $3 million at least.
Seattle also has to carve out $3 million or so for the bonuses for rookie contracts, and all teams have to keep $5 million or so for things such as the practice squad and injured reserve. Seattle also might be on the hook for a $1.2 million injury payment to Britt unless he signs elsewhere since he was released as injured due to the knee injury he suffered last October.
In other words, Seattle would have to make another cap-cutting move if it were to suddenly reach a deal with Clowney.
One other reason for the timing of the Britt/Fluker moves is that Seattle simply needed the roster spots as it opens its offseason program. Teams were able to sign undrafted free agents once the draft ended, and Seattle was reported to have deals with at least 15 players. The cuts Sunday put Seattle’s roster at 76. Teams can have up to 90 total players on their roster. The Seahawks also likely wanted to set the roster as much as possible before beginning the offseason program, which began with some virtual meetings on Monday.
Making the moves then allowed the two vets — each players the Seahawks appreciated greatly — to get into another camp as quickly as possible, and in time for offseason programs to begin.
That happened Tuesday with Fluker as it was reported he will sign with the Baltimore Ravens.