It was on cutdown Saturday in 2019 that Jadeveon Clowney officially became a Seahawk, Seattle pulling off a trade with Houston that barely beat the 1 p.m. roster deadline.
It was on cutdown Saturday in 2020 that Clowney officially became a former Seahawk, again in a move that went down to the wire, Clowney finally agreeing to a deal with the Tennessee Titans late Saturday night.
Clowney agreed to a one-year deal reported to be worth at least $12 million with incentives that could push it to $15 million.
He also seriously considered an offer from the New Orleans Saints, who, as revealed in an NFL.com story Sunday afternoon, went to extreme lengths to try to get him. In an attempt to try to create the cap space to fit him, the Saints were apparently trying to work out a deal with the Cleveland Browns to have the Browns sign Clowney, then trade a second-round pick as well as a player to Cleveland.
In exchange for the pick and the player, the Browns would have been on the hook for $5 million of Clowney’s $15 million salary.
The NFL apparently nixed the idea with the league not wanting to set a precedent of a team basically making a trade for cash and cap space.
So, Clowney heads to Tennessee with the Titans officially announcing the deal Sunday morning.
The Seahawks were said to have been in contact with Clowney throughout, with NFL reporter Josina Anderson tweeting that the Seahawks were “calling late” into the night.
But the general portrayal is that by Saturday it was pretty much a two-team race between the Saints (Clowney had dinner with coach Sean Payton on Friday night) and the Titans.
As reported by Anderson, Clowney said one reason he chose the Titans was “familiarity,” meaning a return to being coached by Mike Vrabel, now the head coach at Tennessee and the former Texans linebackers coach and defensive coordinator from 2014 to 2017 when Clowney had seasons of nine and 9.5 sacks.
The Titans also apparently told Clowney that if all goes well, they’ll maybe try to re-sign him to a richer and longer deal a year from now.
Of course, that was the thought a year ago when the Seahawks traded for him with the hope that it was the beginning of a long-term relationship.
That it ended after a year will continue to raise questions. So for one last time as Clowney’s Seattle tenure officially becomes history, here’s an attempt at some answers:
What was Seattle offering?
When Clowney became a free agent March 18, sources indicated Seattle gave him several different offers. The most reliable number for what Seattle offered at the top end is close to $16 million per year.
Clowney is thought to have not even really considered it, not really engaging with the team in negotiations at that time, hoping he’d get a blockbuster deal in the $20-21 million-a-year range.
Seattle’s initial offer essentially went off the table after a few weeks when the Seahawks decided they had to move on and begin spending money to sign other players.
The most reliable number on what Seattle was offering at the end was $12 million.
As has been well detailed, Clowney proved incredibly patient (or foolhardy, maybe, depending on your view), hoping the blockbuster deal would still materialize, having at one point turned down an offer from Cleveland thought to be almost $19 million a season.
Left with few choices remaining as the season neared, Clowney eventually settled for a deal less than what the Browns offered, but, as noted, in a familiar defense with the hope to parlay that into a bigger deal next year (though that’s taking a risk with the uncertainty over what the salary cap will look like with revenues sure to decline this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic).
Why didn’t Seattle just give him a bigger offer?
One reason is that his role — and thus, the team’s view of his value — changed a little during his year in Seattle.
When Clowney was traded to the Seahawks, the thought was he would largely play the LEO or rush-end spot in Seattle’s defense, the role played previously by the likes of Frank Clark, Cliff Avril and Chris Clemons, who all had double-digit sack seasons with Seattle.
Clowney talked excitedly at the time of playing again in a 4-3 defense and being able to concentrate more on rushing off the edge than he had in Houston, where he played in a 3-4 and at times had to drop into coverage.
But Clowney ended up playing more of Seattle’s strongside defensive end spot, or five-technique end, often then moving inside on passing downs — essentially the role Michael Bennett filled for years — finishing with three sacks in 13 games.
Seattle viewed that as Clowney’s role going forward should he have stayed and valued him accordingly, meaning just a little less than the market for elite edge rushers. (Bennett’s last Seattle contract after the 2016 season paid him $10.5 million per year.)
There was also the matter of Clowney’s health — he missed three games late last year with a core muscle injury that required surgery and wasn’t really the same after he suffered the injury against the 49ers on Nov. 11.
Those reasons may not satisfy some fans who wonder why Seattle didn’t just try to top Tennessee’s final offer (though that would have required some salary-cap juggling and maybe getting rid of a player or two as Seattle was listed as having just a little over $15 million in available cap space as of Sunday).
Anderson hinted the Seahawks made a strong push at the end. But the Seahawks have also generally stuck to their valuations of players and not let any one salary disrupt their long-term models much.
It’s also unclear exactly how enthusiastic Clowney really was about returning to Seattle, despite public comments at the end of the season, especially after the Seahawks’ initial offer wasn’t what he was expecting.
And given that Clowney had just three sacks last season (the fewest of his career other than his abbreviated rookie year) and the way his free agency unfolded, he also may have wanted to go back to Vrabel’s 3-4 defense in which he had success in Houston, hoping for some better sack numbers heading into free agency again next year.
Can the Seahawks win big without him?
That will now be the, uh, $15 million question. As many have pointed out, while Clowney was spectacular at times last season, Seattle had the worst defense since the first year of the Pete Carroll era.
As noted, Clowney would likely have played mostly at the five-tech defensive end spot. Seattle feels it has upgraded its rush end spot greatly with the signings of Bruce Irvin and Benson Mayowa and the addition of rookie Alton Robinson (and eventually Darrell Taylor).
The five-tech spot will be manned mostly by Rasheem Green, L.J. Collier and recently signed Damontre Moore.
The Seahawks also could still land someone like free agent Clay Matthews.
Seattle also made heavy investments to improve its secondary with trades for Quinton Dunbar and Jamal Adams, who account for almost $7 million in cap space this year.
Not that the Seahawks couldn’t have found a way to still fit Clowney in, but the rest of the offseason might not have unfolded the exact same way had they signed Clowney for, say, $21 million in March, which is what it appears it would have taken to get it done then.
Ultimately, that’s a choice the Seahawks made.
How Clowney plays and how many games the Seahawks win over the next few years will provide the true reckoning of that decision.