Whether defensive end Jadeveon Clowney re-signs remains the biggest question facing the Seahawks as free agency looms ever nearer.
But an ESPN report Monday is the latest to suggest Clowney could well be headed elsewhere when the free agent signing period begins March 18 (teams can legally talk to agents March 16).
According to a report from Dan Graziano and Jeremy Fowler on ESPN Insider, “It’s unlikely Seattle goes to $18 million to $20 million per year for a player who had 3.5 sacks in 2019. The Seahawks value him highly but don’t want to break the bank.’’
Clowney pretty much wants to break the bank, per the ESPN story.
“Clowney could be looking to try to blow the top off the edge-rusher market, especially if so many of his fellow free agents are getting franchised,’’ ESPN wrote (and it was reported Monday that at least one potential free agent defensive end will get franchised — Jacksonville’s Yannick Ngakoue — which guarantees him $19.3 million in 2020 and takes one edge rusher off the market, though the Jags could try to trade him).
If Seattle doesn’t want to break the bank for Clowney, ESPN suggests there might be teams that will.
“Two teams that could give Clowney what he wants and pry him from Seattle: the Colts and Titans,’’ ESPN wrote.
The timing of this report is interesting given that the Seahawks were expected to talk to Clowney’s representatives last week in Indianapolis.
The Colts also were rumored as a potential suitor for Clowney last week. With a listed $86.1 million in cap space — second-most among NFL teams — they have the resources to do it.
The Titans are something of a new entry in the Clowney sweepstakes but fit two categories that might make it possible: having cap space and being a winning team. Tennessee, which advanced to the AFC title game last season, has roughly $50 million in cap space, though it must sort out what to do with two of its own free agents, quarterback Ryan Tannehill and running back Derrick Henry. Tannehill seems a likely candidate for a franchise tag.
The New York Giants and Carolina Panthers — who play roughly 24 miles from Clowney’s hometown of Rock Hill, S.C. — also have been reported as possible suitors.
But if Seattle is truly not willing to go to $18 million to $20 million for Clowney, then he might well have played his last game as a Seahawk. It’s seemed obvious all along that Clowney is going to want to try to get at least the $21 million a year Dallas gave DeMarcus Lawrence last year, and basically what the Chiefs gave to Frank Clark after acquiring him in a deal with the Seahawks.
Seattle coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider each said last week at the NFL scouting combine that they hope Clowney returns.
Schneider even went as far as to say they’d be open to telling Clowney to give them the last chance to match any offer he receives — not necessarily a novel concept, true, and maybe something he’d say about just about any free agent, but interesting nonetheless.
Schneider, though, also sounded a warning to those wondering if the Seahawks were indeed willing to break the bank to keep Clowney.
Schneider noted the Seahawks have a bit more cap flexibility than some years — a listed $44.6 million by OvertheCap.com as of Monday afternoon.
But he then added, “It’s not just about this year. It’s planning for next year and the following year, as well. We have to be cognizant of where we’re going.’’
Indeed, Seattle always has taken as big of a picture approach to its player acquisition as possible to try to fulfill what Schneider said has always been his biggest goal — to be “a consistent championship-caliber football team.’’
That philosophy has helped Seattle make the playoffs eight of the past 10 seasons while usually retaining a pretty admirable cap situation.
Consider that as of Monday, the Seahawks have just $822,167 in dead money for the 2020 season, seventh-least in the NFL, or meaning money that is promised to players who are no longer on the roster (receivers Gary Jennings and Amara Darboh, each waived before finishing out their four-year rookie deals).
Maybe some would think this would be the year the Seahawks would go bigger than usual — and who knows, maybe the Seahawks will defy what is in the ESPN report — especially after Russell Wilson said earlier this year he thinks Seattle needs to acquire some superstars this offseason.
But the reality is Seattle has always done what it could to acquire superstars (consider trades for Percy Harvin, Jimmy Graham, Duane Brown and Clowney himself), and hasn’t been shy about paying big contracts to players it deems worthy (both Wilson and linebacker Bobby Wagner are the highest-paid players at their position in NFL history and Richard Sherman was when he re-signed in 2014).
“We all want superstars,’’ Schneider said last week in Indy. “We all want great players. I think Pete would say the same thing. I stay awake at night, my gut churns all the time thinking about how we can improve in every aspect of our football operation.’’
The Seahawks all along took into consideration that should Clowney leave they would likely be in line for a third-round choice as compensation in 2021, as they are expected to get a third-round pick this year for the departure of Earl Thomas last spring (with the choices taking on a little more perceived value now that they are tradable).
But the loss of Clowney would leave a big hole in a defensive line that is already regarded as the number one area of need for the Seahawks heading into the offseason.
And if signs continue to indicate that Seahawks fans shouldn’t be surprised if Clowney indeed turns out to be something of a one-year rental, all we really know for sure at this point is that Schneider’s churning gut will get even more of a workout the next two weeks as the Seahawks try to figure out what to do.