Q: Did Sunday’s news that the Texans are going to pay roughly half of Jadeveon Clowney’s salary for 2019 make the Seahawks look like even bigger winners in their trade with Houston than everybody already thought?
A: Undoubtedly. But don’t just take our word for it. That’s also the view of a few NFL salary cap experts — former agent Joel Corry who now writes for CBSSports.com, and Jason Fitzgerald of OvertheCap.com.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before for a franchise (tagged) player,” Fitzgerald said of the report Houston will pay $7 million of Clowney’s $15.9 million salary in 2019. “Teams do pick up salaries before executing a trade but those are generally for failed/overpaid players you are desperate to move on from and the only way to find a taker is to make the salary more reasonable. But for a player like Clowney, that is basically unheard of to have to pay a team to take him. It’s a no-brainer trade for Seattle.”
Said Corry: “That part was more of a surprise than anything else. The initial thought was, ‘well they (Seattle) are having to take on basically $16 million in cap space.”’
Instead, Houston agreed to the stipulation to make the trade — evidence of just how bad a situation the Texans had gotten themselves in by tagging Clowney, then letting it be known they were interested in trading him before he signed it.
That, Corry said, gave Clowney zero reason to want to sign the tag.
And Clowney not signing “was like giving him a no-trade clause,’’ Corry said. “If you are going to move him, at least don’t tip him off so he can sign the tender (first).’’
That Clowney was able to essentially veto any trade meant Houston’s options were severely limited, one reason the Texans agreed to pay part of his salary. The Texans apparently decided they just wanted to get the Clowney situation settled before the regular season began.
“They handed him leverage on a silver platter and he exploited it,’’ Corry said.
That leads us to question No. 2 …
Q: Clowney also got the Seahawks to agree to not place another franchise tag on him in 2020 – how rare is that?
A: Corry said no player playing on a tag has gotten a team to agree not to tag him again since Albert Haynesworth with the Titans in 2008. Haynesworth became a free agent the following year and signed with Washington.
The combination of Houston paying some of the salary and Seattle agreeing not to tag Clowney “makes this the most unusual’’ franchise tag tender Corry said he has ever seen.
It also makes Clowney come out as one of the clear winners of this situation, though Corry said few, if any, other teams would handle such a situation similarly in the future, specifically in waiting to try to trade Clowney until after the passing of the July 15 deadline for teams to negotiate long-term contracts with franchise tagged players.
Not that Seattle didn’t get a clear win. But Corry also said the fact that teams could no longer negotiate a long-term deal with him means there was going to be a pretty limited market.
But that also added to Clowney’s leverage.
“Hats off to him,” Corry said. “He got it (Seattle agreeing not to tag him).”
Q: What are the odds Clowney stays in Seattle beyond the 2019 season?
A: That Seattle can’t wield the franchise tag over Clowney might lessen the odds.
But, as Corry and others note, the worst-case scenario then would be Clowney signing elsewhere and Seattle getting a third-round pick in 2021 as compensation, the same round it gave up to get him.
At that point, the trade then would become one year of Clowney for Barkevious Mingo (who was probably not going to make the roster, anyway, and had a $4.1 salary cap hit of his own this year) and Jacob Martin, a promising but still developing edge rusher who was likely to play in a backup/rotational role this season.
Seattle might bank on Clowney liking his experience and all that, but Clowney also has already shown he is willing to play hardball, and ultimately this will probably come down to what it usually does — money.
Dallas’ Demarcus Lawrence is the highest-paid 4-3 defensive end in the NFL at $21 million a season with Frank Clark right behind him at $20.8 million, and Corry figures that’s what Clowney will want.
“The market has been set,’’ he said. “Seattle wasn’t willing to pay it to Frank Clark. Will they be willing to pay it to Clowney if he puts up Frank Clark numbers this season (Clark had 13 sacks in 2018) or are they going to be happy with a third-round pick in 2021?’’
The Seahawks’ answer undoubtedly is that’s something they will worry about later, and that if Clowney truly proves the difference in turning 2019 into a season to remember, it’ll have all been worth it, anyway.
Q: Knowing that Houston paid roughly half of Clowney’s salary, is it anymore surprising that Seattle still cut receiver Jaron Brown?
A: Yes, said Corry, saying he hadn’t initially considered it a surprise but that “I do now.’’
The release of Brown saved $2.75 million against the salary cap and was reported by Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network as a direct result of the Seahawks needing cap space to fit in Clowney.
But his release also means Seattle has only one receiver on its roster who has more than one year’s experience in the NFL — Tyler Lockett — with three of the other five rookies. And that’s with David Moore, the only other receiver on the roster with significant experience, seeming unlikely to play Week One after suffering a broken humerus bone.
But, one thought is that maybe Seattle brings back Brown after Week One when his contract would not be guaranteed or maybe at a lesser number. Brown did not sign with another team as of Sunday night.
Or, maybe Seattle really thinks it can get by with what it has, or will explore other receiving options as the days and weeks progress.
Regardless, the events of the weekend meant that the receiving corps clearly surpassed the pass rush as Seattle’s biggest question mark.
Q: Anything else catch your eye about Seattle’s initial 53-man roster?
A: I’m still wondering if the Seahawks are going to make moves to put a few players on Injured Reserve — players can now go on IR and come back after missing eight games. Two who stand out as candidates are tight end Ed Dickson and linebacker Shaquem Griffin. Dickson had knee surgery early in camp and did not play in the preseason and Griffin is battling a knee injury that caused him to miss two games and forced him to the sideline in the fourth game.
Another is that Seattle kept nine of its 11 drafted rookies on the active roster.
That’s tied for the most draft picks to make the initial roster in the Pete Carroll/John Schneider era, with the caveat that Seattle also tied this year for making the most picks that it had in that time — 11.
The only two choices not on the active roster to start are guard Phil Haynes and defensive tackle Demarcus Christmas, who each remain on the Physically Unable to Perform list and now can’t return until at least six weeks have passed.
The only other time Seattle had nine make it was the famous class of 2012 (Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner, etc.) when nine of 10 made it (the only one who didn’t was the injured Korey Toomer).
Seattle had five in each of the 2013, 2014 and 2015 seasons (out of a combined 28 picks) but has seen almost all of its picks since 2016 initially make it — eight of 10 in 2016, seven of 11 in 2017 and seven of nine in 2018.
Throw in undrafted free agent Bryan Mone and Seattle has 10 rookies on its initial 53-man roster this year.
And that’s a big reason why the Seahawks came in fourth on PhillyVoice.com’s annual ranking of the youngest teams in the NFL, published after rosters were set Saturday, at 25.5 years of age (Miami is the youngest at 25.2 and the Patriots the oldest at 27.0).
So, if the Clowney trade was taken by many as evidence that Seattle is in “win now’’ mode, the roster also indicates the Seahawks haven’t sold out the future.