RENTON – The first thing Jadeveon Clowney had to do upon his arrival in Seattle was learn the Seahawks’ unfamiliar manifestation of a seemingly familiar defensive alignment.
“I was kind of surprised,” the defensive end admitted Wednesday. “I told them, ‘What kind of 4-3 is this? … This is a different 4-3.’ ”
But by their recent Monday night triumph against the 49ers, Clowney had reached the level of mastery and synchronization that allowed him to play with a zeal unfettered by the burden of overthinking. And he led the entire Seahawks’ defensive line with him to this elusive, magical place, which they hope will now be a recurring destination.
“I think it’s just going to roll over after what we did last game,” Clowney said. “The energy level, it has to be at an all-time high with this team since I’ve been here. It carries over. … We just wanted to have a good time. You could see us excited about it and running around with joy, playing with each other.”
The Seahawks saw what you saw: the sort of disruptive defensive effort in knocking off previously unbeaten San Francisco that was a nostalgic throwback to their recent dominating era. Coach Pete Carroll on Wednesday called it “our best performance, against a really good club” and lauded Clowney’s instigating role: “It was just play after play after play. He had so many impact plays.”
I saw it, too. You’d have to be blind to have missed that which could be quantified by Clowney (five quarterback hits, five solo tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery for a touchdown) and that which was slightly more subtle (the way he altered plays and enabled teammates, without tangible statistical evidence).
And I’ve seen enough of Clowney through 10 games — his oversized role in filling a vital defensive position, his growing comfort with the Seahawks’ system, his visible happiness with the team and city — to say this: The Seahawks should do everything within their power to make sure this is not a one-off.
When they acquired Clowney from the Houston Texans on Aug. 31 — cutdown day around the NFL, although it turned out to be more like buildup day for Seattle — the Seahawks agreed to not place the franchise tag on him next spring. That was the means to get Clowney to sign this year’s franchise tag, which he had balked at doing with Houston.
The upshot is that Clowney can become a free agent when the new league year begins March 18. The Seahawks can’t even start talking about a new contract until their regular season ends on Dec. 29. But that gives them a window of nearly two months where they have exclusive negotiating rights with Clowney, who turns 27 on Feb. 14 — just entering his prime, in other words.
It won’t be easy to lock down a deal. As Times reporter Bob Condotta has written, Clowney no doubt will seek a deal on a par with the $21 million per season earned by Dallas defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, and the $20.8 million a year by former Seahawk Frank Clark with Kansas City. On a team with quarterback Russell Wilson absorbing a disproportionate amount of the salary cap, it’s hard to fit in another superstar’s demands.
Hard, but not impossible. This trade was a coup for general manager John Schneider, who gave up a relatively minimal amount — Barkevious Mingo, Jacob Martin and a 2020 third-round draft pick. The Seahawks are getting Pro Bowl production in return for two players who weren’t prominent in their plans, and a draft pick that likely would be recouped if Clowney were to leave.
The Seahawks acquired Clowney because, with the contract extensions for veterans Wilson and linebacker Bobby Wagner, they are in win-now mode. And they still will be next year. With Clowney’s acquisition, they took a major step toward filling the huge void left by Clark’s departure. It has played out, though the sack totals are still below desired levels.
However, the struggles of Ziggy Ansah at defensive end, and the inability of first-round draft pick L.J. Collier to find playing time, show that it’s not as easy as just plugging in bodies.
In Clowney, they have done more than that. They have someone who can anchor their defensive line into the future. Locking that down seems a better play than going piecemeal from year to year; Schneider might not find it so easy to unearth the next Clowney if this one walks.
I don’t expect Clowney to give the proverbial “hometown discount.” I’m sure he covets his first chance at free agency, as well he should. But he’s also displaying a genuine fondness for what Carroll calls the Seahawks’ “program” that bodes well for productive talks.
“It’s been wild,” Clowney responded when asked to sum up his three months in Seattle. “This whole experience, this whole year has just been mind blowing for me. From being traded up here to being with this team. … It’s for the good. It was for the good for me.
“I’m loving what the team had to offer, this whole staff got to offer. I’m just trying to fit in, to get in where they want me. I’m just trying help this team win games whatever I can do.”
They’ve won eight out of 10 in 2019. The Seahawks should extend the Jadeveon Clowney era into 2020 and beyond.