The bidding is about to get serious for the top NFL free agents.
And the Seahawks’ marquee player who can become an unrestricted free agent next month — 27-year-old defensive end Jadeveon Clowney — let it be known Thursday that he’d like to return to Seattle but is open for business, as well.
In his first comment since the end of Seattle’s season last month following a divisional playoff loss to Green Bay, Clowney told ESPN’s Josina Anderson on Thursday: “After spending the last year in Seattle and seeing how they do things, I would definitely like to return. However, I’m also open to new opportunities if it comes down to that.”
And two of those potential new opportunities, according to Anderson, could be the Giants and the Colts, which she said each are thought to have interest in pursuing him.
That Clowney said he would look around, though, is about what you would expect an impending free agent to say, especially with free agency getting ever closer — players’ agents can officially talk to other teams March 16 and sign contracts beginning March 18.
If you really want to parse comments, Clowney’s statement to ESPN mentioned nothing about winning, which he said last month would be a big factor in his decision.
“I just want to win. I’m trying to get to a Super Bowl, by any means,” Clowney said in the locker room following the loss to the Packers. “That’s what I’m looking for. Who’s gonna get me there? I ain’t looking to get on no sorry team for no money. That ain’t gonna fly. I ain’t gonna put my body through all that just to lose 16 games and go home with my check. I hate that. That ain’t what I’m doing.”
But people’s definitions of a winning team can vary (and great players usually assume their presence will make a big difference), and dollar signs always speak loudly this time of year.
Clowney’s statement at least seems to indicate that, all things being equal, he’d like to stay in Seattle. And Seahawks general manager John Schneider said this week at the NFL combine that the team would want a chance to match any offer Clowney gets elsewhere.
Clowney’s statement, though, also confirms that nothing has really happened yet. Earlier this week, Schneider indicated as much when he said the Seahawks would meet with Clowney’s representatives in Indianapolis, a sign that no real talks had occurred to this point.
That’s no surprise, either. It’s long been assumed Clowney would hit free agency and test the market — he basically acknowledged that would happen when he asked the Seahawks for a promise not to place a franchise tag on him as a condition of his contract following his trade from Houston (and Schneider said at the combine the team would not use its tag this year).
Impending free agents may also be waiting to see if a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) gets approved and now that might impact things before getting too far along in contract talks.
The Seahawks hope the initial conversations with Clowney’s people in Indianapolis will help clarify what he is looking for and where his market may go.
Anderson reported the Giants and the Colts are two teams expected to make a run at Clowney.
Neither really fits the “winning team” definition — the Colts went 7-9 last year and the Giants 4-12 — but each has plenty of money to throw around.
The Colts have an estimated $86 million in effective cap space, the second-most of any NFL team, according to OvertheCap.com, while the Giants have almost $74 million, sixth-most.
And as mentioned by John Clayton of ESPN 710 Seattle and the team’s radio network, another team that could pursue Clowney is the Carolina Panthers, who play close to Clowney’s hometown of Rock Hill, S.C. (the Panthers are planning to build new team headquarters there). The Panthers have about $34 million in cap space.
The Seahawks are listed as having $43.6 million, 17th most, which takes into account the recent signing of tight end Greg Olsen, who has a salary cap number of $6.9 million for the 2019 season, the seventh-highest of any Seattle player.
The Seahawks are expected to create some cap space with the likely release of tight end Ed Dickson, which would give them an extra $3 million, and could make some other moves to also open up some space.
But it won’t be easy to keep Clowney, who is thought to want at least the roughly $21 million a year that was given to the likes of DeMarcus Lawrence and Frank Clark last season by the Cowboys and Chiefs (Clark getting that much only after he was traded to Kansas City by Seattle, which didn’t want to go that high to keep Clark).
And if it comes down simply to money, there will undoubtedly be some stiff competition for Clowney’s services, with his comment to Anderson on Thursday letting the NFL world he’s going to take calls.