Despite all the noise of the last two days created by NFL free agency, the signing period didn’t officially begin until Wednesday at 1 p.m.
That’s when teams can officially report signings, and players who are unrestricted free agents can actually sign contracts.
And when it did begin, all eyes in Seattle continued to zoom in on the Seahawks’ efforts to keep Jadeveon Clowney, which may be getting better by the minute as other pass rushers continue to agree to contracts elsewhere, which has depressed the market somewhat for Clowney.
The lack of buzz about Clowney on Tuesday — the second day of the legal tampering period — and that many other pass rushers were agreeing to deals seemed an indication that maybe things were headed in a better direction for the Seahawks to keep him.
That seemed confirmed in a report Wednesday morning from Mike Garafolo of The NFL Network, who tweeted that Clowney, “hasn’t found the market he expected. Could wind up the Seahawks’ offer is the best he’ll get.”
Garafolo later clarified, “To be clear, he’s in line to make a lot of money. But it sounds like his camp’s expectations were at the top of the market, and they’re not there. Not yet anyway.”
Later in the day, Garafolo said on NFL Network that “the offers just haven’t been there yet” for Clowney, who was hoping for a deal that would be at the top of the defensive-line market, or in the $21-22 million range (Garafolo mentioned Khalil Mack and Aaron Donald, who make $23.5 million and $22.5 million, respectively).
Garafolo reported the Seahawks’ offer has been, “on that next tier below that, and that’s pretty good money.”
But that also seems to confirm the long-held suspicions that the Seahawks weren’t going to give Clowney a market-busting deal and were going to try to hold firm to getting him at what they felt was his value, being somewhere in the $18-20 million range.
“He should get a nice deal, but I don’t think it’s going to be top of market and he needs to come to grips with that, I believe,” Garafolo said.
That raises the question of how patient Clowney — who is hitting free agency for the first time in his career — is willing to be. Changes to the free-agent protocols because of the coronavirus, particularly regarding physicals, could drag the process out some, which could also work in the Seahawks’ favor.
Clowney had surgery to repair a core-muscle injury following the 2019 season and teams will obviously have questions about that. In a typical year, Clowney could make a visit and a team could conduct a physical. But because of the coronavirus outbreak, trips are not allowed. A player can have a physical conducted by a local physician and share the results. But for some teams, that may not suffice.
As NFL.com noted, that could mean Clowney might want to — or be forced to — wait things out, especially if he wants to test the market more.
The Seahawks have better info than any other team about Clowney’s physical situation.
And if Clowney just wants to get a deal done now, the Seahawks may be his best choice, especially since it’s unclear when concerns over the coronavirus will clear up and NFL business will be back to normal. (And the issues with physicals almost certainly mean there won’t be as many official announcements of signings this year as many will be done “pending physicals,” and teams will wait to make things official until those physicals can be done, one way or the other).
But Garafolo’s tweet seemed to indicate Clowney may be willing to wait things out and see if the market will develop the way he wants.
The lack of teams that may be interested appeared to shrink during the first two days of the legal tampering period as the Giants, Titans and Colts, who had been thought to be interested, each agreed to terms with other pass rushers. The market got even thinner Wednesday as the likes of Dante Fowler (Falcons) and Leonard Floyd (Rams) agreed to terms.
Garafolo’s report seems to indicate that the Seahawks haven’t yet blown Clowney away with an offer that would have compelled him to immediately agree.
Indications all along are the Seahawks haven’t wanted to go too crazy to keep Clowney — or as the NFL Network put it today “wasn’t going to hit the stratosphere.”
That’s a philosophy that may frustrate Seahawks fans, but it is in keeping with how they’ve always conducted business. The team sets a value on a player and tries to stick to it with an eye on the long haul as even one out-of-line contract in one season can create a domino effect that will impact the team for years.
“It’s not just about this year,” Seahawks general manager John Schneider said at the NFL combine in February when asked about handling negotiations with big-money free agents. “It’s planning for next year and the following year, as well. We have to be cognizant of where we’re going.”
The upshot could be that the market the Seahawks thought Clowney would get is the market he has ended up getting rather than the market he wanted. And all things being equal, you’d assume he’d want to stay.
Given the oddness of this year, the answer may not come immediately. But the first day of free agency could bring more clarity about where things are headed.