It says a lot about Jadeveon Clowney’s career that the first thing anyone remembers about him is The Hit.
It’s been nearly seven years since Clowney cracked open the 2013 Outback Bowl like an egg and established himself as a LeBron James–esque pro prospect a full 16 months before he was eligible for the 2014 NFL draft. After being selected no. 1 overall in the 2014 draft, Clowney never quite lived up to the hype he established for himself while in Houston—but I’m thinking about those lofty expectations once again as the pass rusher prepares for his second act. Now, after five years with the Texans, Clowney is on the move.
On Saturday, the Seahawks completed a trade for Clowney, sending a third-round pick, Jacob Martin, and Barkevious Mingo to the Texans in exchange for Clowney, pending physicals. The franchise-tagged player will cost Seattle $16 million this season and cannot be signed to an extension until after the 2019 season is over, but while Clowney may not be the generation-defining talent fans envisioned after The Hit, this is a no-brainer deal for Seattle:
every season in which the seahawks do not completely maximize what's left of russell wilson's prime by any means necessary is a waste and takes us all one step closer to all of our imminent and certain deaths, eat arbys— Danny Kelly (@DannyBKelly) August 27, 2019
Because Seattle would likely get a third-round compensatory pick back if Clowney leaves next year in free agency, this deal carries virtually no risk for the Seahawks. It really is just a matter of how much they want to pay the pass rusher when he’s up for a new contract this year. While the deadline has passed for Clowney to sign an extension, the edge defender was reportedly able to nix a potential trade to the Dolphins by making it known that he didn’t want to play in Miami. All signs point to the defensive end wanting to be in Seattle:
This trade happened due to the unique power Clowney held since he had not signed his franchise tender. The Texans couldn’t trade him without his approval of the team.— Jake Heaps (@jtheaps9) August 31, 2019
He wanted to be a Seahawk and the Texans needed to get SOMETHING in return instead of potentially nothing.
Now the question becomes what kind of player Seattle can turn Clowney into. It’s fair to say that Clowney has hardly lived up to his draft billing, having never made a first-team All-Pro squad in his five-year career. While the defensive end missed 15 games over his first two seasons with various injuries, he returned in the past three to make the Pro Bowl every year. But he’s been far from a world-destroying force in that time: Clowney has never had double-digit sacks or more than 21 QB hits in a season.
But more advanced pass-rushing metrics paint the pro in a more positive light, and he’s coming off a career year: Clowney’s overall 2018 Pro Football Focus grade of 89.5—by far his career high—ranked seventh among edge rushers. In pass-rush win rate, an ESPN metric that measures how often a defender can beat his block in less than 2.5 seconds, Clowney ranked second among defensive ends and outside linebackers last season. Clowney also recorded 58 pressures last season, per PFF, 18th most among edge defenders. Again, that doesn’t exactly sell Clowney as a dominant defensive force, but it does show that, at the very least, Clowney is an effective player coming off the edge. If he can keep playing like that, his sack totals should rise.
Clowney is also an elite run defender. The fifth-year pro was the second-best edge defender against the run last year, per PFF, and has had a better grade in run defense than in pass rushing in each of the past three seasons. Of course that’s not the reason the Seahawks traded for him: Clowney had nearly twice as many snaps where he rushed the passer (581) as he did defending the run (292) last year, per PFF.
Even considering all that, there’s a reason the Texans didn’t try harder to keep the pass rusher and are now offloading him less than a week before the 2019 NFL season kicks off. Part of that is because the Texans literally don’t have a general manager right now, and part is because Clowney wanted a lucrative, long-term deal in place before playing this season. If he were an Aaron Donald type of player, Houston may have given him a giant long-term deal, but he isn’t.
Of course, just because Clowney hasn’t reached his potential yet doesn’t mean the potential isn’t there: The defensive end still has the immense physical gifts and talent that made him such a high-profile draft prospect, he’s coming off a career year, and he’s just 26. The Seahawks also added Ezekiel Ansah in the offseason after trading Frank Clark away to the Chiefs. Ansah came out of college as an unrefined, raw pass rusher but blossomed in the NFL, having recorded 48 sacks in 80 career games. Ansah played in only seven games last season due to injury but has Pro Bowl potential.
If this all works out, the Seahawks could have one of the most fearsome edge-rushing duos in football. And if Clowney never truly becomes the force from The Hit, he still has the makings of a solid edge defender. That player would still be a steal for the price the Seahawks paid.