The list of impact pass rushers still available on the free-agent market has dwindled to a select few, and Jadeveon Clowney remains the biggest domino yet to fall. The free-agent defender didn’t generate the type of market he had hoped for heading into the offseason. Teams have reportedly balked at his injury history—he had surgery after the season to repair a core muscle injury—and inconsistency, according to NBC Sports’ Peter King, and his inability to meet with teams due to the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t help. So instead of the $20-plus million per year he was reportedly looking for, Clowney is now more likely to opt for a one-year deal and hope to hit a bigger payday next spring.
But while the former Seahawks and Texans star has thus far failed to land a new market-setting long-term deal, he is reportedly healthy and brings rare game-wrecking ability―making him a potentially massive steal for the defense that lands him for the 2020 season. Here are nine teams that make sense for the free-agent star.
Clowney reportedly hasn’t shut the door on a return to Seattle, but the Seahawks don’t seem to be actively engaged in contract talks. In recent interviews, general manager John Schneider has mostly referred to the team’s efforts to re-sign Clowney in the past tense―“We took a good run at it; it didn’t happen,” is what he told 950 KJR last week―and there’s no indication that Seattle will be willing to up their offer, which was reportedly in the $13 million to $16 million range for 2020 (in fact, they might bring him back only at a discount).
As we get closer to the season, though, Seattle may need to be the first to flinch in this game of chicken. The Seahawks signed veteran pass rushers Bruce Irvin and Benson Mayowa in free agency in an attempt to add some experience to its stable of young pass rushers, which includes L.J. Collier (their first-round pick from last year), Rasheem Green (a third-rounder in 2018), and a pair of draft picks in Darrell Taylor (second round) and Alton Robinson (fifth round). But for a team that finished 30th in Football Outsiders’ adjusted sack rate and ranked 28th in pressure rate (19.3 percent), taking Clowney out of the equation doesn’t really inspire much confidence.
Seattle has $21.3 million in effective cap space heading into 2020, so there’s still ample room to bring Clowney back on a one-year deal. The Seahawks do have an advantage over most other teams looking to land the free-agent pass rusher because they know how he works in their defense, and they should have more information than most on the concerns around his injury history. Clowney comes with risk, but there’s also plenty of risk for Seattle in not addressing a position of major need.
The Titans fell just short of a Super Bowl berth last year and have a chance to contend in the AFC again in 2020, but the team’s middling pass-rush group could hold them back from that goal. After finishing tied for 13th in sacks (43) and 24th in pressure rate (21.1 percent) in 2019, Tennessee jettisoned longtime star Jurrell Casey and veteran Cameron Wake during the offseason while making just one major move to address the pass-rush need: signing former Falcons pass rusher Vic Beasley―who’s netted just 18 sacks in the past three years after leading the league with 15.5 sacks in 2016. The team can still lean on Harold Landry (who led the team with nine sacks in 2019), Jeffery Simmons (who grabbed two sacks as a rookie) and Kamalei Correa (who chipped in five sacks) to get after the passer, but Clowney could be the piece that puts Mike Vrabel’s defense over the top.
The Titans have $21.4 million in effective cap space to work with in 2020―ninth most leaguewide―and if anyone can figure out how to best deploy the über-versatile pass rusher, it’s Vrabel, who coached Clowney in Houston from 2014 to 2017.
The Ravens are built to win now, with very few obvious roster holes. The offense is led by reigning MVP Lamar Jackson and the already strong defense got an infusion of talent with the acquisitions of Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe during the offseason and the addition of linebacker Patrick Queen (and others) in the draft. But Baltimore could give their defensive unit a 6-foot-5, 255-pound boost in the form of Clowney, who’d pair nicely with Matt Judon (or perhaps just replace Judon, as the fifth-year pro has yet to sign his franchise tender).
The team’s decision to re-sign outside linebacker Pernell McPhee on Tuesday could be a sign that they’re out of the running for Clowney’s services, and Baltimore’s cap situation might limit their flexibility in bidding against other suitors. With just $10.2 million in effective cap space at their disposal, the Ravens would have to get creative with contract restructures or outright cuts if they hope to land the big fish. Where there’s a will, though, there’s a way.
The Colts have pushed their chips all in for 2020―so why not go after another huge win-now option? After signing free-agent quarterback Philip Rivers, GM Chris Ballard made an aggressive move in trading the 13th overall pick for 49ers pass rusher DeForest Buckner, a disruptive and versatile penetrator who can elevate the play of the team’s entire defense from day one. Along with the team’s two second-round picks, receiver Michael Pittman and running back Jonathan Taylor, Ballard has the Colts ready to give its AFC South rivals a run for their money this season.
With $24.2 million in effective cap for 2020 (fifth most), Indy is well positioned to make one more splash in free agency. It’d be a hell of a lot of fun to see Clowney playing next to Buckner and Justin Houston, and he might just provide the boost that unit needs to make a big jump next year.
This one’s pretty simple: The Browns are the big stack at the free-agency table, bringing a league-high $38.5 million in effective cap space to throw around in negotiations. The team’s 2019 acquisition of pass rusher Olivier Vernon hasn’t exactly been a smashing success (Vernon netted 3.5 sacks in 10 games), and while there are indications that Cleveland plans to keep Vernon around for the final year of his deal (at a $15.5 million cap hit), the team could use an infusion of talent opposite Myles Garrett after going in other directions in the draft.
The Lions have a chance to be more competitive this year than some people expect, particularly if quarterback Matthew Stafford plays a full season. The team made strides toward improving its offense by signing tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai in free agency while drafting running back D’Andre Swift and offensive linemen Logan Stenberg and Jonah Jackson. They should also get a big jump from second-year tight end T.J. Hockenson. Defensively, the additions of defensive backs Duron Harmon, Desmond Trufant, and rookie Jeff Okudah along with edge rushers Jamie Collins and rookie Julian Okwara could help turn that unit around in the long term. Grabbing a dude like Clowney, though, would certainly speed that transformation up.
The Lions have $29.4 million in effective cap space for the 2020 season, the third-highest figure in the NFL. If I’m Detroit, I’m asking myself whether it makes sense to waste another one of Stafford’s prime years by hoarding cap space this year.
The Eagles’ consistently stacked defensive line groups were a major factor in the team’s successes in the past few years, but Philly is uncharacteristically thin in its edge rusher depth heading into 2020―especially after mostly ignoring that spot in the draft (they did take pass rusher Casey Toohill in the seventh round). The team still has some options, though: They could re-sign 31-year-old free agent edge rusher Vinny Curry, who notched five sacks last year in a rotational role, or they could up the ante, spend a little bit more, and add a potential game changer in Clowney.
GM Howie Roseman has $23.5 million in effective cap to work with (seventh most in the league), so there’s wiggle room to make a win-now move that could push his defense over the top in the short term. Philly is one of five teams reportedly interested in signing Clowney, along with the abovementioned Seahawks, Titans, Ravens, and Browns.
New York Jets
The Jets are another team with reported interest in the free-agent pass rusher, and a quick glimpse at the roster would tell you exactly why. Veteran pass rusher Jordan Jenkins is the biggest name in New York’s edge-rushing group after netting eight sacks last year, but past him, there’s mostly just a bunch of question marks, including rookie third-rounder Jabari Zuniga. The Jets aren’t exactly one pass rusher away from Super Bowl contention in 2020, so a one-year deal may not be too appealing for the team, but they do have the wiggle room (with $18.3 million in effective cap space) to make a splash and upgrade that defense in the short term.
New York Giants
The Giants were reportedly near the top of Clowney’s landing spot wish list, and if there’s anything that GM Dave Gettleman loves, it’s adding hog mollies to the trenches. On paper, Clowney would be a great fit for what the Giants are building up front: The team has invested major resources in upgrading its interior defensive line―Gettleman grabbed Dexter Lawrence in the first round last year before trading for and subsequently franchise tagging Leonard Williams―and with so much beef in the middle, Clowney would have a chance to wreak some havoc on the edge.
Past the obvious fit, the Giants have a clear need, too: The team signed former Packer Kyler Fackrell in free agency, but still needs more help at that spot. With $15.8 million in cap space to work with, they’re a dark horse in the bidding for Clowney’s services.