The first overall pick of the 2-14 NFL Draft is about a third of the way through the fifth and final season on his rookie contract. It has taken quite a while, but Jadeveon Clowney has elevated his play to become one of the most disruptive defenders in the league. Even through all of the injuries and quick-to-react pundits who called him a “major bust,” Clowney emerged last season after the loss of J.J. Watt as a premier run-stopper and good pass rusher. With all the injuries and doubt behind him, the Texans exercised the fifth-year option on his rookie contract for $12.306 million dollars.
Last year, Clowney put up 9.5 sacks, which was tied for 19th in the league. Clowney made the Pro Bowl for the second time and earned his keep last year. So far this year, he has 2.5 sacks and 12 tackles. Not jaw-dropping numbers, but you have to put his impact into the context of a professional football game. Teams are showing him far more respect this year by constantly double teaming him or chipping him with a tight end or running back. Even so, Clowney bursts through opposing blockers better than most in the league.
A significant portion of Clowney’s contribution cannot be seen on the stat sheet. To account for Jadeveon Clowney means you have to protect yourself from his speed off the edge. By providing the offensive line assistance in blocking him, it gives Houston’s secondary and linebackers one less person to worry about beating them downfield. Especially for teams with an immobile QB, the Jadeveon Clowney Effect is equivalent to having 9 versus 11.
Film doesn’t lie, but stat sheets and numbers are a player’s resume. He only recorded 59 tackles last year for the Texans - fifth best on the team. Last year was the first time in Clowney’s career he playled a full 16 game season. If the Texans want to double down on Clowney, he needs to make it through another season fully healthy and light up opposing quarterbacks while doing so.
The Texans have already placed a serious investment in Clowney’s future. Waiting patiently for years for him to develop and get over injury after injury cost the team several years of quality play while he healed. Watching Khalil Mack, who was drafted later by the Raiders, flourish while Clowney sat on a spin bike during games was tough to watch. Now that Clowney is healthy, the team and fans finally get to enjoy the carnage as Clowney demonstrates the epitome of athleticism on a play-by-play basis
For some, the decision to keep Clowney is predicated on the long-term winning probability of having him on the team. In this line of discussion, it is not just that Clowney makes the Texans better - but does his value make us more likely to win a Super Bowl? Usually, this can be extended throughout the team in the “window of opportunity” debate.
This conversation always comes up when deciding to pay big-time players in any sport. Can this Texans squad or the next five years of this team win a Super Bowl without Jadeveon on the roster? Immediately, my first thought is “no” simply because there is no foreseeable future where the Texans can acquire such a singular raw talent without paying a similar fee for his skills. Combine that notion with the Deshaun Watson rookie contract window, J.J. Watt’s career trajectory, DeAndre Hopkins’ prime, and the other 6-8 vital players on the roster, and you have the makings of a title contender. Therefore if you are going to be “all in” to win it all, you need to have the best collection of talent possible.
The rebuttal to a must-have-Clowney debate is the route the Texans took in 2011 when they signed Daniel Manning and Johnathan Joseph at the same price tag as one Nnamdi Asomugha. Remember him?
Side bar: You’re telling me the Texans’ front office actually made a good free agent decision? I am, BRB reader.
Clowney has stated that he wants to be paid in the same ballpark as Khalil Mack and Aaron Donald who both signed mega-deals this offseason. To do so would cost the Texans a legitimate fortune
Aaron Donald became the highest paid defensive player in the NFL with a six-year, $135 million dollar contract guarantees Donald $87 million to continue to play in Los Angeles. The next day, the Bear’s newly acquired linebacker Khalil Mack penned in a $141 million dollar contract with $90 million of guaranteed.
With either Aaron Donald or Khalil Mack’s contract, you could pay the entire Texans’ offensive line and then have several million dollars left to buy a house in River Oaks. Imagine spreading over $100 million dollars over a few new offensive tackles, a young cornerback free agent, and some depth at safety? Weighing the impact of several dependable free agent signings over keeping Clowney is a true test of this team’s values.
There are a lot of varying opinions on Clowney’s future in Houston, whether to eat the fruits of our labor and patience or spread the wealth to multiple positions.
The question is whether, with the current level of play we are seeing from Jadeveon Clowney, is he playing at a level worthy of a maximum contract.
Though we do not have the full answer yet, at least we know what Clowney thinks:
“Hopefully, they lock me in. I want to be here forever. I know it will come soon. It would mean a lot.”