Yesterday’s franchise tag deadline came and went, and not only is Jadeveon Clowney not under a long term contract, but from the look of things, Houston never had any intentions of offering him one. At least not one that made sense for #90.
With that comes the fall out similar to what happened with Kareem Jackson, but with a player who is one of the three best defensive linemen in Houston Texans history.
When determining how to apply a franchise tag, the NFL must designate the position the player occupies on the depth chart. Like so many teams before them, Houston is sticking to designating Clowney as a linebacker instead of a defensive end.
NFLPA is anticipated to file a grievance against Texans over the position assigned to franchise DE/LB Jadeveon Clowney, per league sources. The Texans labeled Clowney a “DE/LB”, but a LB tag carries a $1.698 million lower salary with it than the DE tag would. So issues on issues.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) July 15, 2019
Unlike many other teams who have danced this dance in the past, Houston has, for the most part, always designated Clowney a linebacker. A fact most are thankful for as that meant Clowney was trained under former linebacker coach Mike Vrabel, who elevated Clowney’s game with great coaching.
But, from the POV of Clowney’s agent, a guy who almost always lines up on the defensive line, particularly on the edge, is a defensive end. And the stats back that up:
Despite being tagged as a linebacker, Clowney played most of his snaps at defensive end in 2018, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He logged 729 at defensive end, 101 at defensive tackle and 33 at linebacker last season.
Shades of grey abound. And without a general manager to navigate these waters, both sides are probably in for rough seas.
What really seems to be falling under the radar here isn’t the dollars and cents, or lack of common sense exhibited this off season by the Texans front office, it’s the relational damage and undermining-of-potential Houston and Clowney are creating. Let’s face it, we can’t lay all the blame for this situation at the feet of Houston or Clowney; it takes two to tango.
Initial rumors had Clowney sitting out most, if not all, of Houston’s training camp. What does this mean? Expect him to be a bit of a ghost over the first 3-4 games of the season—if he plays in them. He was out last year and didn’t really show up until week 6 against Jacksonville. Yes, he did have two sacks against the Colts in week 3, but those accounted for half of his total tackles for the game - hardly the stuff that screams “pay this guy like the best defender in the NFL.”
Playing that scenario forward to Kickoff 2019: the New Orleans Saints offensive linemen are breathing a sigh of relief, knowing if they can hold off J.J. Watt, Drew Brees can pick apart Houston’s rebuilt secondary all day long.
But that hasn’t stopped him from being far better than many give him credit for:
Last three years Sacks + TFL— Cody Stoots (@Cody_Stoots) July 11, 2019
Jadeveon Clowney - 77.5
Khalil Mack - 73
Demarcus Lawrence - 58
Ages for the above players during those years
Clowney - 23-25
Mack - 25-27
Lawrence - 24-26
So, based on those numbers, there’s no real doubt Clowney is elite, just maybe not as durable as some other top paid defenders.
But wait, there’s more:
Heres’s why the NFLPA is expected to file a grievance on behalf of Jadeveon Clowney: A franchised DE carries a $17.128 million tag; a franchised LB carries a $15.43 million tag. Depending on what position Clowney is ruled to play, there’s almost $1.7 million at stake.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) July 15, 2019
The history of the NFL is littered with cautionary tales of players who had the NFLPA file grievances on their behalf, and stories of these scenarios ending with a happy marriage between player and team are as rare as professional sports championships in Jacksonville.
At the end of the day, Clowney has far more in common with Khalil Mack, and other edge rushers who really are hybrid defensive ends than he does pure linebackers. And, honestly, Houston has enough cap space that they shouldn’t be quibbling over what, in NFL terms, is a paltry sum of $1.7 million.
However, we don’t know if Clowney’s side isn’t asking for a deal the size of what teammate J.J. Watt received, upsized for today’s NFL.
Meanwhile, Houston appears prepared to move into training camp replacing Clowney with just a guy linebacker Brennan Scarlet, according to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle.
With the window of opportunity for the current defensive roster core closing quickly, it’s easy to assume the days of seeing J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney on the field together are coming to an end. Without a general manager in place, and possibly no one in the building who can even properly negotiate a contract the size of Clowney’s, this appears to be the exclamation on an off-season that might go down in history as the worst in the Texans’ brief history.
With most players who languish on a franchise tag leaving the team that tagged them soon thereafter, smart money says the Texans have this season, and maybe next to capitalize on the core of Deshaun Watson, Deandre Hopkins, J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney.
Unfortunately, in the same manner that Houston didn’t properly address their biggest need coming into the off-season, the offensive line, didn’t do enough to rebuild their secondary and failed to capitalize on oodles of draft capital and cap space during free agency, it appears Houston is perfectly content to fumble away the entire 2019 off-season.
With no Brian Gaine, George Godsey, Rick Smith or [NAME REDACTED] left at NRG, escaping the blame of this one is going to be tough sledding.