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BRB GroupThink: Revisiting The Jadeveon Clowney Trade

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A look back at last August’s wild decision.

Jacksonville Jaguars v Houston Texans Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

We are now nine months removed from the Texans’ decision to trade Jadeveon Clowney to the Seattle Seahawks. Immediately before the season started, the Texans sent Clowney to Seattle for Jacob Martin, Barkevious Mingo, and a 2020 third round pick that became Gareon Conely. Today, Martin and Conley are still on Houston’s roster. Martin is an interesting pass rushing prospect who needs to get on the field more. Conley is slated to start at outside corner again this season. Mingo signed with the Bears after blocking a punt that was returned for a touchdown in the AFC Divisional Round against Kansas City, which made the Clowney trade completely worth it for a brief instant of time.

Clowney is still a free agent after not understanding his real value. A reported demand for $20 million per season has allegedly dropped down to $16 million and may even fall below that before he eventually signs with the Titans, Browns, Colts (help us all), or wherever.

Looking back on this trade, what grade would you give it now? Do you feel better or worse about it? Do you think the Texans “won” this trade? These are the questions I asked the masthead. Below are their answers.

MATT WESTON:

Deshaun Watson makes deontology a failed school of philosophical thought. Intentions don’t matter. There is no such thing as a bad process. Watson can turn any mismanagement, playcall, or severing of talent from the team’s roster into a successful season. He can put the team on his back with eye gouging passing touchdowns, teleporting out of the pocket, and consistently hitting downfield passes.

The Texans won 11 games in 2018. They won 10 games in 2019. When looking at the team’s win-loss record from last season, the Clowney trade wasn’t disastrous, it wasn’t horrendous. It didn’t matter much at all.

From a performance standpoint, however, we know this to be untrue. The Texans’ pass rush was nonexistent as soon as J.J. Watt went down. Teams could slide their pass protection to double D.J. Reader. Whitney Mercilus couldn’t beat single blocks; all that wide looping went from high impact to meaningless. The kids tried and often were stuck playing patty-cake. Romeo Crennel had a top ten blitz rate in 2019. He tried everything. None of it really worked.

The Texans had lost Watt before. The previous two seasons, he sat on Injured Reserve and Houston survived. The difference between then and 2019 was the Texans had Clowney. Clowney could carry a front seven and decimate offenses by being football spectacular, not box score spectacular.

Without Clowney, the Texans lost their bridge to sustain competency along their defensive front. This led to a horrendous defense. When Crennel’s defense gets pressure, it’s really great. When it doesn’t, it’s really bad, and it was even worse when the cornerback group talent was as thin and injured as it was last season. Without Clowney, Watt, and Kareem Jackson, the Texans didn’t create the same negative plays in the run game they did in 2019.

The stats speak for themselves. The results are clear. Houston’s defense was worse last season without Clowney. The only aspect of their defense that improved in 2019 was their deep pass defense, schemed by Crennel with off-man and quarters coverage to bend like a Hot Wheels racetrack. Their all-time great run defense dropped from first to 22nd in defensive DVOA. Their pass defense DVOA dropped from 19th to 26th. They were last in the league in yards per attempt against the short pass. Their pressure rate dropped from 20th to 26th. Their adjusted sack rate from 13th to 29th. Tremendous fell to below average. Passable fell to among the worst in the league.

Although the win-loss record didn’t change much, Houston’s defensive performance did. The reason why the win-loss record stuck was because Deshaun Watson led the Texans to a 9-3 one possession record thanks to MVP level heroics.

Sure, Jacob Martin is tantalizing and could become an Elvis Dumervil-ish pass rusher if he gets strong enough to develop an inside move. Sure, Conley was passable as an outside corner despite joining the team midseason; he’d get beat and chase back to play the ball extremely well. But neither player has the play-by-play and week-to-week impact on a game that Clowney has—sack totals be damned.

The trade was bad then. The trade is bad now. The trade will always be bad. You just have to dig under the overall record and look at the results.

MIKE BULLOCK:

Taken at face value, without knowing all the goings-on behind closed doors at NRG Park, the Texans certainly lost this trade. A generational talent, a first overall draft pick, sent to another team in exchange for one guy Seattle was most likely about to waive, a prospect, and a third round pick the Texans sent to Oakland for Conley really makes no sense, no matter how you spin it. The fact the Texans had to pay $7 million of Clowney’s 2019 salary to make it happen takes things to a whole new level of ludicrous.

Playing the movie forward from before the trade occurred, we could see a few different possibilities:

1. Clowney holds out all of 2019, Houston doesn’t have to pay him since he held out. He hits the free agent market this offseason to learn what he’s learning right now. Houston doesn’t gain Conley directly in this manner, but they could have landed him otherwise if he was that coveted a player.

2. Houston “overpays” to keep Clowney happy. He helps wreck some games in H-Town and takes some of the weight off J.J. Watt, potentially extending Watt’s career. People think Bill O’Brien is dumb for overpaying Jadeveon, but B’OB laughs about it as the Texans retain a key player in their dominant front seven and advance to the AFC Championship Game (and maybe further) after holding their lead over the Chiefs at Arrowhead.

3. Houston trades Clowney sooner, before the contract extension deadline passes for franchise tagged players, to a team willing to give up more than a third round pick. In this world, Houston doesn’t have to pay part of Clowney’s 2019 salary. Maybe they land a second round pick or a player of need at another position somewhat equal to Clowney’s play level. At least a starter at another position.

The theory of what actually happened that makes the most sense is O’Brien didn’t want to pay Clowney what he was asking for, so he engineered a deal to trade Clowney and other assets to the Dolphins for Laremy Tunsil. Once Clowney refused to go to Miami, O’Brien felt like Jadeveon made him into a fool and B’OB cut bait, grabbing the first deal put in front of him by a team interested in JD’s services.

The Clowney trade, Tunsil trade, and DeAndre Hopkins trades are all forever intertwined into the same mess of bad roster management. When giving up two Pro Bowl players and multiple high round draft picks, a team should receive more in return than one Pro Bowler and change.

TEXANS THOUGHTS:

At first glance, I was beyond furious with the trade. Clowney had become my favorite player and his potential was still sky high. I saw no reasoning behind it and was emotional about it for days, weeks, and months. I still don’t like that the trade happened. If we could get Clowney back, I would do it in a heartbeat.

That being said, after seeing what Gareon Conley and Jacob Martin have brought to the table, along with the fact that Clowney has not re-signed with Seattle (or any team for that matter), it leads me to believe the Texans actually won this trade. Watching Conley’s film, it’s clear to me that he is the best CB on this roster. If played primarily in press man coverage, he can be the best member of the Texans’ secondary next year. Yes, better than Bradley Roby and even Justin Reid. He’s that good.

I can’t ever say enough about future MVP and DPOY Jacob Martin. How do you put into words such greatness? I will not even attempt to delve further into his capabilities. He is Jacob Martin. Enough said.

Getting these two players for someone who wasn’t going to play for us and we would’ve lost anyways is a great return, and warrants getting the label of a “win”.

BFD:

Even in retrospect, the Texans clearly lost this trade.

At this point, the Texans dearly lack in playmakers on the defensive side of the ball. Our two best pass rushers are both on the wrong side of 30 years old, one of whom is incapable of winning one-on-one battles.

To top it off, the Texans were playing to win in 2019. You don’t trade literally your most impactful defense player and receive little in return. Oh, he’s not a difference-maker? Look at the sacks? Clowney pulled double team pressure off Watt the last three years, and he was clearly the primary focus to stop with the Seahawks last year.

Jacob Martin is a nice rotational player, but he’s not a starter. Gareon Conley is, at his best, a below average CB, and we would have been better off taking a CB with that third round pick in the draft (under a competent GM, I should add).

Sadly, Bill O’Brien favors HIS idea of what a football player should be rather than their performance or talent.

Bill O’Brien is simply too emotional to be a head coach in the NFL.

DIEHARD CHRIS:

There is literally nothing now that changes anything about this garbage trade. The Texans wanted to trade Clowney. I don’t like it AT ALL, but fine - you can trade him. The issue is with the timing. They sat on their a$$es and waited until they lost their leverage when this could have been done sooner and undoubtedly gotten a better haul. I’m sorry, but it’s that simple. That’s how shoddily Bill O’Brien performs his (at the time unofficial) GM duties.

The trade was an F then, it’s an F now, and it will always be an F.

What do you think of the Clowney deal nine months later?