In one of the most painful offseasons in H-Town sports history, Houston Texans fans have watched J.J. Watt walk away, witnessed the spotlight shone on the Jack Easterby disaster, and suffered through Deshaun Watson’s trade demands, followed by the spate of lawsuits against him. It’s not even April yet. Is it too much to ask to just sit back and watch a team not look like a series of Jerry Springer outtakes? Can we just address the on-field issues and find ways to build a championship roster without all the icky stuff?
Well, in an effort to look at ways the Texans can still improve this offseason, former #1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney is still on the free agent market. Everyone knows Clowney was a generational talent hampered by durability issues. That is most likely why he’s still unsigned. Another reason is too many people seem to think Clowney is a typical EDGE defender, tasked with getting after the quarterback. When you see he’s played seven seasons but only had 32 sacks over the course of his 83 games, of course the math doesn’t add up for someone who’s had so much hype over the course of his collegiate and NFL career.
What so many don’t seem to get is Clowney is not a typical EDGE rusher. He’s a run stuffer. As such, he’s made 255 career combined tackles and 75 solo tackles for loss. His two best career years were his last two in Houston. Then Bill O’Brien shipped him off for [insert your favorite magic beans trade analogy here].
First and foremost, Clowney is a run stuffer.
Exhibit A: The play that put Clowney on the map was a legendary run stop - not a sack.
Last season, the Texans coughed up a league worst 2,564 yards on the ground to opponents. With 493 rushing attempts against the Texans, opposing offensives averaged a whopping 5.2 yards per carry. That’s historically bad. Any play that nets more than 3.3 yards is a positive for an offense, as it allows the team to get first downs, move the sticks, and ultimately get into scoring position. When your defense surrenders 5.2 yards per carry, that means the opponent only needs two average plays to get a first down, not three. No one can win giving up a first down every other play.
Houston certainly needs to address the pass rush, and they have with the addition of Shaq Lawson (though there’s still plenty of work to do there). The Texans also need to stop the run. While Clowney can’t do it all by himself, bringing him back to Houston would certainly help. Over the course of his career, Clowney has played in an average of 11.85 games per season, which means Houston’s run defense would improve in 70% of their games. Bringing him back isn’t a totally unbelievable scenario, either.
The old adage “never say never” exists for a reason.
The Houston Texans made Clowney the first pick in 2014, and he spent five seasons with the team before getting shipped to Seattle.
To say things have changed in Houston since Clowney was there would be an understatement. The coaching staff headed up by Bill O’Brien is gone, and the team just posted four wins while staring down the barrel of the league’s most dramatic rebuild.
But now, the Texans simply need to add talent wherever the roster can get it. A smattering of free-agent signings isn’t going to make up for the loss of J.J. Watt (and others) on a defense that mustered just 34 sacks last season.
A reunion with Houston wouldn’t give Clowney a chance to show out during a postseason rush. But the surrounding pieces might help him squeak out the type of production that leads to a bigger contract next year, and going to an organization he already knows might add a minor boost.
Houston’s front seven currently projects to start Charles Omenihu, Ross Blacklock, Maliek Collins, Whitney Mercilus, Zach Cunningham, Lawson and some combination of Jacob Martin, Duke Ejiofor, Kamu Grungier-Hill, Kevin Pierre-Louis and Christian Kirksey. None of those names deserves a start over a healthy Jadeveon Clowney. None of them would have the same on-field impact.
While it’s highly unlikely the Texans would hand another bag of cash to Clowney, and he certainly doesn’t seem to be a “Jack Easterby guy” (whatever that is), Jadeveon Clowney could make an immediate positive impact on this team. The Texans should pursue him.