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The Texans Need Jadeveon Clowney

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A look at the Jadeveon Clowney contract situation and what a world without him in Houston may look like.

Houston Texans v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

There has been ample discussion during the past season, and even before the season began, regarding Jadeveon Clowney’s future in Houston. Here are the common issues that have been raised:

  • Clowney is going to get paid more money than he’s actually worth.
  • Clowney has a history of injuries that could effect his play later in his career.

Those are the two overarching narratives that have been disseminated in a variety of ways. They focus on comparing Clowney to other top NFL defensive linemen and the contracts they (Aaron Donald, Khalil Mack, etc.) received. This often leads to a discussion about Clowney’s shortcomings, often citing factors like statistical output, which lead to cliché responses such as:

wHeN I tHiNk aBoUt pAyInG cLoWnEe, I aSk mYsElF hOw cAn I pAy sOmEoNe aLl tHaT mOnEy iF tHeY’vE nEvEr hAd a tEn sAcKs iN a sEaSoN?

Anyone who has read anything that’s been written on this website, or any other website about Jadeveon Clowney, should know by now that his value to the team is done a disservice by statistical analysis alone. That being said, he’s ranked in the top 10 of tackles for loss over the past three seasons. I’m aware Clowney’s value can often times be difficult to accurately asses when viewed alongside the number of penalties he has committed. Those foibles do not outweigh his contribution to the Texans or his impact on the opponent on a snap-to-snap basis.

What the Texans are doing with the rest of their roster and their ability to contend for a championship now is the crux of the issue. The 2018 season and the next few seasons with Deshaun Watson playing on a rookie contract comprise the Texans’ championship window. The conditions to get the most out of that window are:

  • Having a talented young quarterback on a rookie deal, which means the Texans have the most important and expensive position in football on a cheap contract for the next few seasons. This financial flexibility afforded by Watson’s contractual situation allows them to address other areas of the team through free agency or taking on veterans with expensive contracts through trades.
  • Having high-end talent at a variety of positions, such as wide receiver and defensive end, hitting the primes of their career.

The unique context of this situation has a trickle down effect upon decisions such as what the Texans are facing with Clowney. To that end, let’s examine the potential pros and cons of different resolutions to the Clowney contract situation and how they would impact a Texans organization that is very much looking to win now.

First and foremost, the Texans aren’t going to trade Jadeveon Clowney. The Texans have already stated that they want to work on re-signing him before the franchise tag deadline. There’s a statement of intent from the Texans that they want to bring Clowney back. Trading him now would mean that something really messy happened in negotiations for Houston to suddenly shift course.

The Texans also aren’t going to let him walk in free agency. If you’re unconvinced by this declaration, allow me to try and convince you otherwise. The Texans have a very, very good facet of their team in their defensive line; it ranked first in adjusted line yardage and 13th in adjusted sack rate according to Football Outsiders. This means Houston’s defensive line is the best unit in the league against the run and 13th in the league at sacking the quarterback.

Jadeveon Clowney’s potential extension isn’t going to drain the Texans completely of the $70+ million they have in cap space this offseason. There will be room to spend on other players, and the Texans will still have access to draft picks they can use to supplement any remaining roster weaknesses they have. Both draft picks and cap space are finite resources, so the less areas of concern you have, the less resources you have to dedicate in order to fix the problem.

Let’s take the Texans’ secondary as an example. It’s the biggest hole the Texans need to address this offseason, so it should get the most amount of resources. Part of resource management is not creating additional areas where resources need to be allocated. If the Texans lose Clowney, they will create another area where resources need to be dedicated. Clowney and J.J. Watt are, according to my expert calculations, 85% of the reason why the Texans’ defense was good. If you take one of those elements away, what are the chances of replacing the lost production and value with a single player while not devoting additional resources that could be used on other positions? The likelihood of that happening is incredibly small. Losing Clowney creates another series of problems, and it would require resources to be used to address the hole on the defensive line his absence would create. That would sap the team of resources it could have used to fix the other holes on the the roster.

Furthermore, the Texans need Jadeveon Clowney. Houston is week in the area of ‘7’ and ‘9’ technique pass rushers, which is where Clowney primarily lines up. This year they book-ended each of their defensive tackles with Clowney and Watt, and that was it. Whitney Mercilus and Duke Ejiofor are both ‘7’ technique rushers who were used sparingly in that role. One wasn’t good or experienced enough to garner consistent snaps at the position; the other had a down year and saw less playing time despite being a permanent fixture in the Texans’ front seven. Keeping Clowney means Houston can maintain the same schematic versatility when they want to slide Clowney or Watt inside and bring Mercilus or Ejiofor to rush the passer. Without Clowney, Houston would have to rely on Ejiofor, a promising but not fully actualized talent, or Mercilus, a 28 year old veteran who disappeared this past season and likely has zero upside, to replace one of the best players in the league at his position. If the Texans had a viable replacement on the roster for Clowney, a discussion might be reasonable. They don’t.

I never thought the keeping-it-simple argument would encompass paying someone an absurd amount of money, but in this case it does. Trading Clowney or letting him walk is a downgrade unless something crazy happens. You’d be throwing away a sure thing for a lottery ticket. I really want to stress this, so I’m going to say this again:

First and foremost, the Texans aren’t going to trade Jadeveon Clowney. The Texans have already stated that they want to work on re-signing him before the franchise tag deadline. There’s a statement of intent from the Texans that they want to bring Clowney back. Trading him now would mean that something really messy happened in negotiations for Houston to suddenly shift course.

Retaining Clowney eliminates a valid concern about how the Texans should maximize their roster. It keeps the defensive line an area of strength on the team. It keeps a top talent at his position on a roster that’s competing for a championship. It still leaves plenty of room for the Texans to use their remaining resources on problematic areas.

Keeping Clowney in Houston doesn’t make the Texans worse. For the Texans’ front office and coaching staff, that’s all that should matter right now.