Today is the franchise tag deadline. Jadeveon Clowney was tagged by the Texans yesterday; the league designated him as a defensive end (though the Texans may try to argue later that Clowney is more of an outside linebacker, which would lower the amount he gets via the tag).
Clowney is currently set to make $17.12 million this upcoming season by way of the franchise tag. The idea here is that Houston has until July 15th to negotiate a long-term contract with Clowney; if they don’t succeed in getting him to agree to a multi-year deal, Houston has him for at least the 2019 season without having to worry about him playing somewhere else.
The Texans and Clowney are nowhere close to reaching a financial compromise at this time after meeting with his agent, Bus Cook, at the NFL scouting combine, according to league sources not authorized to speak publicly. The Texans continue to determine how much to invest on a long-term basis in the former top overall pick from South Carolina.
Meanwhile, Clowney’s camp points to rising costs for elite pass rushers and run-stoppers, including a six-year, $141 million deal for the Chicago Bears’ Khalil Mack and a six-year, $135 million contract for Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, the NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
There are two ways to look at this. Houston may want to take their time with negotiations to wait and see how the rest of their offseason, especially in free agency, plays out. How much money the Texans have or don’t have available after free agency comes to an end may affect their desire to pay Clowney more now to front load a long-term contract. This could be Houston just wanting to get everything else set in place for 2019, to see where Clowney’s contract fits in after the rest of the roster is put together. Once the rest of the roster becomes clearer, they can go all in on making Clowney a center piece of this team.
Or there’s another possibility. Namely, that the Texans don’t see Clowney as worth paying the kind of money it’d take to lock him up for multiple seasons right now. They may not want to give him $20+ million per year after he’s failed to have a ten sack season and has battled injury issues. As great as Clowney is, he still hasn’t fully put it together as an edge rusher. Why not wait and see what he does in 2019? Why not make sure he stays healthy for another year? Why not wait to see if his pass rush improves before going all in and making him a franchise cornerstone?
In Wilson’s piece above, Gaine stated Houston is looking towards coming to a long-term agreement with Clowney:
“We have placed the franchise tag on Jadeveon Clowney, but our goal is to continue to work with his representation on a long-term contract,” Texans general manager Brian Gaine said in a statement released by the team. “This gives us both an opportunity to continue to do so.”
It’s impossible to say what Houston is truly looking to do until more information has been released. I’m assuming they’ll sign Clowney to a long-term deal that’s less than what Mack and Donald received; I think it’ll happen right before training camp begins. If it doesn’t, be on the lookout for Clowney to sit out portions of training camp and preseason, which could hinder his 2019 season. Recall that Clowney sat out all of training camp and preseason last year for health-related reasons; he didn’t really produce until Week Four after missing all that time.
Although Clowney has been tagged, it’s just one step toward the next thing. Count on this being an ongoing topic of discussion and speculation as the offseason progresses.