The market for premium pass rushers is thin heading into free agency, which is why the potential of Jadeveon Clowney hitting the open market looms so large. The Seattle Seahawks haven’t committed to placing the franchise tag on Clowney, leaving the door open for the three-time Pro Bowl defensive end to test the open market. 

Seattle didn’t trade much to acquire Clowney, which is why they wouldn’t take as much of a hit if he leaves (especially with a high compensatory pick coming back to the Seahawks if he signs with another team). The need for pass rushers is so great in today’s NFL, which makes Clowney one of the top free agents available. 

Elite pass rushers don’t grow on trees, and they certainly don’t hit the market at 27 years old. There will be a long line of teams willing to add Clowney to their roster if the Seahawks don’t tag him. Clowney is an excellent pass rusher, one that immediately can make a good defensive line great. 

Top landing spots for Clowney 

If the Seahawks decide not to place the franchise tag on Clowney, the three-time Pro Bowl defensive end has made it clear he wants to play for a contender when he seeks his next destination. Two teams have already emerged as players for Clowney’s services: the New York Giants and Indianapolis Colts

The Giants have won just 12 games in the past three seasons, the farthest thing from the contender that Clowney seeks. Money does talk and the Giants have plenty to spend, as they look to improve a defense that finished just 22nd in the NFL in sacks last season (36). New York has a projected $85.7 million in cap space (factoring in the $11.8 million cap raise plus the Over The Cap projection), giving them the flexibility to give Clowney an extraordinary amount of cash to lure him to the Big Apple.

The Colts are closer to contention then the Giants are, even if they will be quarterback hunting this offseason in an attempt to make the playoffs for the second time in three seasons. The Colts have even more cap space than the Giants with $97.9 million available, which could entice Clowney to make a return to the AFC South. Clowney is very familiar with the division, having spent the first five seasons of his career with the Houston Texans. Indianapolis would be an enticing destination for Clowney, especially since he’ll get the opportunity to line up opposite of Justin Houston (who finished with 11 sacks last year). 

The market for Clowney would be vast, with plenty of teams that tried to trade for him last offseason emerging in the mix to sign him as a free agent. The Philadelphia Eagles are a team that should have interest in signing Clowney, especially since he fits the team’s formula of signing players heading into their second contracts. Pass rushers are also vital toward the success of Jim Schwartz’s defense, which the Eagles didn’t get enough consistent pressure on the edge last season. The Baltimore Ravens could be in the Clowney market if they decide to trade Matthew Judon (although they are a long shot), while the Miami Dolphins were reportedly interested in Clowney last year before he was dealt to Seattle. 

If Clowney wants to play for a contender, the Seahawks would be at the top of the list to re-sign him. The Eagles and Colts aren’t too far behind. 

  1. Seahawks
  2. Colts
  3. Eagles
  4. Giants
  5. Dolphins
  6. Ravens

Projected market value for Clowney in free agency

The price for Clowney will be high, which is typical when a player is one of the top pass rushers available. Spotrac projects Clowney would make an average annual salary of $20 million a season, which would rank third amongst defensive ends in the NFL. That price tag would certainly benefit the Giants and Colts, teams that have more than enough salary cap space that can pay Clowney that money and still have room left over to make other moves.

Would the Seahawks pay a 27-year-old Clowney $20 million a year? Especially when they are already experiencing a cap hit of $31 million for Russell Wilson and a cap hit over $10 million each for five other players? Seattle couldn’t reach a long-term deal for Frank Clark after the team franchise tagged him last season and decided to trade him, making the deal for Clowney to compensate the loss of Clark. Allowing Clowney to hit the open market would raise his price tag, making it harder for the Seahawks to retain him. 

If Clowney is truly serious about playing for a contender, a discount may come into effect. Perhaps Clowney decides to take $17 million a year in order to stay with Seattle or entice a team like Philadelphia or Baltimore. Indianapolis can pay Clowney as much as it takes to get him, so a discount isn’t needed for that landing spot. Clowney could get the best of both worlds (contender and the money) with the Colts. 

Concerns that could affect the price tag for Clowney

Is Clowney the type of player that actually deserves $20 million a season? The sack totals have never been high for talented defensive end, who has never recorded double-digit sacks in a season (career-high 9.5 in 2017). Clowney only had three sacks last season, but he was also hampered for the majority of the second half with a core muscle injury. Despite the injury, Clowney still finished with 31 tackles, four forced fumbles, 13 quarterback hits and 47 pressures in 13 games. He has also graded well by Pro Football Focus over the past two seasons, excelling against the run as his athleticism has become a disruption for running backs that head toward his gap. 

Despite having just 12 sacks over the last two seasons, Clowney has 122 pressures during that same span. While the sack totals have never been high (just 32 over six seasons), Clowney has a knack for finding the football and does get to the quarterback. If teams are looking for complete edge rushers, there aren’t many better than Clowney. 

Projection: Five years, $95 million ($19 million AAV); $42.5 million guaranteed. 

Scouting report on Clowney (Pros and Cons)

Pros

  • Excellent run-stuffer
  • Strong gap penetration
  • Freak athlete 
  • Exceptional at reading screens and flat routes
  • Hard hitter
  • Knack for finding football and creating fumbles
  • Consistent pressure rate

Cons

  • Low sack rate
  • Double-digit penalties in last four seasons
  • Fined on several occasions for questionable hits

Giants, Colts could have interest in Clowney

February 27: Per ESPN’s Josina Anderson, the Giants and Colts could have interest in Clowney if he hits the free agent market. Clowney recently told Anderson he would “definitely like to return” to the Seahawks, but is also “open to new opportunities if it comes down to that.” 

Seahawks general manager John Schneider already dismissed the notion the front office would tag Clowney when he said he doesn’t expect the Seahawks to use the franchise or transition tag this offseason. Schneider also said the Seahawks “would love to have Clowney back.” Based on the Seahawks’ unwillingness to use the tag at the moment, the franchise would seek to reach a long-term deal with Clowney if they can.

Clowney says he wants to play on a contender

January 13: Clowney told NBC Sports Northwest he “wants to get that Super Bowl,” which is what he’s looking for with his next team. 

“That’s what I’m looking for. Who’s going to get me there,” Clowney said. “I’m not looking to get on no sorry team for no money. That ain’t gonna fly. 

“I’m not going to fight through all that just to lose 16 games and go home with my check. I hate that. That ain’t what I’m doing. If I can’t do that — I’m not going to no team that can’t win.”