How Cap-Crippling Would Jadeveon Clowney's Contract Have Been Before 2011?

If you think the commitment to Clowney was huge at $22 million guaranteed, imagine if there were no rookie wage scale.
If you think the commitment to Clowney was huge at $22 million guaranteed, imagine if there were no rookie wage scale.
Mike Starghill

Two years into the Jadeveon Clowney Experience, this is not anywhere close to where we all hoped we'd be. When the Texans used the first overall pick in the 2014 draft on the supposedly generational defensive end (turned outside linebacker, perhaps part of the problem, albeit a small part, but I digress), it was thought that Clowney and J.J. Watt would take over the free world within a year, maybe two. 

Instead, the payoff for Texans fans for enduring a 2-14 debacle in 2013 has been an injury-prone, largely unavailable player, short on self-awareness and long on a love for playing craps while his teammates are working hard to get better at football. In other words, we are much closer to conversations about where Clowney ranks on the list of overall No. 1 draft busts than we are to talking about what his contract extension will look like down the road.

Which brings me to the silver lining in all of this — Jadeveon Clowney's contract. And when you realize what I'm about to lay out for you is the silver lining, you really begin to understand just how big a failure the selection of Clowney has been. Nevertheless, I'm just trying to make everyone feel a little bit better about this unfolding catastrophe. 

(If this were a television piece instead of a blog post, right here is where highlights of Khalil Mack wrecking shop would probably run, just to remind you how painful coexisting with Clowney's knee is, so.....

.....there you go. That dude was taken four picks later. Let's all light ourselves on fire, Texans nation!) 

You see, in 2011, thanks to the work stoppage that summer, the NFL Players Association and the owners agreed to a wage scale under which rookies would make far less than previous rookie classes. Spending on draft choices, especially in the first round (and doubly especially near the top of the draft), had gotten out of control.

For reference purposes, here are the last six No. 1 overall picks on the old collective bargaining agreement, a list that, conveniently enough, includes the Texans' last No. 1 overall pick before Clowney, defensive end Mario Williams in 2006 (who certainly had his detractors two seasons into his career, but Mario in, say, 2008 feels like J.J. Watt compared to Clowney):

YR  PLAYER, Team Pos                                  YRS   OVERALL $       GUAR $ 

2005 Alex Smith, SF QB                                     6           $49.5M           $24.0M
2006 Mario Williams, HOU DE                        6           $54.0M           $26.5M          
2007 JaMarcus Russell, OAK QB                     6           $61.0M           $32.0M
2008 Jake Long, MIA OT                                    5           $57.8M           $30.0M
2009 Matthew Stafford, DET QB                      6          $72.0M            $41.7M
2010 Sam Bradford, STL QB                              6           $78.0M           $50.0M

Looking at that chart, it's fairly easy to glean why the owners and the veteran players would want to put some control and a slotting system in place for rookies, at significantly less money. I mean...Sam Bradford, $50 million guaranteed...need I say more? And it's not just the amounts, but the year-to-year leaps in guarantees, from $30 million to $50 million in two years between 2008 and 2010. WOW.

And so it was that one of the key components of the new post-2011 fiscal world in the NFL became a rookie wage scale that fully guaranteed the entire, four-year contracts for highly drafted rookies, but reduced their salaries drastically.

As a point of reference, here are the first four No. 1 overall picks under the new collective bargaining agreement, ending with Clowney in 2014:

YR  PLAYER, Team Pos                                  YRS   OVERALL $      GUAR $ 

2011 Cam Newton, CAR QB                              4         $22.03M        $22.03M
2012 Andrew Luck, IND QB                             4          $22.11M          $22.11M
2013 Eric Fisher, KC OT                                    4          $22.19M         $22.19M
2014 Jadeveon Clowney, HOU OLB/DE       4         $22.27M          $22.27M

So how big a bite did the vets and owners take out of rookies' pocketbooks? Well, Mario Williams had more than $4 million MORE than Clowney in guaranteed money in his rookie deal, and he was drafted eight seasons EARLIER. The bigger question right now for Houston is "Just how big a financial/salary cap catastrophe is the new collective bargaining agreement protecting the Texans from, when it comes to Clowney?"

Obviously, it's tough to gauge an exact amount accurately. The best we can do is try to approximate it, knowing the following from the 2005-2010 contracts for first overall picks:

1. The year-to-year increase was much larger when quarterbacks were taken than at other positions. In fact, the overall money, average annual money and guaranteed money went backwards in 2008 when the Dolphins took offensive tackle Jake Long the year after the Raiders drafted the disastrous Russell. 

2. The overall guaranteed money doubled from 2005 through 2010 with quarterbacks on either end of that scale, so the positions for that sample space were like for like at the beginning and the end. That helps. 

3. The percentage of overall money that was guaranteed crept up over time, from about 50 percent between 2005 and 2007 to 64 percent with Bradford in 2010. 

If we use some really rough math here, Bradford's increase three years after Russell was 27.8 percent more overall money, and 56.3 percent more guaranteed money. Russell had 52.5 percent of his contract guaranteed, and Bradford had 64 percent of his guaranteed, as mentioned.

My best guess is the overall money would have continued at a similar level of increase over three more years after Bradford, and the percentage guaranteed would still have hovered around Bradford's 64 percent.

So in 2013, the first overall pick (if he were a quarterback) would have been looking at around six years, $100 million, with about $64 million guaranteed, or what we in Houston call "J.J. Watt money," which shows you how illogical the old system with no rookie scale was. 

So it's safe to say that Clowney probably sees a small bump up off of those numbers in 2014, like a 2005 Smith-to-2006 Williams level bump (a decent estimator since there is position similarity) of around 9 percent. With that in place, here is the Clowney estimate under the old collective bargaining agreement:

Six years, $109 million, $69.8 million guaranteed.

See? Now don't you feel better, Texans Fan?

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at and like him on Facebook at    

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