Amid the predictable contractual outcome between the two sides, the saga between the Houston Texans and defensive end/linebacker Jadeveon Clowney took some interesting turns on Monday afternoon. The 3 p.m. deadline for a new deal came and went, and to the surprise of virtually nobody, the Texans and Clowney did not agree to a long term contract.
Thus, once his presumed holdout is over, Clowney will return to the Texans before the start of the 2019 season to play under the franchise tag, which right now stands at $15.9 million fully guaranteed. However, one of the intriguing swerves on Monday was the news that the NFLPA would be filing a grievance on behalf of Clowney to try to get his tag upgraded to the more lucrative defensive end number:
The Texans and Clowney went through a similar exercise after 2018, a season in which he played on the fifth year option of his rookie deal at the number for linebackers, but was made whole by the Texans after the season, when they gave him a nice seven figure check to make up the difference between the linebacker fifth year number and the defensive end number. Now, Clowney is looking for similar compensation under the franchise tag.
The other interesting and, perhaps, awkward twist in the Clowney saga is that, after the 49ers reached a long term deal with kicker Robbie Gould and the Falcons reached a long term deal with defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, Clowney will be literally the only player in the NFL to play the 2019 season under the franchise tag. What a bizarre spot for a productive former No. 1 overall pick in the draft.
So now, let the holdout begin, and let's assess the fallout of the confirmation that the Texans and Clowney are basically on a "rent with an option to buy" basis. In my mind, the six people affected the most by this decision, not named Clowney, are as follows:
4. (tie) Drew Brees, Nick Foles, Philip Rivers
For those who aren't intimately familiar with the Texans' 2019 regular season schedule, these are the first three quarterbacks that the Texans will face this season. Let's refresh what happened last season, when Clowney was relegated to tame drills off to the side as he nursed some preseason injuries. He played no real football in training camp. Here were the results:
A holdout would set up the parameters for an equally slow start from Clowney in 2019, and that would be problematic, given the difficulty of those first three opponents and the caliber of the quarterbacks, particularly Brees and Rivers.
3. Whitney Mercilus
With Clowney out of the picture for training camp, it's time for Whitney Mercilus to resume his form of 2015 and 2016, when he combined for 20 sacks over those two seasons. Last year, Mercilus missed all of training camp with a hamstring injury, and then was used in some odd and peculiar ways by defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. Heading into a contract year, the Texans' beef with Clowney is actually a fortunate turn for Mercilus, with a tremendous opportunity to re-prove himself to the Texans' brass.
2. Bus Cook
Cook is Clowney's agent. He is also the agent for such prominent names as Cam Newton, retired All Pro Calvin Johnson, and Hall of Famer quarterback Brett Favre. Clowney is a player who would become one of the highest paid in football, if he were to hit the open market. I would imagine that Cook is already planning for the contingency of some sort of exit strategy for Clowney after the 2019 season, most likely a trade after another franchise tag applied by the Texans. Getting players like Clowney paid the money they feel they deserve on a second contract is the sports agent equivalent of the Super Bowl. This is Bus Cook's Super Bowl.
1. Bill O'Brien
The countdown is on, as training camp begins in just nine days. Presumably, Bill O'Brien will be meeting with the media at the outset of camp, and presumably, the media won't make it more than two or three questions before asking about Clowney. At the combine in February, back when Brian Gaine was still around as the team's GM, O'Brien deferred to Gaine on all things Clowney-contractual. Well, Gaine is no longer around to hand that ball off to. Instead, O'Brien is part of a five-man GM committee. My guess is that all questions toward O'Brien about Clowney's contract will be chalked up to "organizational decisions," and O'Brien won't share any of his personal thoughts on the player or the contract.