Coming off of a season in which they led the NFL in players placed on injured reserve, the ironic thing about this Texans' offseason, OTA's, and minicamp, has been the fact that the one player whose physical well being has been most cloudy and most discussed is the one star player who actually played in all 16 games last season — outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney.
Shortly after the 2017 season ended, the fifth year Pro Bowler had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. It was at least the fourth procedure he's had performed on either knee since becoming a Houston Texan in 2014. At OTA's and mandatory minicamp, Clowney was pretty much a ghost. While Deshaun Watson showed off his surgically repaired right knee (sans brace), and while all reports on J.J. Watt are that he is ready to go, Clowney had remained a mystery.
That is, until Saturday morning, where Clowney was representing the Texans at a youth camp in the Texans' indoor training facility, and he let the assembled media know that he is ready to go for training camp, which begins this Wednesday at the Greenbrier in West Virginia:
Clowney showed off his surgically repaired knee, as he ran around gleefully with the kids in attendance:
So this is big. If Clowney's knee is fully healthy with no ongoing concerns outside of normal wear and tear, there are two angles this affects as the Texans begin their bounce back from a 4-12 record in 2017. First, for Clowney personally, this means that MAYBE he gets a new contract done before the start of the regular season. It had been assumed, a few months ago, that one out of the threesome of Clowney, Oakland's Khalil Mack, and the Rams' Aaron Donald would blink and become the highest paid defensive player in the NFL, with the other two leapfrogging him shortly thereafter.
However, this knee injury may have put the Texans in a holding pattern with Clowney, triggering a scenario under which he would play the upcoming season under his fifth year option on his rookie deal (for about $12.3 million). The Texans don't negotiate new contracts during the season, so if there is an extension coming beyond 2018, it needs to happen before the Texans head to New England to play the Patriots in Week One.
The most likely scenario is that Clowney does play it out on his fifth year option, and then we will see if the team is inclined to use the franchise tag on him for 2019, or give him a long-term deal. Frankly, the franchise tag, which would guarantee Clowney a one year deal at around $15 million or so, was made for teams to use on players like Clowney — elite players who have concerning injury issues.
The second angle of a healthy and ready-to-tgo Clowney is that maybe, FINALLY we are ready to see the trio of Clowney, Watt, and Whitney Mercilus unleash terror on NFL quarterbacks for a full season. Since the Texans' drafting of Clowney in 2014, Texan fans have salivated over the vision of all three pass rushers racing to opposing quarterbacks for sixteen games (and maybe more).
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However, Clowney was banged up his rookie year and parts of his second year. J.J. Watt has missed most of Clowney's two healthy seasons in 2016 and 2017. Finally, Mercilus didn't really fully come into his own until 2015, and then he, like Watt, missed most of 2017. Now, heading into 2018, it almost feels like a jinx to get excited about these three, not to mention a secondary that's added Tyrann Mathieu, Aaron Colvin, and Justin Reid.
But I say "Go ahead, Texan fans. Get pumped!" Training camp is almost here. And, apparently, Clowney's comin'.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.