So I'm back after two weeks in the woods in upstate New York, and like any two week period on the sports calendar, there has been some things that have changed and some that have remained the same over the first half of July. An example of the former would be the Rockets — when I finished up my show on Friday, June 28 (the last time I was on the air on SportsRadio 610), the pressing question was "Will Jimmy Butler be a Rocket when I return from vacation?"
Well, not only is Jimmy Butler a member of the Miami Heat, but Russell Westbrook — RUSSELL FREAKING WESTBROOK — is a Houston Rocket. It's occurrences like this that make two weeks out of the mix feel like two years. Man, will this NBA season be interesting, or what?
As for the latter scenario, things remaining the same, the Houston Texans and Jadeveon Clowney remain in their staring contest over a long term deal. The deadline for the Texans and Clowney to get a multi-year deal done, given that the Texans have placed the franchise tag on the sixth year defensive disrupter, is today at 3 p.m. Central Time. If 3 p.m. comes and goes, the two sides cannot ink a long term agreement until after the 2019 season ends.
All signs right now point to Clowney's playing the 2019 season on the one year, $15.9 million guarantee that the franchise tag for linebackers brings, and then seeing where the chips fall after that. All signs also point to Clowney's not showing up for anything Texans-related until right before the paychecks begin flowing (Week 1 of the regular season). So as the smoke of passive aggressive acrimony continues to billow between the two sides, here are my thoughts on the current Clowney situation:
Bill O’Brien can’t hide behind the “Well, that’s the GM’s decision.”
One of the big stories during my two week hiatus was the report from Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio that Clowney's contractual future was a point of contention between head coach Bill O'Brien and since-terminated general manager Brian Gaine:
Per a league source, former G.M. Brian Gaine and current head coach Bill O’Brien disagreed on whether to make a long-term commitment to the first overall pick in the 2014 draft. With Gaine now gone, O’Brien’s preferred approach prevails.
It's not clear if O'Brien's stance was an unconditional "no" to signing Clowney long-term, or a more nuanced desire to bring back Clowney on a more reasonable contract than the dollars Clowney's camp seems to be seeking. What we do know is that the Clowney questions during training camp media scrums should give us at least a couple really good O'Brien sound bite moments, and the tension once Clowney does show up should be palpable. JUICY! Remember, the Texans are operating without a general manager right now, so O'Brien's hands would appear to be tied as it pertains to "bad copping" the front office by saying something like "Hey, sorry John, contracts are something that our front office and cap experts figure out. I just coach the guys."
The early part of the season is now a major concern
If Clowney does skip camp and comes back just in time for Week 1, I can't help but think about a number I saw from Pro Football Focus on Twitter late last week:
If Jadeveon Clowney holds out of training camp, it may lead to a slow start to the season for the second consecutive year.— PFF HOU Texans (@PFF_Texans) July 13, 2019
Over his first three games of 2018, Clowney posted a 64.3 grade, before leading all Texans defenders with a 90.5 grade for the remainder of the season.
It took Clowney until Week 4 last season, following a training camp in which he did very little other than rehab injuries on a side field, to get untracked. Once he hit his stride, he was tremendous, but there was noticeable rust. The Texans open the season with New Orleans on the road on a Monday night, a crucial early season division home game against Jacksonville, and then on the road against the Chargers in Week 3. They NEED a fully engaged and activated Clowney for those games.
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There is hope, though, that a slow start might be avoided
If we are looking for reasons why Clowney can hit the ground running in 2019 without the benefit of training camp, I would say there are two reasons to hold out hope. First, he is healthier now than he was last offseason, when, as I mentioned earlier, he was relegated to side field drills at training camp. Second, according to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle, in an effort to add some edge rushing weaponry to his arsenal, Clowney is reportedly working out at a pass rushing camp run by, among others, future Hall of Fame pass rusher Julius Peppers. We will see how it translates on the field, but at the very least, it's a sign that Clowney fully recognizes just how huge this season can be for him financially, once the 2020 offseason rolls around.
So, what is happening with Clowney this time next year?
Knowing that the odds are very heavy that the die is cast for 2019 — I'd be shocked if there were an outcome other than Clowney playing the 2019 season on the tag — what do we think happens with Clowney next offseason? One year from today, I think there are only four reasonable scenarios that will have played out with Clowney. Here they are, along with the odds of each happening:
* Jadeveon Clowney is traded before the 2020 NFL Draft ... +150
This is the favorite for me, especially if the Texans continue to evolve their football philosophies with a New England-style slant. Sometimes, when trying to read O'Brien, just ask yourself "What would Belichick do?" The answer here is "No chance he'd pay Clowney $100 million. Better chance he'd try to stockpile a few nice draft picks in 2020." Under this scenario, the Texans would use a second franchise tag on Clowney and then work with him to find a new home.
* Jadeveon Clowney and the Texans reach a long-term deal .. +200
If Clowney has a 2019 that is drama free, and more importantly, a 2019 that is full of elite pass rushing numbers, then maybe O'Brien changes his tune on paying top dollar for Clowney. I still think there's a decent chance they'd tag him and trade him, even if he had, say, 14 sacks, but a long term deal is still a definite possibility.
* Jadeveon Clowney is sitting at home on his second franchise tag .. +400
I feel strongly that we will not be sitting here a year from now having this same conversation about Clowney sitting at home on what will be a nearly $20 million tag next offseason. I'd be shocked.
* Jadeveon Clowney suffers an injury that seriously devalues him, and the Texans let him walk ... +2000
While Clowney has been the closest thing the Texans have had to an "iron man" (this side of DeAndre Hopkins, at least), medicals will always be a concern.