As the Texans continued to ready themselves for the 2019 regular season over the last several days, all seemed to be pretty quiet on the Jadeveon Clowney front. The sixth year outside linebacker has been sitting at home with an unsigned $15.9 million franchise tag tender, and presumably was ready to return to the team after the third preseason game. In other words, as holdouts go, Clowney's had been fairly drama free.
Then in the middle of last week, trade rumors began to swirl, to the point where a deal was reportedly agreed to with the Miami Dolphins that would have sent Clowney to South Beach. Clowney, however, nixed that deal, as the Dolphins wanted some assurances Clowney would sign a long-term deal with them after the season. (By rule, he cannot sign a long term deal right now, with the Texans, Dolphins, or anybody else. More on that in a moment.)
Then, came this scud missile from John McClain of the Houston Chronicle on Tuesday afternoon:
I’ll be surprised if Jadeveon Clowney isn’t traded. They need an upgrade at LT to protect Deshaun Watson. LTs don’t grow on trees so I have no idea who it would be at this time of year.— John McClain (@McClain_on_NFL) August 13, 2019
The follow up to this news came Wednesday morning in Bill O'Brien's daily training camp media session, where this exchange occurred:
Do you feel like DE/OLB Jadeveon Clowney will play for the Texans this season?
"Again, we haven't seen him since the end of the season, so I really don't know. I can do my best to answer your question, but I really don't know. When he arrives, we'll handle it when he arrives, but that's his prerogative. He doesn't have to be here right now. That's part of the franchise tag and all of those different things, so we'll do the best we can."
Are you aware of all of the speculation about DE/OLB Jadeveon Clowney getting traded?
"No, not at all."
Do you have anything to say about the DE/OLB Jadeveon Clowney trade rumors?
Are you still expecting DE/OLB Jadeveon Clowney to report to camp?
“At some point, yeah. At some point he'll come in I believe, but that's up to him."
So now, somehow, some way, we are down a rabbit hole in this Clowney situation where the Texans are feverishly attempting to trade one of the 50 or 60 best players in all of football for what would likely amount to a moderate upgrade over their current starter at left tackle, Matt Kalil, a player for whom a cardboard cutout of another player would represent a moderate upgrade currently.
So much to unpack, so let's go....
Why now for a Clowney trade?
This is the most head scratching (and depending on the outcome of all this, infuriating) part of this whole saga. The Texans could have moved Clowney before the 2019 draft to any number of teams (Kansas City, the Frank Clark deal, is the template), and while it likely wouldn't have made them a better team in 2019 (let's face it, the likelihood of them getting better by trading Clowney to anybody is slim), they would have reaped some serious draft capital. Once the 2019 draft was over, if they still wanted to move Clowney, they could have tried to do so before July 15, which was the deadline under which Clowney could agree to more than a one year franchise tender offer of $15.9 million, but unfortunately, the Texans were spending the weeks leading up to July 15 explaining the sleekness of their new GM-less structure to the world.
Once July 15 came and went, and Clowney's ability to commit long term to the Texans or a trade partner went away, so did the Texans' bargaining power. Yet, here we are, with Bill O'Brien, de facto general manager, dangling the fourth best player on his team like it's a flea market or something. Any trade of Clowney in the next three weeks will be Bill O'Brien's testimony to his life as a Texans' employee, it's THAT defining a move. Again, IF it happens. I am not as certain as McClain that it will.
Watt and Clowney both chasing big dollars
So I put a poll up on Twitter yesterday morning as the trade winds continued to swirl, simply wanting to know if Texan fans wanted to see Clowney get a long term deal from the team:
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As it turns out, most of them, a slight majority, do. Personally, I believe that Clowney's biggest issue in getting paid is, ironically, his teammate, J.J. Watt. I think whatever issues Bill O'Brien has with Clowney's work ethic stem from a constant comparison to Watt's ungodly thirst for intense labor. I also believe that, functionally, when it comes to the salary cap, Watt and Clowney are chasing the same pile of long-term guaranteed money. Watt has two seasons remaining on his current deal after 2019, but if he makes first team All Pro again in 2019, like he did in 2018 — and spoiler alert, he has looked even BETTER in camp this year than last year — then I think the Texans redo his contract for one final deal to ride out his last handful of seasons for big money. In turn, I think having huge guaranteed money doled out to two guys who are both essentially in the same position group is suboptimal to the Texans. It's just one more reason we find ourselves here.
Whitney Mercilus, come on down!
One other thing that must be mentioned — Whitney Mercilus is having a tremendous training camp. He looks as healthy as he's been since before his pectoral injury in 2017. In 2018, Mercilus was used very strangely as a sort of hybrid inside linebacker, while Watt and Clowney did most of the work off the edge. Clowney's absence has allowed Mercilus to move back to his more comfortable position on the outside, and he's taken good advantage of the opportunity. The Texans probably know Mercilus is not a full on, mirror copy replacement for Clowney, but if they feel he can give them, say, 75 percent of what Clowney does, then that factors into their motivation to move Clowney. I'm not saying that makes sense, I'm just saying that I could see them thinking that way, that Mercilus (who is in a contract year himself) feels like he has something to prove.
What is the best case scenario in all this?
I still think that it's going to be hard to find a suitable trade offer, even for O'Brien, whose motivation to move Clowney is, at the very least, disturbing. My hope is that, come three weeks from now, Clowney reports to the Texans to play 2019 on the franchise tag, the Texans' upgrade at left tackle is Washington's Trent Williams (7-time Pro Bowler), acquired with some high 2020 draft capital, and then the Texans' recoup said draft capital by tagging and trading Clowney following the 2019 season. That's my hope. My FEAR is that, within the next few days, I an writing a "4 Winners, 4 Losers" post about Clowney being shipped off for the 43rd best offensive tackle in the league.