In the NFL, while a player's contract is a very personal, seemingly individual thing, every deal near the top of the market has wide ranging ripple effects. You see, signed NFL contracts are like houses sold in a neighborhood — not only do they (hopefully) enrich the person receiving the spoils, but they set the comps for all of the future sellers (or in the NFL's case, signees) in the neighborhood.
So when Cowboys pass rusher DeMarcus Lawrence avoided playing 2019 under his second franchise tag, and signed his five-year, $105 million contract extension last week, with a virtual $65 million guaranteed, every Texan fan should have made like former Texans offensive lineman Wade Smith did on Twitter, and surmised how soon Jadeveon Clowney and the Houston Texans could come to a new contract extension:
So, in the wake of this Lawrence news earlier this week, let's ask ourselves the big questions surrounding the Clowney Conundrum (yes, this whole situation gets proper noun status), as Clowney sits waiting to sign his $16 million franchise tender for 2019:
Where is Clowney's head at right now?
I give Clowney a lot of credit — unlike Aaron Donald, Khalil Mack, and many others, he has not done any negotiating in public. He hasn't gone to the media to express his frustrations (yet, maybe it's coming), and publicly at least, he appears to be an incredibly hard worker, having come back from multiple surgeries (including microfracture knee surgery) and playing with a high motor nearly every Sunday. However, we may get our first Clowney salvo, at last in actions not words, as according to former Texans wide receiver and my SportsRadio 610 colleague Cecil Shorts, who is friendly with Clowney, the sixth year edge rusher has no plans on signing the franchise tender any time soon, until at least July, which is significant because if July 15 comes and goes, the Texans would have to wait until the 2020 off-season to do a long term deal with Clowney. So it would appear that this situation will be topical come next Monday, when the rest of the Texans report for voluntary workouts, the first of several off-season training activities between now and July 15.
What exactly is Clowney's market now?
If you are interested in this contract situation (and if you've made it this far, I would assume you are), read Albert Breer's MMQB column this past week outlining the Lawrence negotiations. It's very detailed and thorough, and the most relevant part to Texan fans is probably this:
After the conference call, the two sides exchanged proposals twice, so four were made in total, on Thursday night. Lawrence and Canter set a goal to get $50 million over the first two years, and $66 million over three. They wound up getting close—Lawrence ended up with $48 million over two, and $65 million over three.
And ultimately, the decision came down to what the player really wanted beyond money, which was to stay put. Earlier in the process Canter sent Lawrence a chart to show how Dallas’s offers stacked up financially against Khalil Mack, Aaron Donald, Flowers and Von Miller.
The same market that Canter, Lawrence's agent, sent to Lawrence in that second paragraph is the same market in which Clowney sits — Donald, Mack, Trey Flowers, Von Miller, and now, Lawrence. To use the real estate analogy again, those are the "comps." Mack and Donald are top of market ($90 million and $87 million guaranteed, respectively). Miller got $70 million guaranteed, but that was over three years ago, so remove him for purposes of this conversation. Trey Flowers got $56 million from the Lions. Clowney is better than Flowers. Which brings us to the Lawrence deal, and its $65 million guaranteed. If I had to guess, and I am purely guessing, I m thinking Bus Cook, Clowney's agent, is asking for something in between Donald money and Lawrence money, like somewhere around $75 million. In my opinion, Clowney is a better overall player than Lawrence, so this extension with the Cowboys should help Cook frame the argument in some way. I'm just not so sure that the Texans see Clowney as a $75 million guaranteed money type of player.
What do Texan fans want?
Good question, Sean! (Thanks, Sean!) Not that it should necessarily affect the Texans' decision making, but the fans seem to think that Lawrence's deal would be a dandy fit for Clowney, and I tend to agree:
The Cowboys gave this contract to DeMarcus Lawrence:— Mike Meltser (@MikeMeltser) April 6, 2019
5 years, $105M
Average annual value: 21M
Cap hits: 11.1, 21.9, 22, 24, 26
Realistic out: 2022
Would you be willing to give the same deal to Jadeveon Clowney?
Shout out to my SportsRadio 610 colleague Mike Meltser for posting the poll, and taking the pulse of the people! Way to go, Melts!
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What's the most likely outcome?
If my guess is accurate and Clowney is already looking for money near the Aaron Donald $87 million neighborhood, this Lawrence contract will probably do little to spur activity, other than provide an absolute floor for Cook's negotiations with the Texans. One thing Breer made very clear in his piece is that Lawrence was looking for more money than he ultimately got, but he wanted to stay in Dallas long-term so he caved a bit and came down on his number.
Whether Clowney would do something similar, assuming his current stance is too high for the Texans, has not been answered (nor asked, as best I can tell). We do know the two sides are talking, to some degree, as Bill O'Brien said as much at the owners' meetings a couple weeks ago, and If indeed, Clowney is looking for the Texans to bump their offer up, then the only thing that may move them is a monster 2019 season from Clowney. I'm talking like the 15 or 16 sack season, J.J. Watt type numbers, that we've all been waiting for.
The most likely scenario to me, long term, is that Clowney plays this season under the franchise tag, plays 2020 under a second franchise tag in the neighborhood of $20 million, and then walks in free agency in 2021. It's just my gut feeling — for some reason, there's a glitch with the Texans when it comes to committing to Jadeveon Clowney long-term, and the Cowboys' marriage with Lawrence isn't going to smooth out that glitch.