We are now into the month of June, and for the activites on the NFL calendar, there is one adjective change that flips the script on every player attendance issue. Up until this week, the offseason activities were VOLUNTARY (in name, at least). Players could stay away with no ramifications. However, this week, for most teams, the activities become MANDATORY, as in "mandatory mini camp".
So around the league, mere absences are now categorized as "holdouts," like Khalil Mack's in Oakland, for instance:
The #Raiders are not expecting star DE Khalil Mack for mandatory minicamp this week, sources say. That makes him an official holdout as he seeks a lucrative contract extension. A strong stance for the player who has averaged 12 sacks over the past 3 seasons.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) June 11, 2018
Mack, of course, is part of that star studded 2014 draft class that includes other extension-thirsty stars like Aaron Donald, Odell Beckham, and the Texans' own Jadeveon Clowney. Beckham is kind of in his own category, both practically and in his own mind. The fascinating contractual saga over the next few months will star Clowney, Mack, and Donald, the three best defensive players in the class, all likely seeking to become the highest paid defensive player in football.
Of course, the only one we care about in Houston is Clowney, and based on recent interviews with both general manager Brian Gaine and head coach Bill O'Brien, both seem to expect a new deal for Clowney. Here is Gaine from back in April:
"I'm optimistic that something will get done... [I like his] height, weight, [and] speed," Gaine said. "The production, the performance, the pass-rush ability. The guy's a disruptive player. He plays the run well. So we're doing our best to fortify our nucleus of players, and we'd like him to be a part of it."
And here is O'Brien from an interview he did on my radio show on SportsRadio 610 last Friday afternoon:
"He's a guy that has improved every single year that he's been here. He's a guy that's been near the top of the league in tackles for loss, I think he's improved as a pass rusher. I think he will continue to improve as a pass rusher. I know on Sundays, he plays very hard. He's had to deal with some injuries that involve the knee, and that's not always easy to deal with. I know that he's in a rehab state right now, people are asking me a lot of questions about him. I've got a guarantee from him that he will be ready to go on July 25 when we report. I have faith in that, and I know that he will be ready to go, and the more players like him we have on our defense, the better we are going to be."
The phrasing of O'Brien's answer is interesting, in particular the part in bold above. Unlike Mack, who is holding out, and Donald, who actually held out last summer and presumably will again this summer until he gets a deal done, Clowney has at least been in the building. However, he has been working out on his own as he rehabs from minor knee surgery.
It's unclear if Clowney's status of non-participant in drills is being driven by the team or by Clowney's camp, but O'Brien's indication of a "guarantee" from Clowney that he will be ready to go on July 25 indicates, at the very least, some uncertainty over where the whole picture sits. Ostensibly, the uncertainty health-related, but could it be more than that? Could Clowney have similar feelings on his contractual status as Mack and Donald, but he is choosing a softer stance, refraining from a full blown holdout?
For the record, if you're ranking the three players — Clowney, Donald, Mack — based on accomplishment, Clowney is the clear cut third place. The other two are former (or reigning) Defensive Players of the Year. Donald is widely regarded as having taken the "best defensive player alive" title from J.J. Watt once Watt's body began falling apart. Mack and Donald holding out is understandable. Clowney holding out, like actually staying away from NRG Stadium, would be a little less so.
The question becomes "Which camp flinches?" One of the three teams? One of the three players? In an ideal world for everybody, the Texans would get Clowney's deal done first and then Mack and Donald can fight over who surpasses Clowney by more. My guy Troy over at Texans Cap came up with this hypothetical Clowney deal:
Now that both sides have made comparisons against other market players, both in contract value and NFL statistics, the two sides can submit their proposed contracts. Both the player & organization will have goals to achieve on such a large contract. The player side will be attempting to become the top of the market contract, while the organization is likely trying to keep the value lower. After completing negotiations the two sides could agree on the following terms:
Total Value: $94,500,000
Length: 5 years
Average Per Year: $18,900,000
Signing Bonus: $12,000,000
Full Guarantee: $42,000,000
Total Guarantee: $56,750,000
2 Year Cash: $43,000,000
3 Year Cash: $58,250,000
Summary: 2018, 2019 base salary fully guaranteed upon signing. 2018 roster bonus of $6,000,000 becomes guaranteed 3 days after signing. 2019 roster bonus of $4,500,000 becomes fully guaranteed on November 15. 2020 base salary guaranteed for injury at signing, becoming fully guaranteed on the 5th day of 2020 league year. $500,000 annually in roster bonus paid per game active for 2018-2022.
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Cap space isn't an issue for the Texans. For 2018, Clowney already counts over $12 million on his fifth year option of his rookie deal. So tack a few million more onto that. With the space they still have (over $30 million), they will likely front load Clowney's deal so that his cap figure remains reasonable as he ages, an important consideration for a guy who's had three documented knee surgeries.
I doubt anything happens soon with any of the three players, and with Clowney, I doubt anything happens until they know they have the 2017 version of Clowney intact. Until then, the three way dynamic between the trio of stud 2014 draft picks will look a lot like this:
Aaron Donald, Khalil Mack and Jadeveon Clowney waiting for someone to sign a contract extension to set the market for highest paid defensive player in NFL history. pic.twitter.com/ajQpW0BGsr— Joe Marino (@TheJoeMarino) June 7, 2018
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.