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Could the 49ers' Jadeveon Clowney Rumors Be Real?

The 49ers allegedly reached out to Jadeveon Clowney. Does this rumor have any merit to it, and how could it fair?
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Early Friday morning, a report came from thepick6 Twitter account that the 49ers reached out to Jadeveon Clowney, and “seemed to be just testing the waters, and nothing is imminent.”

You may have not heard of the up-and-coming thepick6 twitter account, but it had the scoop on Clowney in March before anyone else. 

A source close to the situation told me, “I don't believe there was an offer exchanged or anything, seems like it was just gauging interest.”

Which leads us to the big question: how could the 49ers even afford Clowney?

As it sits right now per Over the Cap, the 49ers have $12.1 million in cap space. That doesn’t include the possible roster bubble cuts after trimming the current 79 players to 53. The $12.1 million could explode to $19.5-million by cutting players such as Tevin Coleman, Tom Compton, Jason Verrett and Shon Coleman. 

Also, if the 49ers sign Clowney, Kerry Hyder could be a fifth player added into the roster-bubble nominees. That’s a savings of $7.4 million, and that doesn’t include the other 21 players that would have to be released to get the roster down to 53 players.

Regardless of whether those five players listed above are indeed cut, the cap space will rise to around $19.5 million.

Clowney had a very productive season last year despite the numbers not showing in the stat sheet, especially in the sack column. Clowney only registered three sacks in 2019, which the 49ers could use to their advantage.

Any contract incentive that has a payout for collecting four or more sacks in 2020 could go under the NLBTE (not likely to be earned) category. Any contract with an NLBTE involved does not count against the 49ers salary cap in 2020. Despite this past year in Seattle, the last time Clowney didn’t reach four sacks was his rookie season in 2014 when he only played four games.

So how could the deal be structured?

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Below is a potential base salary plus the LTBE (likely to be earned) incentive that counts against the cap, and the NLTBE incentive.

  • Base Salary: $10 million
  • LTBE: $2 million (3 sacks)
  • NLTBE: $3 million (7 sacks)
  • Total Cap Hit: $12 million

The 49ers could certainly use two different incentives to protect the team. If Clowney doesn’t reach three sacks and falls short of the LTBE incentive, that $2 million would roll over to the 2021 salary cap -- the 49ers wouldn't just give Clowney $12 million straight up.

But what about George Kittle's extension?

Well, once the rosters are cut down the 49ers will have anywhere from $7.5 million to $10 million to wrap up a Kittle extension. Reviewing how Paraag Marathe structures deals, $7.5 million is more than enough cap space to fit in a Kittle extension. Don’t believe me? Look at Arik Armstead’s new contract. Armstead is making $6 million this season in a deal that pays out Armstead an average of $17 million per year.

John Lynch has never shied away from big names in the past. Why would he do that now? When Clowney is still available on the market and his price seems to be dropping by the day, “testing the waters” would be the smart thing to do for any GM of Lynch’s caliber.

Where there’s smoke doesn’t necessarily mean there’s fire. But, this is definitely worth keeping an eye on.

Put yourself in Clowney’s shoes, someone who has already made millions.

Would you rather have an incentive friendly deal to make $15 million with the Super Bowl contending 49ers defensive line? Or sign a $17 million contract with the New York Jets?

Seems like a no brainer.

Stay tuned.