Are Patriots a Dark Horse to Sign Jadeveon Clowney?
How the tables have turned for the New England Patriots. Not long ago, they had to restructure safety Patrick Chung's contract just to sign rookie Kyle Dugger so they could wrap up signing their draft class. If you said then that the Patriots would very soon after sign Cam Newton and then possibly be in the Jadeveon Clowney sweepstakes, one would wonder where all this money came from.
Well, just recently, New England settled their outstanding compensation grievances with both Antonio Brown and the late Aaron Hernandez. This news may seem confusing, but the bottom line is that the team will now receive $6.55 million from these two cases, adding that number to this year's cap space.
With this new little "surplus" of cash, many fans are wondering where these funds will be allocated. While it is possible that Bill Belichick and the front office could just sit on this money and keep it throughout the season for flexibility purposes, they could also look to the still very talented free agent market.
Headlining this talented free agent class is, of course, the aforementioned Clowney. One of the league's top pass-rushers still lies on the market and with this new found cash, the perfect storm could be brewing.
After a great season with the Seattle Seahawks, Clowney hit the free agent market looking for two things: lots of cash and a chance at a Super Bowl. Clowney wants to get paid big bucks from a Super Bowl contender, which is a big reason why he isn't signed yet.
The other reason he remains unsigned is health concerns. Clowney is coming off a core muscle surgery. With that being the case and teams having trouble performing in-person physicals on players due to COVID-19, his market is dramatically weakened.
Teams seemingly interested in Clowney obviously know his ability. However, even with a healthy Clowney, his contract demands were slightly steep. Clowney has virtually no chance of meeting his original contract demands since teams cannot fully evaluate his health.
Recently, ESPN insider John Clayton came out with an article on Clowney's worth and his situation. He talked about how the real question with Clowney now is when he will sign, as training camp might be the earliest time that teams can get a physical with him. Clowney might be unwilling to wait that long, as it is already clear that the value he will get in his next deal will be significantly lower than what he originally anticipated.
For Vernon to sign for $11 million, that tells me Clowney’s market value is now down to $10 million or less on a one-year deal. The Las Vegas Raiders are interested but their offer was considered to be the lowest of the small list of teams trying to sign him. The Tennessee Titans remain interested but I doubt they would offer him more than the one-year, $9.5 million contract they signed Vic Beasley to earlier this offseason.
The Seahawks still have a chance to get him, but the question is when. I believe if Clowney understands he’s going to make less than half of what he values himself, he might not risk going into a training camp. He told Josina Anderson last week he wants to get a deal before the start of the season.
Clowney was originally asking for north of $22 million in his discussions with the Cleveland Browns, which they of course declined earlier this offseason. Now, Clowney is looking at virtually a $10 million cap on his contract for this season. One of the best pass-rushers in the league is now available on a prove-it, one-year, $10 million or less deal.
Clowney's Fit in New England
If one wanted to describe the kind of player that Belichick would pick to fit his scheme as either a outside linebacker or defensive end, one would just take a look at Clowney. He is the prototypical, perfect fit in Belichick's 3-4 defense that can move all over the front seven.
Both Belichick and Jerod Mayo would have an ample amount of places to put him and he would be not only the best pass-rusher on the team, but he's likely the team's best pass-rusher since Chandler Jones.
Clowney is uber-athletic and outrageously versatile, which have been the two main points of emphasis for the Patriots when re-tooling their defense this offseason. Clowney would be able to rush the passer in New England, as well as stop the run. His quickness on his feet, sound technique, and phenomenal strength allow him to succeed in both areas.
Clowney, both a dominant run-defender and a quick penetrator as a pass-rusher off the edge, would likely spend most his time in Kyle Van Noy's old role. That role is currently projected to be filled by either Anfernee Jennings or Josh Uche.
It would not only make sense for Belichick to pursue Clowney because of his ability and his fit in the system. However, in addition, the alternative to Clowney would likely be starting a rookie at that spot. This would be less than ideal, as the offseason has been shortened and expecting a rookie to take over that role immediately could be a problem going forward. If there is any year to stack up on veterans, this is the year. Clowney being one of the better edge rushers in the league makes sense to inquire about over a rookie who is adjusting to NFL life.
The bottom line is that not only would Clowney likely be very successful with Belichick finding creative ways to use him, but he would also be an upgrade over two rookies being thrown into the fire right away.
Clowney's Contract in New England
Now, the financial piece of this could get a little tricky here. It's been said that Clowney could be looking at a one-year, $10 million or less, prove-it deal. However, the Patriots are still tight on cash.
New England has $7,794,739 in cap space. That means Clowney's contract would probably have to be incentive-based and the Patriots would have to do some cap gymnastics to make it work.
Clowney does not seem like the type of player that would take an incentive-based contract after wanting $22 million earlier this year. Several teams in the race for him can offer a higher number for Clowney and beat the deal. However, one thing that New England has going for them is a track record than continues to repeat itself.
That track record was on display this offseason alone, where two players like Jamie Collins and Kyle Van Noy earned big checks after revitalizing their careers with the Patriots. Trent Brown is a good example from two offseasons ago. It is a repeated pattern; players come into New England, exceed expectations, and then earn themselves a payday with another team.
That kind of track record could intrigue Clowney to take a lesser deal in order to join the Patriots. He could be put in the best position to succeed for a year and then reap the benefits next year by becoming the highest paid defensive end or linebacker in the league.
It would be worth it to entice Clowney and figure out how to secure him, as he would be one of the faces of one of the top defenses in the league. He would be a true star in New England.
It would be worth it for Clowney to come to the Patriots on a one-year deal. It would be worth it for New England to get a top pass-rusher instead of throwing a rookie into the pool with no life preserver.
It makes sense for both parties to unite. The question is whether both parties can come the realization that they, in a way, are a match made in heaven. That together should keep other NFL teams up at night.