Heading to Free Agency, Seahawks Face Tough Decision with Jadeveon Clowney
GREEN BAY – Moments after a season-ending 28-23 loss to the Packers at Lambeau Field in what could be his final game with the Seahawks, Jadeveon Clowney told reporters he will prioritize playing for a contender as he prepares to hit free agency for the first time.
“I just want to win,” the veteran defensive end said in the locker room following the game. "I'm trying to get to the Super Bowl by any means. That's what I'm looking for: Who's going to get me there? I ain't looking to get on no sorry team for no money. That ain't going to fly. I ain't gonna put my body through all of that just to lose no 16 games, go home with my check. I'd hate that, so that ain't what I'm doing.”
As will be the case for all of the other playoff teams eliminated during the divisional round, Seattle will have several key contributors heading towards unrestricted free agency when the new league year opens in March. General manager John Schneider will have to decide whether or not the organization wants to pay top dollar to retain Clowney, who was acquired from the Texans in late August for a third-round pick and two reserve linebackers.
To facilitate the deal, Schneider agreed to not use the franchise or transition tag on Clowney following the end of the season, which could complicate matters keeping him in the Pacific Northwest.
Set to turn 27 in February, Clowney produced only 3.0 sacks during the regular season, but his statistics don’t do his performance justice. He’s an elite edge defender against the run and drew constant double teams, which hindered his overall pass rushing production. In addition, he returned an interception and a fumble for two defensive touchdowns.
The former first overall pick also opted to hold off surgery for a core injury and played through pain the final two months of the season, causing him to miss three of the final six regular season games. In the playoffs, he registered 1.5 sacks, half his season total in just two games.
His sacrifice wasn’t lost on teammates, who commended him for gutting it out playing through a difficult injury in an effort to help Seattle’s playoff push. Linebacker K.J. Wright already began lobbying for the front office to reward Clowney with a new deal.
“He’s a dog, and he’s earned [the right] to be one of the top guys as far as pay," Wright said. "Might as well pay him when he brings so much to this team. Great teammate, great person.”
It’ll be interesting to see how the rest of the league values Clowney, who hasn’t been as disruptive as a pass rusher as many believed he would be coming out of South Carolina. Though he’s never produced double digit sacks in a season, he’ll likely command more than $20 million per year in a deal similar to defensive ends Demarcus Lawrence of Dallas and Frank Clark of Kansas City, who each received lucrative extensions last offseason.
Ironically, the Seahawks weren’t able to reach an agreement with Clark last spring, opting to trade him to the Chiefs in April in exchange for a first-round pick and a future second-round pick. Whether or not that has any bearing on the team’s willingness to pony up the dough to keep Clowney remains to be seen.
Without the ability to slap the franchise tag on him, the Seahawks will have plenty of competition for Clowney’s services if they intend to keep him. But if there’s any reason to be optimistic about the possibility of him returning, it’s his overall viewpoint of the organization and respect for his teammates.
"It's been great. Great experience. I met a great group of guys. I just told them, 'I appreciate everyone in this locker room because I didn't know how it was going to go when I got to Seattle'… so I walked in laughing and giggling," Clowney said. "They've been accepting me ever since.”
Expected to have north of $60 million in cap space, Seattle will have the financial flexibility to re-sign Clowney at market price. But with Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner being exceptions to the rule, that hasn’t typically been Schneider’s way of operating, as evidenced by the decision to trade Clark and allow other quality players to leave in free agency in recent seasons.
It’s also worth noting Clowney isn’t the only key player on the Seahawks set to become unrestricted free agents in coming months. Defensive tackle Jarran Reed, tackle Germain Ifedi, and several other starters will be hitting the market as well, leaving Schneider with no shortage of tough decisions to make.
While understanding the business nature of the NFL as well as anyone after negotiating his own contract extension, Wagner hopes to see Clowney back in a Seahawks uniform next fall.
"It would be amazing. You have a playmaker, have, like I said, a great teammate, a great person, and to have that dominant good person in your room, on your team, is something that we would definitely love," he said. "But, obviously, business is business."