Clowney Never Got Comfortable With Titans

Physical issues and an imprecise scheme fit, he says, are to blame for his worst statistical season.
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Things aren’t always as they seem.

For Jadeveon Clowney, his fit in the Tennessee Titans’ scheme was not what anyone hoped. Neither was his health.

After he played at least 13 games in five straight seasons, a knee injury ended Clowney’s 2020 campaign – his only one with the Titans – after eight games and helped make it the worst, statistically speaking, of his career. The three-time Pro Bowler made just 19 tackles and failed to record a sack.

“I think it was a little bit of both,” Clowney said this week after he signed with the Cleveland Browns. “Early on it was the scheme, and then later on I think it was my knee.”

The knee injury was unpreventable. However, Clowney’s discomfort with the scheme was unexpected.

He agreed to a one-year deal with the Titans six months after the 2020 NFL free agency period started. One of the factors that finally ended his first foray into free agency was his familiarity with coach Mike Vrabel and his defense. Vrabel was Houston’s defensive coordinator in 2017, when Clowney played for the Texans and put up the best numbers of his career.

Yet the warning signs were there. In 2019 with Seattle, he played in 13 games, registering only 31 tackles and three sacks. And since he racked up 9 1/2 sacks in 16 games played in 2017, the number of games he played and sacks he registered have decreased annually.

“I’ve never been healthy all the way to the point where I feel like nothing is bothering me,” he said. “If I can stay healthy and stay out there, I should be not far away from being defensive player of the year.”

As it was, he was nowhere near the NFL’s best defensive players – of the Titans’ best defensive player, for that matter – last fall. Clowney was supposed to be the answer to the pass rush problem in Tennessee. Instead, he became part of it for a team that tied for the third fewest sacks in the league.

That is why Tennessee did not bring him back for 2021 and he became a free agent who agreed to a one-year deal with Cleveland, which is now his fourth different team in as many years.

“They are winning,” Clowney said about why he chose the Browns. “They won 12 games last year, right? That’s more than what my team I played for last year won.”

Things are not always what they seem, but that sure sounded like a shot at the Titans.