Matt Patterson/Associated Press
As rumors of a potential Jadeveon Clowney trade swirl, potential suitors for the Pro Bowl defensive end are trying to answer the important questions. Can Clowney help our organization? Can we afford to trade for him? Which of the Texans general-managers-by-committee are we supposed to call? Does that person have the authority to make a deal, or must everyone wait until coach Bill O’Brien is in a good mood? Wait, why is our call going straight to voicemail? No, we don’t know our party’s extension!
From waiting past the July 15 deadline to sign or trade franchise players (eliminating the sign-and-trade option, which would have made a trade easier and more lucrative for the Texans) to turning their org chart into one of those webs spun by spiders given LSD in a laboratory, O’Brien (who wields the real power in the organization; the electoral college of other executives are just functionaries) and the Texans have irrevocably screwed up the Clowney situation. But their loss is some trade partner’s gain: The Texans lack the leverage to ask for much compensation for one of the league’s best defenders, and while Clowney must play for the $15.97 million franchise tender this season, his new employer may be able to secure a longer commitment come January.
Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle listed three potential suitors for Clowney. Let’s break down the pluses and minuses of a Clowney trade for each of these teams. Then, let’s look at three other teams that should be in the trade conversation.
The likely destinations…
The upside: The Seahawks defense is now a shadow of its Legion of Boom glory. Clowney would provide both an immediate upgrade and a jolt of personality.
The downside: Trading for Clowney runs counter to the Seahawks’ organizational philosophy.
Compensation situation (Texans): The Seahawks have two second-round picks next year as a result of the Frank Clark trade, giving them flexibility when assembling a package for Clowney.
Compensation situation (Clowney): The Seahawks have the future cap space to sign Clowney to a long-term deal. They freed up that future cap space by parting with lots of big-name defensive veterans, which goes back to the “downside” of a Texans-Seahawks deal.
Bottom line: Gregg Bell of the Tacoma News Tribune recently detailed the issues that stand in the way of a Texans-Seahawks deal at length. To summarize: The Seahawks helped the Texans out of a similar situation when they traded for franchise-tagged tackle Duane Brown in 2017 but then felt they gave up too many picks in subsequent drafts. Meanwhile, the Seahawks judiciously avoided their own Clowney situation by signing and trading Clark to the Chiefs. Trading for Clowney would run counter to much of what the Seahawks are trying to do.
That said, the Seahawks released defender Jay-Tee Tiuli on Wednesday, freeing a roster spot, and Clowney could really help make the Seahawks more than a fringe playoff team this year. Clowney could well be in Seattle for opening day but only if the price is right.
The upside: Clowney would give a rebuilding team an important 26-year-old building block and instantly become the Dolphins’ best player. (Sorry, Xavien Howard).
The downside: Per Wilson, Clowney would prefer to play for other teams.
Compensation situation (Texans): The Dolphins are a lock to finish the year with one of the league’s worst records. A likely top-five pick would be far too much for a needy team to part with, but a high second-rounder might sway the Texans. The Dolphins also lack the talent to package players in a trade.
Compensation situation (Clowney): The Dolphins have plenty of future cap space available, perhaps enough to overcome Clowney’s reluctance to play for them.
Bottom line: Clowney is useless to the Dolphins as a one-year rental, so all three parties must agree to a one-year agreement on paper, which is really a nod-wink long-term deal. That makes negotiations touchy on all three sides, especially now that Clowney is working without an agent. Don’t be surprised if everyone decides they are better off letting this bus pass and waiting for the next one.
The upside: Clowney’s arrival would turn the Eagles from mere contenders into prohibitive favorites to at least reach the Super Bowl.
The downside: Clowney is more of a luxury than a necessity for a team that is scraping the ceiling of the salary cap for the next few years.
Compensation situation (Texans): The Eagles have players on their bench and the roster bubble that could help the Texans immediately, like offensive lineman Halapoulivaati Vaitai or running back Corey Clement. With all of the assets the Eagles have, they could pry Clowney away with a mix of immediate help and a mid-round draft pick.
Compensation situation (Clowney): The Eagles lack the long-term cap space to easily fit Clowney into their budget. But general manager Howie Roseman is a contract ninja, and both sides may be amenable to a one-year lease while trying to win a Super Bowl.
Bottom line: If this deal doesn’t happen, it will be because a) careful long-range planning has paid dividends for the Eagles, making them reluctant to make big, sudden moves or b) the Texans realize how weak they will look if they trade Clowney for another team’s spare parts and quash the deal for face-saving reasons.
The long shots…
The upside: Clowney could be the Bills’ Khalil Mack, transforming a team with a good defense and a boom-or-bust young quarterback into a team with an outstanding defense that can win with (or despite) a boom-or-bust young quarterback.
The downside: Buffalo may not be an appealing landing spot for Clowney, and the Bills wouldn’t benefit from a one-year rental. At least Miami has great weather and low taxes.
Compensation situation (Texans): In addition to picks, the Bills could ship running back LeSean McCoy to the Texans. McCoy is in the final year of his contract and is now part of a crowded backfield featuring fellow old-timer Frank Gore, rookie Devin Singletary and others.
Compensation situation (Clowney): The Bills have plenty of future cap space.
Brian Blanco/Associated Press
Bottom line: Clowney-to-Bills speculation has circulated since deposed Texans general manager Brian Gaine joined Brandon Beane’s staff in Buffalo, and Clowney for Shady and picks makes for an easy game of connect the dots in the wake of Lamar Miller‘s injury. Don’t rule anything out, but if Gaine had some back-channel way to cut to the front of the line for Clowney, he probably would have done it by now.
The upside: The Colts get another impact defender along the defensive front and an instant narrative changer, two things they really need.
The downside: All sides would be highly reluctant to make this deal.
Compensation situation (Texans): The Colts, like the Seahawks, have an extra second-round pick next year, making it easier for them to assemble a package if they choose to.
Compensation situation (Clowney): The Colts have a league-high $85 million in cap space to shower some lucky player(s) with next year.
Bottom line: The Colts are unlikely to lurch in a sudden new direction just days after Andrew Luck‘s retirement, the Texans won’t want to strengthen a division rival that’s on the ropes, and Clowney might not be gung-ho about joining an organization with an uncertain future. Otherwise, from a needs-and-dollars standpoint, this makes sense.
The upside: The Texans are a playoff team that could use an All-Pro-caliber defender like Clowney.
The downside: O’Brien would have to swallow his pride and delegate some meaningful authority to make it happen.
Compensation situation (Texans and Clowney): The Texans have more than $79 million in cap space for next year; that was the most 2020 cap space of any team in the NFL before Luck’s retirement yielded a big chunk of space for the Colts. That’s right, folks: The team with the most money to pay Clowney and one of the most pressing needs for Clowney is the one that is now trying to get rid of Clowney.
Bottom line: Per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, Clowney was about to sign the franchise tender and return to the Texans until he discovered the Texans were preparing to trade him; he then decided to continue his holdout so he had some leverage to select his own destination.
In other words, the Texans are now so dysfunctional that they even get in the way when their problems try to solve themselves. Whatever they decide to do, it will leave them both without a potential All-Pro and the type of trade compensation they should get in exchange for an All-Pro. The next time the Texans fire a general manager, they may want to aim for the one who actually makes the decisions.
Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter:@MikeTanier.