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What's Going On With Jadeveon Clowney?

Photo: Scott Halleran (Getty)

Jadeveon Clowney is still not under contract, owing to his refusal to sign the franchise tender offered by the Texans, who were unable to sign him to a long-term contract by the tag’s July 15 deadline. But it’s nonetheless been a busy few days for Clowney, who:

  • learned the Texans are indeed interested in trading him;
  • fired his agent;
  • personally met with the Dolphins to discuss a possible trade scenario.

The situation is pretty involved, and the Texans open at the Saints on Monday Night Football in a mere 11 days. So what’s happening? Glad you asked.

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Wait. Didn’t the Texans fire their general manager and then fail to get the guy they wanted?

They did. And this somehow happened even though executive VP for team development Jack Easterby, who reportedly tried to poach Nick Caserio from the Patriots, shares an agent with Caserio. It’s a genuine clusterfuck that has left head coach Bill O’Brien at the wheel for all personnel decisions. Yes, the draft and free agency are over, but there are still plenty of big moves to be made. Like, you know, what to do with a star pass rusher who hasn’t reported for camp and might stay away once the real games begin.

Aren’t the Texans stiffing Clowney?

They are—and not just because he hasn’t received the long-term deal he wants. The salaries offered by the franchise tender are position-based, but they’re also established according to a very basic set of positional definitions. These categories do not account for the versatility of many modern players. Clowney is one of those hybrids, yet he was tagged as a linebacker (tender amount: $15.967 million), even though played most of his snaps last season as a defensive end (tender amount: $17.128 million). Which means the tag isn’t just a mechanism that allows teams to delay and deny players the opportunity to get a market-rate contract; it’s also a way to nickel-and-dime them. In Clowney’s case, the positional designation costs him a difference of $1.16 million.

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That doesn’t seem right.

Especially when you consider the Texans agreed to give Clowney an additional $1 million at the end of the 2018 to compensate for the fact that they had designated him as a LB when they exercised his fifth-year option last season. In other words, the Texans knew Clowney didn’t like the LB tag and that he’d likely make a stink if they gave it to him, yet they did it anyway. But the data is pretty clear: Per Pro Football Focus, Clowney played 532 snaps in 2018 as an end, versus just 255 as a linebacker (ESPN’s data shows an even bigger disparity). The NFLPA was expected to file a grievance over this on Clowney’s behalf, and he thus far hasn’t signed the tender, which means he can stay away for as long as he likes without accruing daily fines. He won’t start losing any actual money until he begins skipping paychecks the week the regular season is underway, which he’s reportedly indicated he might do.

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Like Le’Veon Bell did.

Like Le’Veon Bell did, yes. Also like Le’Veon Bell, if Clowney were to sit until the Tuesday after Week 10, he’d be ineligible to play this season.

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Will this thing get to that point?

Probably not. Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reported that Clowney was set to report this week, at least until the trade rumors began bubbling. That same day, it got out that Clowney had fired agent Bus Cook, though NFL Media’s Tom Pelissero reported the firing happened more than five days before the news was made public, which means he’s already eligible to hire a new rep. Obviously, then, there’s more to all of this.

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Rapoport found out that Clowney has already personally met with the Dolphins, after first seeking and receiving the Texans’ permission. And by last night, the Houston Chronicle’s Aaron Wilson reported that as many as five teams—Dolphins, Seahawks, Eagles, Washington, Jets—were interested in swinging a deal. So something might shake loose soon, though this isn’t a typical trade scenario, and Clowney has significant leverage in any trade talks.

Why does he have leverage?

Because he can’t be traded until he signs his franchise tender, which is something he won’t do unless he’s on board with the trade.

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Is that why this isn’t a typical trade scenario?

You’re paying attention. But the answer is yes and no. Yes, for obvious reasons. No, because even potential trade partners are forbidden from bargaining with Clowney toward a long-term deal that extends beyond 2019 until after the season.

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Couldn’t teams do that with some sort of wink-wink agreement, though?

I suppose they could, but a contract can’t be officially executed until after the season, which would leave Clowney exposed to the possibility of a team changing its mind for any reason. Also, as ex-agent Joel Corry wrote over at CBSSports.com, the penalties for that sort of under-the-table agreement are pretty clearly laid out in the CBA, and they’re steep:

Clowney and his agents ... would be subject to a fine up to $500,000. Commissioner Roger Goodell could impose a fine for as much as $6.5 million on the team where up to two first round picks could also be forfeited. The team employees involved could be facing a year suspension and would have the same financial exposure as Clowney and his agents.

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Certain tampering conventions get flouted all the time—teams meet in person with the reps for potential free agents at the Senior Bowl and the combine every year, even though they’re not permitted to do so—but this is one where a violation is probably a little too costly.

So does Clowney have any incentive to approve a trade, other than whatever desire he might have to leave the Texans? 

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Yep. Teams are permitted to bargain off the one year franchise tender. This would allow Clowney to negotiate a salary for this year that’s higher than $15.967 million. What might make it knotty is that teams will have to cram Clowney’s salary into their cap, and that’ll be tough at this point for nearly half the league. Though, as Corry pointed out, Clowney can also insist on a prohibition clause that would forbid any potential trade partners from giving him the franchise or transition tag in 2020, thus clearing his path to free agency. However, per Corry, no player has received a prohibition cause under the current CBA. A handful of players—notably, Albert Haynesworth with the Titans in 2008—got a prohibition clause that was conditioned on playing time, making the Pro Bowl, and team wins. The last unconditional prohibition clauses went to Lions offensive tackle Jeff Backus and Bills cornerback Nate Clements, both in 2006.

Why would a team want to sign Clowney with the likelihood he’d be a one-year rental?

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Different reasons for different teams. The Seahawks will be without pass rusher Jarran Reed for the first six weeks because of a suspension. The Eagles, per Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer, like to have depth, especially along the defensive line. Washington has a disgruntled, absentee left tackle in Trent Williams, and the Texans could use a left tackle. (The Skins reportedly aren’t interested in moving Williams, because they’re morons who’ve been backed into a corner.) The Jets haven’t had a consistently impactful edge rusher since, I dunno, John Abraham? The Dolphins are in rebuilding mode, and they’ve got a talented trade chip in left tackle Laremy Tunsil, in addition to a crap-ton of draft capital—11 picks in 2020, including six in the first four rounds, including two second rounders. PFF has also suggested the Falcons, Ravens, and Raiders as possibilities, though those teams haven’t yet surfaced as interested parties, at least not publicly.

What’s your guess?

It’s going to depend who offers what, obviously, but I can see Clowney going to the Dolphins. They have the cap space to sweeten the pot a little for him, and it’s also possible to see them using a Clowney as a trade chip next year on a second tag, as Overthecap.com’s Jason Fitzgerald suggested. But don’t hold me to that if Clowney stays in Houston and reports by Week 2.

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About the author

Dom Cosentino

Dom Cosentino is a staff writer at Deadspin.