Jadeveon Clowney’s holdout from training camp with the Houston Texans has entered its second week.
A former No. 1 overall draft pick, Clowney has yet to sign his one-year contract with the Texans, who used the franchise tag on him. That means he can’t be fined for skipping camp, as he did all of spring practices, and thus isn’t expected to report until closer to the start of the regular season.
That is as long as Clowney remains property of the Texans. The team’s unwillingness to give Clowney a long-term contract has led many to suggest a trade is the best solution going forward. That way, the Texans can at least get something back for Clowney instead of watching him leave for nothing during the 2020 offseason – similar to how another defensive end drafted No. 1 overall did years ago when Mario Williams bolted Houston to sign with the Buffalo Bills.
Should the Bills again look to Texas to add to their defense? Let’s look at the pros and cons of making such a move:
• Available cap space: Clowney is scheduled to make $15.9 million in 2019 on the franchise tag. The Bills have more than $21 million in cap space, and can free up more if/when they release veteran offensive linemen Russell Bodine and Vlad Ducasse. The team’s cap situation is in good shape, particularly with quarterback Josh Allen on his rookie deal, meaning General Manager Brandon Beane can spend at other positions.
• A quality scouting report: The Texans fired GM Brian Gaine last month, and it was reported by Pro Football Talk that part of the reason was a disagreement between Gaine and Texans coach Bill O’Brien on whether Clowney deserved a long-term contract. Gaine reportedly believed he did. Last week, the Bills announced they’ve hired Gaine as a senior personnel adviser, meaning Beane should have as much background information on Clowney as possible if he wanted to make a deal.
• Age: Clowney is entering his sixth NFL season, but is still just 26 years old, so he should have plenty of good football ahead of him. He's made the Pro Bowl three times in his career.
• Positional need: The Bills re-signed defensive end Jerry Hughes to a two-year contract extension, but the starting job opposite him is less settled. Trent Murphy and former first-round draft pick Shaq Lawson split snaps last season, but neither of them is in Clowney’s class as a pass rusher. Lawson is also entering the final season of his contract. Murphy has two years remaining on his deal, but the Bills could easily get out of the final year without much impact on their salary cap. A defensive front of Hughes, Ed Oliver, Star Lotulelei and Clowney does look good on paper. Buffalo finished 26th in the NFL in sacks in 2018. The analytics website Pro Football Focus graded Clowney ninth overall among edge rushers in the NFL last year.
• Potential cost: Even though the Texans have seemingly lost some leverage when it comes to making a trade, Clowney should still fetch a significant return for them if he is traded. It’s worth pointing out that the Bills only have six draft picks in 2020, so if that’s what the Texans are looking for in return, Beane is shorthanded. A player-for-player(s) pick is possible, but in that scenario, the Bills would be sending away a significant contributor somewhere else.
• Production: Somewhat amazingly, Clowney has never had a 10-sack season in five years, and that’s with playing on a defensive line that features J.J. Watt, who regularly commands double teams. Sacks are not the only statistic on which to judge an edge rusher, but nonetheless, it’s worth asking why he hasn’t produced the kind of numbers regularly seen from elite edge rushers. His status as a former No. 1 overall pick might make him slightly overrated.
• Injury history: Although Clowney has appeared in 45 of 48 regular-season games the past three years, he has a history of knee trouble. He was limited to just four games as a rookie in 2014, and ultimately underwent microfracture surgery. The past two offseasons, he’s required arthroscopic knee surgery as well. Teams will have to proceed with caution when it comes to the medical with Clowney.
If Beane feels like an elite edge rusher is the last thing lacking from the Bills’ defense becoming elite – and believes Clowney qualifies as that – he can make the move financially. We’ve seen in the past that he’s not afraid of making an aggressive trade if he feels like it will better the team.
Doing so, however, would figure to significantly diminish the Bills’ already-low draft capital for 2020. For a team that says it wants to build through the draft, that is problematic.