What is the best landing spot for Jadeveon Clowney?
By: Brady Akins
Who is Jadeveon Clowney, aside from that guy that made that tackle in college you’ve seen approximately 18,000 times on your Twitter feed? The answer, as seen through Clowney’s seven-season resume, isn’t black and white.
Clowney has been just about everything throughout his NFL career. He’s been the brightest up-and-coming defensive star in the league as the number one overall pick back in 2014. He’s been the heir apparent to the Hall of Fame-bound JJ Watt with the Houston Texans.
He’s even, at times, played better than Watt himself. Clowney’s best season as a pro came in 2017, a year which Watt started in five games during a year derailed by an injury without a sack. Clowney ascended that season, finishing with a career-best in both sacks and tackles for loss, with 9.5 and 21 respectively, the latter being the second-most in the league.
The last few seasons of Clowney’s NFL tenure have shown something of a fall from grace. 2018 was a step back, but still typically high-level performance with 16 TFL’s. 2019, his first away from the Texans, saw the once-coveted pass rusher finish with his lowest sack and TFL numbers since his rookie year, a season which saw Clowney start in just two games.
His latest season, an eight-start 2020 campaign with the Tennessee Titans, showed even further regression. Five tackles for loss and not a single sack before missing the rest of the year with an injury. It all comes back to the question– who is Jadeveon Clowney?
Clowney is a player of immense talent, who can provide a spark to just about any defense in the league, but maybe is not the bonafide superstar he once looked on pace to be. He’s a player that, in the right scheme and with the proper level of talent around him, can be a dangerous athlete who elevates the pass-rush group on a given roster.
In the NFL, there are five teams who could give Clowney exactly what he needs. A roster with young, promising talent or defensive-friendly schemes that could take the pressure off the pass-rusher, and using his talents properly. With Clowney’s contract now expired, let’s look at who might be in the running for the former first-overall pick.
An embarrassment of defensive riches gets even more embarrassing in our first landing spot for Clowney, a talented player that just might need a high level of talent around him in order to reach his peak potential.
That’s where the Indianapolis Colts come in. Their defense ended the year ranked as one of the NFL’s best, top 10 in both points allowed, yards allowed, and total takeaways. One brief look at their defensive depth chart– it’s no mystery why.
Deforest Buckner, the league’s best non-Aaron Donald defensive lineman, serves as the highlight of a group with talent at every level. Buckner himself, with his 9.5 sacks, finished as a first-team All-Pro for his efforts. Alongside Darius Leonard, a third-year linebacker who was a star from the second he stepped on a football field, who joined Buckner as a fellow All-Pro player.
With two definitive defensive stars on the roster, a player like Clowney could slide right in to make an immediate impact. For being as talented as he is, Clowney has always done his best work on defenses where he didn’t need to be the biggest threat. Clowney’s last two seasons, which have marked a backslide in production, came in Tennessee and Seattle defenses that required him to be the leading presence on the defensive front..
With both Buckner and Leonard, Clowney would be walking into a defensive dreamland, and adding an element that had been missing from a typically dominant Colts’ defense in 2020. Despite finishing as a top 10 defense in just about every way, one aspect where they were less dominant was in generating pressure, ranked 16th in quarterback pressures per dropback.
Clowney could come in and provide a spark to the Indianapolis defense that takes them from great to unbeatable. And with the third-most cap space in the league for 2021, the Colts should be able to afford his heavy price tag.
And… on the opposite side of the defensive spectrum… we have the Dallas Cowboys, a team that could use Clowney on their side less as a fun spark player, and more as a legitimate building block.
The Cowboys, depending on the health of quarterback Dak Prescott and Jerry Jones’ willingness to write him a check fitting of a franchise quarterback, should be better than fine on offense. With the efforts of Prescott, a former first-team All-Pro running back in Ezekiel Elliott, and three wide receivers all with the talent to be top targets on just about any team in the league, Dallas’ ability to score points could be unrivaled in 2021.
The Dallas defense, on the other hand, a group ranked 28th and 23rd in points and yards allowed per game respectively, is a far different narrative.
Sitting pretty at 12th in the league in salary cap space with nearly $14 million, Dallas could have a nice chunk of change to throw around once the offseason starts, and plenty of holes to fill along the defensive side of the ball.
Clowney, coming off of a down season without a sack through eight starts, could come into the year needing less money than the $15 million he was offered for 2020, but could be a great addition to a Dallas defense that managed just 31 sacks, 20th in the league.
Similar to his potential fit with the Colts, Clowney wouldn’t be doing it all on his own in Dallas. Eversen Griffin and Aldon Smith, while not as strong as the duo of Buckner and Leonard, are a solid duo of pass-rushers that could prove even stronger with the addition of a talented presence like Clowney.
Forming a high-potential three-man rotation of Griffin, Smith, and Clowney for 2021 gives the Cowboys the chance to flip the script, taking the defense up just enough notches to let a dominant offense take over games.
The wildcard in all of this. In the 2020 draft, the Carolina Panthers invested heavily on the defensive side of the ball. Actually, wait, really, the invested exclusively on the defensive side of the ball. Using all seven picks on different defensive players.
But, even while the early returns on players like Derrick Brown and Jeremy Chinn look promising, neither they nor the five other defensive rookies taken in 2020 were enough to elevate the Panthers’ defense past the point of the league average. In fact, in the pass-rush, Carolina finished as one of the lowest-ranked teams in the NFL with just 29 sacks, the ninth-fewest in the league.
Clowney could help boost that number, both in the obvious ways and otherwise. An NFL veteran like Clowney, someone who has been in the league since 2014 and has amassed 75 tackles for loss in that time, knows how to fight against an offense. Just like how he can contribute instantly for the Colts and Cowboys, Clowney can add a strong presence for the Panthers as well.
But, for a team like the Panthers, with a second-round pass rusher just finishing his rookie campaign in Yetur Gross-Matos, along with another young player in Brian Burns, Clowney’s veteran presence could mean more in what he can teach to Burns and Gross-Matos than what it means to the stat sheet.
Two talented defensive edge-rushers could take another step forward under the wing of Clowney, who could elevate the defense as a whole in the locker room and on the field.
New England Patriots
The New England Patriots find themselves in a handful of unique situations heading into the 2021 offseason. For the first time in 11 years, the NFL’s seemingly indestructible empire has missed the postseason.
However, for the first time in about as long, that same empire will have one extra element working in its favor– an absolute boatload of cap space, with a bit over $57 million heading into 2021, fourth-most in the league.
Enter, Jadeveon Clowney, a league star who could emerge as the biggest name in the Patriots’ front-seven from day one. New England’s star-studded secondary of 2019 Defensive Player of The Year Stephon Gilmore and two-time Pro Bowler Devin McCourty could use a boost to a pash-rush group that managed just 24 sacks in 2020– 26th in the league.
Clowney won’t be confused for a ‘sack-artist’ in the mold of TJ Watt or Myles Garrett, especially after his last two seasons held a combined three sacks, but he’s a more than capable player who, in the right scheme, could flourish.
Opposite a surprise, up-and-coming sidekick like New England’s own Chase Winovich, who led the defense last season in sacks with 5.5, Clowney could re-emerge as the star he once looked on pace to be. That, while in a Belichick-led defense known for maximizing the talents of even the league’s forgotten players, could push Clowney into the league spotlight once again.
Could Jadeveon Clowney be the final piece to the Jaguars’ puzzle, and take a Jacksonville team from the 1-15 basement of the NFL standings into the defense-led playoff contender that they were just a few seasons prior?
No, probably not. But that doesn’t make him a bad fit for the franchise.
Hiring a new head coach, presumably drafting a quarterback with the number one overall pick, and doing it all on a team that won just 12 games in the three years since their 2017 AFC Championship run, the goal for 2021 shouldn’t be to go from the worst team in football to an overnight Super Bowl contender– the goal should be to go from unwatchable to a spunky, up and coming franchise.
Clowney would be the perfect offseason hire to fit that image. Give the new coach, and the new quarterback, a functional situation in order to win five, six, maybe even seven games and build their confidence heading into the season after. Adding Clowney, with a few other pieces, could do just that for the Jaguars.
The Jacksonville defense, while not the group they once were, was able to bring in some solid rookie contributors in the 2020 draft class– with cornerback CJ Henderson and defensive end K’Lavon Chaisson being taken within the first 20 picks, and both serving as starters at points during their rookie seasons.
Clowney could come in and elevate a group that, despite having some talent, ranked as one of the league’s worst pass-rushing groups, finishing with the NFL’s third-worst sack-percentage at 3.3%.
No team has more cap space, and arguably a bigger need for a pass-rusher, than the Jacksonville Jaguars. Clowney wouldn’t be competing for an immediate Super Bowl ring should he take his talents to Duval County, but he could be a key piece in establishing a winning culture that sets the Jaguars up for a decade’s worth of future success.