In the official start Wednesday to the NFL free agent bazaar, the largest mystery is in Seattle.
Why doesn’t DE Jadeveon Clowney have a job, with the Seahawks or another team?
To borrow Winston Churchill’s famous description of Russia, Clowney seems to be a riddle wrapped in a mystery.
Part of the answer is known around the league: A physical talent of the first order, Clowney has always been good, never consistently great.
His situation is complicated by the most urgent of current events: The national constraint resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. The NFL responded this week, in a sudden and poorly-thought-out way, by banning the travel of players and team medical personnel to conduct physical exams that are mandatory before free agents sign contracts.
Since Clowney had health problems last season that included post-season surgery to repair an abdominal-muscle tear that he played through for the last half of his only Seattle season, any team is leery about playing top-tier money for potentially damaged goods.
Only the Seahawks know the truth. And they aren’t sharing.
So by Wednesday evening, Clowney was unclaimed.
But the Seahawks have not been thumb-twiddling waiting on Clowney, the market and a vaccine. Before delving further into Clowney, here’s where things stand in the little football shop in Renton since Monday’s commencement of negotiations — again, with no deals formally completed. The Seahawks:
- Re-signed their own pending unrestricted free agent, DT Jarran Reed, to a two-year, $23 million contract
- Signed DE Bruce Irvin, Seattle’s first-round draft pick in 2012 and a member of their Super Bowl teams, from the Panthers, terms unreported, plus TE Luke Willson
- Signed three “budget” offensive linemen, all age 28: Cedric Ogbuehi, from the Jaguars; Brandon Shell from the Jets, and B.J. Finney from the Steelers, which signals that the Seahawks won’t pursue their own O-line free agent, Germain Ifedi
- Lost OL George Fant to the New York Jets and DL Quinton Jefferson to the Bills
- Made tenders to restricted free agents TE Jacob Hollister, C Joey Hunt, WR David Moore and DL Branden Jackson, all but assuring their returns
- Let FS Tedric Thompson pursue a trade offer, which is polite NFL argot for buh-bye
Wednesday’s signing of Irvin, 32, was a bit of a surprise. But it will be greeted by smiles from the few holdovers in the locker room he left in 2016 to sign a free-agent deal with Oakland. Irvin offered his own grin via Twitter:
IM SO HAPPY TO BE GOING HOME!!!! 12’s I love you!
— Bruce Irvin (@BIrvin_WVU11) March 18, 2020
Last season at Carolina, Irvin had 8.5 sacks and 16 QB hits, numbers that would have earned him a small parade in Seattle. His arrival helps mitigate the loss of the underrated Jefferson, who started 22 games at end over the past two seasons. Irvin could also help in case free agent LB Mychal Kendricks is unavailable because of his pending sentence after pleading guilty to insider trading five years ago. The most recent sentencing date is March 30.
Along the O-line, Seattle had to stanch the bleeding, which also includes another starter, LG Mike Iupati, 33, who is likely not coming back, plus the possible departure of C Justin Britt, who is coming off a serious knee injury and is owed $8.5 million.
Of the three signees, Shell (6-5, 324), a fifth-rounder in the 2016 draft out of South Carolina who started 40 of 49 games for the Jets, received the most money — reportedly up to $11 million over two years. That alone suggests he’s the likeliest replacement for Ifedi, plus his great uncle is Hall of Famer Art Shell.
Ogbuehi, a 2015 first-round pick by Cincinnati out of Texas A&M, was reported to have signed a one-year deal for $3.3 million. He started 25 games at both tackle spots for the Bengals in 2016-17. Finney, undrafted out of Kansas State, has played tackle, guard and center at Pittsburgh, where he made 13 starts in four years.
Back to Clowney.
Saying he loved his Seahawks experience but loved the top of the market more, Clowney was anticipating premium offers that put him in the class of defenders Aaron Donald, Khalil Mack and DeMarcus Lawrence. But he’s an edge rusher in a 4-3 scheme, eliminating all the 3-4 teams, and his relatively low sack numbers caused more teams to say nah.
Now that a number of other quality free agent edge rushers have found day-one deals, plus a draft coming that has a surplus of same, there are few clubs eager to spend big on Clowney, especially without an exam. Of course it takes only one to make a market, but none of the clubs know what the Seahawks know about his health.
It may be that Clowney has to re-calibrate to a deal for less money and fewer years.
As Jadeveon Clowney continues to wait, I’m told he’s considering options, including a potential shorter term deal w/ a chance to re-enter market in a year or two. Many people around league expect him back in Seattle. A $20M price tag has been steep for teams, per @diannaESPN
— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) March 19, 2020
At 26, he still has a bright upside, but at this moment in the NFL calendar, which also has a big public-health crisis wrinkling it, he doesn’t check enough boxes for a mega-deal.
Which points to a return to Seattle, where he now could be paired with Irvin. The Seahawks pass rush still needs more, but it creeps toward average. That doesn’t seem like much, but average in January might have had them in the Super Bowl.