Last week NFL insider John Clayton appeared on 97.3 ESPN radio to discuss Jadeveon Clowney’s free agency, and suggested that the 3-time Pro Bowler is, “going to be interested in Philadelphia… because he wants to go to a winning team.” Clayton also suggested that Clowney was willing to sign for somewhere around $9-10 million assuming it’s for a contender—way down from his original position closer to $20 million.
If Clayton’s reporting is true it would be big news for the Eagles. Given somewhat of a need on the edge the team has been thought to be in the mix for Clowney for a while, and with his price tag reportedly now down to a more palatable $10 million they would be foolish to let this opportunity slide.
If you’re under the impression that the defensive line is just fine and that the pass rush will be okay in 2020 I can’t express how far off that is. It may be “good” but it’s far from elite, and—stop me if you’ve heard this before—Jim Schwartz’s defense relies on generating consistent pressure with a four-man rush. While the Birds front-four still produced at a high-level in 2019, that pressure took a clear dip from ‘17 and even ‘18. At moments over the past two seasons our secondary has been badly exposed as a result of this.
While our coverage ability has hopefully improved with the addition of Darius Slay and a handful of other bodies (Parks, Robey-Coleman, Wallace) the Eagles still need to focus on rebuilding the elite pass rush that led them to a Super Bowl in 2017. Clowney would immediately become our best pass rusher, and his presence would make our defensive line the best in football—that’s hardly debatable.
Clowney’s production has sometimes been underrated as it relates to other elite edge rushers, but his name definitely belongs in the same class—his 24% pass rush win-rate ranked seventh in the NFL last year, right behind the likes of Shaq Barrett and Joey Bosa. While 27.5 sacks, 60 TFL, and 72 hits on the QB over the last four seasons may not be “elite” raw pass rush numbers, it’s the same number of sacks as Brandon Graham over fewer games, and more TFL and QB hits in that same period. Take that for what it’s worth.
Any bruised feelings over how he knocked Wentz out of last year’s playoffs are just plain pathetic at this point. Howie has signed dirty players in the past—he’ll do it again if he thinks it can help his football team, and Clowney is an obvious “final piece” for a contender.
I’ve sounded the alarm over the Eagles cap 2021 cap situation as much as anyone, but with Clowney reportedly now willing to take a lighter deal ($10M) the move begins to make more sense. While that’s $10 million Howie wouldn’t be able to roll over into next years cap, we’re nearing the point that if Howie already has to clear a shade under $60 million, he’ll probably be able to find another $10 mil more in ‘21 if it means putting his defense over the top this season.
Another way to look at it is that since the team will already need to shed a number of contracts in 2021—somewhat compromising their ability to contend—they might as well go for it in 2020. While I think the front office is more than capable of cobbling together a winning team in 2021, the reality is they’ll need to trim a decent chunk of talent in order to get under the cap next summer.
The idea of adding Clowney has always been appealing, but the gut instinct that most fans had was that a $20+ million contract would probably be a mistake. Shave that number in half and it’s hard not be enamored with the idea of adding Clowney to this defensive line. If he can remain healthy in 2020 the $10 million number would end up being undervalued, and as much as I would like to roll every penny we have into next year, the opportunity to add a high-end edge player at this number is too good to pass up. The 2021 cap situation is a problem for another day, and we shouldn’t let that prevent us from capitalizing on the Super Bowl window we have here in 2020.