The Raiders made massive improvements to their defense during the offseason, hoping to inject some life into a unit that ranked 31st in DVOA in 2019.
But with one big fish still swimming in the free agency ocean, the Silver and Black might not be done yet.
Jadeveon Clowney has been biding his time during free agency, waiting for an offer that matches what he believes he is worth. That number started at between $20-22 million and reportedly has been lowered to around $18 million. Clowney reportedly has an offer from the Cleveland Browns with the Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans also in the mix.
On Monday. Cecil Lammey of 104.3 The Fan in Denver reported that the Raiders had joined the party and offered Clowney a contract. He also reported that head coach Jon Gruden would like to up the offer to get Clowney. Lammey reports the offer is lower than two or three other teams and owner Mark Davis and general manager Mike Mayock are hesitant to increase it.
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This is where we need to separate fantasy from reality.
Clowney is a talented player and he undoubtedly would help a Silver and Black pass rush that has struggled since Khalil Mack was shipped off to the Chicago Bears. Clowney is a sexy name and it's easy to automatically plug him on the Raiders' defensive line along with Maliek Collins, Maurice Hurst and Clelin Ferrell/Maxx Crosby and see an improved unit that can give teams problems in the AFC West.
But that $18-20 million is a massive price tag for a player whose production doesn't match the number he's currently asking for. Clowney notched just three sacks last season for the Seahawks and has yet to record a double-digit sack season since being draft with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Per Spotrac, Clowney's projected open-market is around $17.1 million. So his initial asking price already overshoots his on-field production and it's fair to see a number of teams asking to see more sacks, pressures and QB hits before paying the $17 million.
Clowney's health also is of concern. While the South Carolina product only has missed nine games in five seasons, there are some issues about the core and knee injuries he's sustained during his career. Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, it's difficult for players to travel and get evaluated by a team's medical staff and that makes owners unwilling to open their checkbook.
This brings us to the second hurdle in any Clowney-Raiders marriage. According to the NFL Player's Association public salary cap report, the Raiders currently have $7.9 million in cap space. But that number will shrink once the Raiders have agreed to terms with all of their recent draft picks, including first-round picks Henry Ruggs and Damon Arnette. At the moment, the Raiders still need to clear some cap space in order to sign their entire rookie class. They simply lack the cap space, at the moment, to add Clowney at the number he's been demanding.
Of course, there are always ways to fit a player in. But for the Raiders to add Clowney at the number he wants, it likely would require a large chunk of the cash to come in the form of a signing bonus and the Raiders still would have to clear space by cutting some players. Right guard Gabe Jackson's contract became guaranteed last month. Quarterback Derek Carr's contract is the Raiders' most pliable but he's set for what could be a career year in Las Vegas.
Plain and simple: It's difficult to see the Raiders finding a way to fit Clowney in at his preferred number.
The Raiders currently are relying on Crosby, Ferrell and free-agent addition Carl Nassib to provide the heat off the edge. Last season, the Raiders recorded just 32 sacks, a number that must improve for them to make way in a tough AFC West.
Increasing pressure on the quarterback is paramount for the Raiders, but Clowney isn't a double-digit sack maven. He's been more of a run-stopper during his NFL career and his production hasn't been equal to the contract he desires. He's a big name who will come with a price tag he hasn't earned.
If the Raiders can find a way to get him at a discount as the season approaches it obviously would be worth it. But right now, any pact between Clowney and the Raiders is more fiction than reality.
Jadeveon Clowney-Raiders rumors more fantasy than reality at moment originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area