Throughout the next several weeks, we’ll be assessing the market on some of the best free agents set to come available on March 14. Beyond scheme fit, these decisions will be impacted by available finances, team thoughts on current draft prospects and perception of value vs. actual value. We’ll try and parse through those ideas here.
Player: Jadeveon Clowney
Age: 25 (turns 26 on Feb. 14)
Position: Defensive end/outside linebacker
2018 salary: $13.311 million (fifth-year option of his 2014 rookie deal).
2018 statistics: 21 quarterback hits (tied for career high), nine sacks, three fumble recoveries and 37 solo tackles.
Why he’s a top-tier free agent: It’s fairly remarkable how well Clowney has performed throughout his career given that he’s been The Chosen One since his days in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Though he has a good number of snaps on his shoulders already, he hits the market at the right age—he’ll turn 26 on Feb. 14, and he could theoretically come up for another contract at age 30. He rushes the passer well from both the inside and outside, and when given the opportunity to face a single, replacement-level blocker, there have been games that Clowney absolutely took over on his own. He’s athletic enough to shift around in a hybrid defense, but powerful enough to hold his own against the run.
Risks involved: Despite missing significant time his rookie season with a torn meniscus, Clowney has been relatively healthy in subsequent years. I think teams may struggle with the middling sack numbers, but I would counter with the way Houston’s defense has been set up and what they expect of Clowney on every snap. The scariest part for general managers will likely be cost. Clowney is a market-setting talent and could command some serious money given his age, versatility and salary floor as a former No. 1 overall pick. The question is whether someone will be willing to commit the contract length and total guarantees that would get this deal done quickly.
Market prospects: Clowney can play in any scheme, rush from just about any technique and is willing and able to make non-glamorous plays in the backfield that benefit the defense. His complementary role on a talented roster shouldn’t be overlooked. Clowney will benefit from another free-agent market where teams needing help on defense have deep pockets and also must contend in 2019. There are currently five teams with $70 million or more in effective space (h/t Over The Cap) and none of them are loaded on defense. The interesting part? Of the teams with the most cap space, almost all of them pick in the top 10 of the 2019 draft—a pool said to be loaded with defensive talent, especially on the edge. That could either increase Clowney’s market value (teams would want to pair their new edge rusher with someone used to taking double teams), or make teams flush with draft capital believe that they can replicate the production through a handful of picks.
Potential destinations: Houston, Indianapolis, Tennessee, NY Jets, L.A. Rams
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