It’s still hard to fathom how the Seattle Seahawks pulled off the Jadeveon Clowney trade. Not only did Seattle land a Pro Bowl pass rusher, one who is in his prime and has yet to reach his ceiling, but they did so without giving up much of anything that impacts their plans for 2019.
There’s no question that Clowney (6-foot-5, 255 pounds) improves the Seahawks outlook for this season. The question is how much? How many wins is Clowney worth?
The answers to those questions are potentially more significant than you might think. Not only does Clowney play the most impactful position on defense, but he’s a drastic improvement compared to who Seattle had slated to play that spot in 2019.
Cassius Marsh (cut) and Jacob Martin (part of the Clowney trade) would have likely split time opposite Ezekiel Ansah. They posted a combined 8.5 sacks in 2018. Clowney had nine by himself, which isn’t a gaudy number, but it’s an indicator that there’s a high floor from a pass rush standpoint. He’s also an elite run defender. Pro Football Focus had Clowney as the second-highest graded edge player against the run in 2018. During his current run of three-consecutive Pro Bowl seasons from 2016-18, Pro Football Reference gave Clowney an approximate value (AV) of 34. Over those same three seasons, Marsh's AV was just eight. Frank Clark's AV was a combined 21 during that span.
The addition of Clowney takes a ton of pressure off Ansah’s shoulders. Ansah, who just returned to practice last week, is now part of a potent 1-2 punch rather than having to carry Seattle’s pass rush by himself. The trade should also allow Seattle to get by just fine during Jarran Reed’s six-game suspension. Upon his return, the front four of Ansah, Reed, Poona Ford and Clowney combined with the linebacker trio of Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright and Mychal Kendricks give’s Seattle’s defense a chance to be dominant.
Clowney’s impact should trickle down to the secondary as well. An improved pass rush will force quarterbacks into quicker decisions – a direct formula for more takeaways. Seattle’s projected starting secondary (Bradley McDougald, Tedric Thompson, Shaquill Griffin and Tre Flowers) had just six combined interceptions in 2018. That number should be a lock to go up this season if the front seven lives up to the hype.
So back to the questions at hand. I believe that the addition of Clowney boosts Seattle’s expected win total by at least one. Should he take a step forward into the upper echelon of the NFL’s pass rushers, there’s no reason why it couldn’t be a two or three-game swing in the win column.
No team is void of question marks all together. It remains to be seen who will step up as Seattle’s No. 2 receiver behind Tyler Lockett. The secondary is still largely unproven. But it was the pass rush that was largely viewed as the Seahawks' greatest weakness.
With Clowney, that deficiency immediately turns into a position of strength that could ultimately be what propels Seattle’s playoff run come January. And that fact alone made this a no-brainer decision for the Seahawks, regardless of whether or not they're able to re-sign Clowney beyond 2019.