I logged off Twitter the other night to escape the same question I’ve been asked about a million times in the last month and then I got a text message from a good friend:
“I need Jadeveon Clowney.”
As this Clowney saga has unfolded in Houston (where I briefly covered Clowney, by the way), Eagles fans have taken notice more and more. There’s a three-time Pro Bowler being dangled in front of you like a steak in front of a hungry dog. I get it.
It still seems like Miami is the front-runner to land Clowney and the Dolphins seem to think that way too. But if the Eagles want to be in play here, they can be. They have the cap space ($17.9M) and they have the ammo to get a deal done with the Texans. That doesn’t mean it’s going to happen, but it means it could if the Eagles and Howie Roseman want it.
This whole situation is a tricky one for several reasons. For starters, Clowney hasn’t yet signed his franchise tag, so he basically holds veto power, while Bill O’Brien clearly wants to trade him. The Texans have no GM after firing Brian Gaine; Clowney has no agent after firing Bus Cook.
All of that makes this whole thing so interesting and unpredictable.
With that in mind, I made a pros and cons list for the Eagles about a possible trade for Clowney:
Clowney is good
This one seems pretty obvious, but it’s the main reason why you’d want to trade for the 26-year-old. While he’s never had a double-digit sack season, Clowney has been a Pro Bowler in each of his last three seasons and does have 18 1/2 sacks in the last two years. There’s a reason he was the No. 1 overall pick in 2014; he’s an absolute freak athlete. I only got to cover Clowney briefly in Houston because of his microfracture injury as a rookie, but he’s one of the most athletic players I’ve ever seen.
Since coming into the NFL, Clowney has played in Houston’s 3-4 as both an outside linebacker and a defensive end, but I have no doubt he’d be able to play DE in the Eagles’ 4-3 scheme. He’d be fine.
Eagles lack depth at DE
After Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett, the Eagles lack depth at defensive end. Vinny Curry returned as the third DE, but after that they have unproven depth with Josh Sweat, Daeshon Hall and Shareef Miller. The Eagles went into the 2018 season with the same starters, but originally had Michael Bennett and Chris Long coming off the bench. This is a significant drop-off this year.
Texans are in a bind
The Texans have sort of backed themselves into a corner here and everyone knows they want to trade Clowney. From a leverage standpoint, that’s not great for them. On top of that, head coach Bill O’Brien is the acting general manager. So if there were to be an Eagles-Texans trade, one side has a guy with basically no GM experience and the other side has one of the shrewdest GMs in the league. Advantage Eagles.
Clowney wants to come here
While the Dolphins have been given permission to speak to Clowney, he would reportedly prefer to go to a contending team. According to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle, two of Clowney’s preferred destinations are Seattle and Philly. Normally the player’s preference doesn’t matter all that much, but since Clowney hasn’t signed his franchise tender yet, he holds veto power. That’s huge leverage in this game. He can basically steer the trade in the direction he wants it to go.
Clowney is good, not great
While Clowney has been to the last three Pro Bowls, he has never had a 10-sack season. And despite how athletic and freakish he is, he has never really lived up to his potential. Sure, he’s a good player, but is he great? This is where we bring in the questions about his buying in and work ethic. It’s clear that Clowney and O’Brien don’t mesh and it would be important for the Eagles to figure out how Clowney would fit here. There’s a reason the Texans never gave him a big contract, right? Because eventually, you would presume, the Eagles would want to sign him to a long-term deal. They have to determine if he would be worth that.
He’d take snaps from Graham/Barnett
The main reason Chris Long didn’t return to the Eagles was because he wasn’t prepared to take a very diminished role in the defense. If Clowney comes here, he needs to start, which means sending either Brandon Graham or Derek Barnett to a diminished role. The Eagles paid Graham this offseason and Barnett was a first-round pick not that long ago. The addition of Malik Jackson has changed the potential workload for that third defensive end this season because in past years, a DE would slide inside on third downs in the NASCAR package, creating opportunity for the next DE. But Jackson will stay on the field on third downs this year. Their top pass rush group now would be: Barnett, Jackson, Fletcher Cox, Graham. If Clowney comes, he'd be on it.
What’s the price?
You’re not going to get Clowney for nothing. The Eagles would have to give up something significant to bring in the Pro Bowl player. How much? That’s hard to figure out. On 97.5 TheFanatic Wednesday morning, Wilson said the Texans are open to a “reasonable” deal, which could mean a second-round pick and a player or two. That definitely seems reasonable, but that’s not how negotiations usually work. The Texans would be crazy to at least not start discussions with a first-rounder. We’ve all heard the names associated with this potential trade (Big V, Nelson Agholor, etc.). The Texans need a tackle, receiver (specifically a slot guy) and running back. The Eagles have a surplus of all three.
And then there’s the literal price. While the Eagles have the cap space to make this deal, Clowney would take up almost all of it. It’s not like a team loses cap space if they don’t use it; it simply rolls over to the following year.
No negotiations until after season
We mentioned that if the Eagles trade for Clowney, they’d probably like to sign him to a long-term contract. The problem here is that because Clowney would be playing on that franchise tag, paying him around $16M in 2019, the Eagles wouldn’t be allowed to negotiate until after the season. So this would be a one-year rental with the hope they’d be able to keep him after that. And the better he plays, the higher that price tag climbs.
I still doubt the Eagles will trade for Clowney, but I would never count out Roseman. The part that should intrigue the Eagles is that the Texans are really backed up against the wall without much leverage and with an inexperienced GM. If the trade price is as low as Wilson hinted, the Eagles would have to be interested. At the very least, they should be doing their homework.
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