The Houston Texans could be entering a tricky situation in the next two years on the defensive side of the field regarding player contracts. The three players in question are JaDaveon Clowney, J.J. Watt, and Whitney Mercilus. JaDaveon Clowney is entering year 4 of his 2014 rookie contract and is scheduled to earn $17,303,227 through the 2018 season. This offseason the Texans exercised the 5th year option in Clowney’s contract worth almost $14 million for the 2018 league year. Current reports indicate the Texans intend to monitor Clowney’s progression and health in 2017 before starting contract extension negotiations in the 2018 offseason when Clowney has one year remaining on his contract.
Clowney had a very productive 2016 campaign. The stat line may not support that assessment but the game tape does not lie. With the return of J.J. Watt on the other side of the defensive line, this could provide Clowney more “one on one” opportunities to pad his stat line, increasing his market value heading into the 2018 offseason. If Clowney’s progression continues on the current trajectory he could be in line for a large contract extension; possibly a contract worth more than multiple all-pro J.J. Watt.
Watt will have 4 years remaining on his player contract heading into the 2018 offseason; 4 years of non-guaranteed salary totaling $57 million dollars. Considering that Watt potentially lines up both on the interior portion and on the end of the defensive line, it is difficult to classify his market value based solely on 3-4 defensive end players. $14.25 million per year for the next 4 years with zero guarantee liability puts the Houston Texans in a favorable position with Watt. This assumes Watt returns to previous form after multiple back surgeries. If Watt does continue to provide production similar to his past seasons, his camp could push for a new contract based on the edge rusher market, and depending on the size of contract Clowney receives. This could be another Duane Brown situation for the Houston Texans as Watt may want seek out new guaranteed money if his production returns.
Another player that could be affected by a Clowney extension is outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus. Currently Mercilus has 3 years remaining on his 2015 contract extension totaling $16.5 million. This contract is one of the most favorable veteran contracts currently in the NFL when comparing production versus cash paid to the player. One could argue that Mercilus is already out performing this contract based on his production. Mercilus is in a similar position as Watt as he is entering the non-guaranteed salary portion of his player contract. This is another example where the Texans have a productive player under contract for multiple years with low salary liability.
Watt & Mercilus will be watching two specific situations and how they play out over the next 12 months; the Duane Brown situation and the JaDaveon Clowney situation. Brown is attempting to get a new contract extension with two years of non-guaranteed salary remaining; and Clowney is in position to receive a contract extension that could be valued higher than Watt’s contract extension.