The Texans had months to figure out what to do with Edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney, but somehow failed to come up with anything. Now with just a few weeks left to go before the season begins the Texans “GM by committee” has apparently decided that trying to trade Clowney is the best idea. So lets explore the situation a bit.
One of the first things to note is that the Texans can not just trade Clowney. Clowney is tendered at the moment and counts against the Texans salary cap, but he is not under contract to the organization. The NFL does not allow a team to trade the rights to a player so if they want to trade Clowney, Clowney needs to agree to the trade.
While that may seem like an easy task given that Clowney seemingly would like out of Houston at this point, Clowney would likely have some demands of his own. Currently Clowney is scheduled to earn $15,967,200 as a Franchise player. That number is based on his designation as a linebacker which is a point of contention. If classified as a defensive end Clowney would earn $17.1 million. At the very least he would likely want that higher salary to make his move out of Houston.
Clowney’s trade value would also be at an all time low if traded now. Not only does he carry a high salary cap figure that probably only 1/3 of the NFL could deal with, but a team would not be permitted, by the rules of the CBA, to extend him. So in essence this is a one year rental with a franchise tag provision. Had the Texans orchestrated a trade prior to July 15 a team would have been able to sign him to a long term contract the same way the 49ers did with Dee Ford when they negotiated a sign and trade. Clowney could as a condition of the trade go so far as to ask for a no franchise provision to further put pressure on the Texans to accept low compensation if he were to hold firm to that demand.
Clowney’s value, under normal circumstances, should fall somewhere between Khalil Mack’s multi first round trade and the 49ers 2nd rounder for Ford. Probably something like a first round pick and a mid round selection or a player thrown in on the trade. With the Texans looking as if they are in crisis mode the best they may be able to do is a second round pick.
The Texans best option, in my opinion, is to just hit the reset switch on the whole scenario and wait it out until next season when they actually have a GM making decisions. If Clowney fails to play this year he does not earn any salary. For each week he misses the Texans will get a $939,247 salary cap credit. The Texans would also retain the rights to Clowney next year and would have the ability to franchise tag him again. The Texans have a ridiculous amount of cap space next year (in the ballpark of $110 million) so holding a tender for Clowney is not difficult.
If tagged next year the franchise compensation falls from two first round picks to a first and third rounder. That is reasonable enough that it would not be a surprise if another team signed Clowney in free agency under those terms. At the very least they would be able to get a first round pick for him given that he would sign a long term deal with a new team as soon as the trade was executed.
There is no downside to this option. If Clowney refuses to report the Texans don’t spend a dime, don’t have Clowney, and have the rights to tag him again and trade him next year. If he does report they get Clowney for a season, hope it’s a good year, and retain his right to tag him and trade him next year. If they are aggressive with the trade market they should be able to get a pick in the 2020 draft the same as if they were to trade him now for pennies on the dollar. Who knows maybe they even come to terms on a long term contract.
If the Texans do go and find a trade scenario this year they have to make certain that unless they do get a first round pick, that any trade will escalate to a first round pick if the team that trades for him signs him to a long term contract. This is a trade condition that was used by the Jets years ago in a trade with the Saints which saw the Jets get added compensation if the Saints extended Jonathan Vilma. The Saints got around the condition by waiting a day into free agency to sign a new contract but that wrinkle was erased when the Jets, this time on the other side of a trade, agreed to something similar with the Seattle Seahawks with Percy Harvin. In this case the Seahawks drove the timeframe for a roster condition well into the late spring.
The worst thing that the Texans can do is take option 3 which is to trade him for a 3rd round pick because that’s the maximum compensatory pick they could expect. That is simply a sign of panic.
Some people have questioned how the Texans got in this position in the first place and did not do a long term deal with Clowney, but I can understand that one. Clowney has always reminded me of another former Texan- Mario Williams. Both players are/were Pro Bowl caliber players but neither, in my opinion, were once in a lifetime type of talents. However their draft status combined with the fact that they are high level players sets a salary expectation that is probably much higher than a team like the Texans sees fit.
Williams hit free agency when the Texans allowed him to walk and he signed an absolute monster of a contract with the Bills for $16 million a season. That contract in today’s salary cap environment would be worth just under $25 million a year, larger than the Mack record setting deal signed last season with the Bears. Clowney if he hit free agency could see that same kind of payday since there are a number of teams that are going to see his physical ability as so high that its worth the cost. It’s simply a situation where Clowney could never accept anything the Texans were going to offer that was “low” and the Texans likely saw no reason to make him earn such a monstrous salary when years ago they didn’t have to do the same for JJ Watt.
The Texans offseason has been nothing short of a disaster and this is just going to add to it if they don’t think this out and rush into a trade that strongly benefits another team.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.