HOUSTON -- Using the franchise tag on defensive end/outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney was an easy decision for the Houston Texans, who should try to sign the pass-rusher to a long-term deal before the July 15 deadline.
Tagging Clowney was inevitable after he entered last season without a contract extension but after two seasons of avoiding serious injuries and playing at a high level, Clowney has proven himself worthy of an extension.
Clowney entered 2018 with a chip on his shoulder after not being given a long-term deal. The Texans have long operated by the rule of giving veteran players an extension entering the final year of their contracts, as they did recently with wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Instead, they let Clowney play out his contract on his fifth-year option, opting to wait and see whether he could remain healthy and produce at an elite level. Not surprisingly, he did.
Now, Houston has to decide whether it wants to retain a player who has become one of the best at his position in the NFL.
After proving himself, again, Clowney will likely cash in. The Texans enter the offseason with more than $78 million in cap space and a franchise quarterback, Deshaun Watson, on his rookie contract for three more seasons. Though it’s likely Houston won’t wait that long to reward Watson, it gives the Texans at least two years without a quarterback contract worth more than $100 million on the books.
With a Clowney extension, Houston will still be able to address some of its glaring holes. Re-signing safety Tyrann Mathieu will help shore up the secondary, while the Texans also have big needs on their offensive line and at cornerback. A new contract for Clowney wouldn’t get in Houston’s way en route to addressing all of those positions.
If the Texans don’t pay Clowney and let him play 2019 on the franchise tag, they would risk losing one of their key defensive weapons. You can’t let elite talent like Clowney go, which is what the Oakland Raiders learned last season when they traded outside linebacker Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears for two first-round picks. Mack was a difference-maker for the Bears' defense that helped the team win the NFC North, while Raiders coach Jon Gruden bemoaned his team’s need for a pass-rusher throughout the regular season.
Few teams boast a defensive-line duo like Clowney and three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt. The Texans were ranked 12th in total defense last season but first against the run. Houston allowed an NFL-low 3.4 rushing yards per attempt, largely thanks to Clowney and Watt.
The duo helped Houston go from 4-12 in 2017 to 11-5 and an AFC South championship in 2018. With a secondary that proved vulnerable to big plays throughout the season and playoffs, the Texans’ front seven was their driving force. Under defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, both Clowney and Watt are constantly moved around the line of scrimmage, creating uncertainty and then havoc for opposing offensive lines.
“He’s a disruptive player,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said of Clowney. “Jadeveon is a big part of what we’ve done here. Like I always say, when he feels good, health-wise, and he’s ready to rock-and-roll, he’s hard to handle. Him in combination with J.J. [Watt] and the other guys, it’s a tough front.”
There have been some questions about Clowney’s work ethic, in addition to his health, which could play into whether the franchise wants to invest in him for the long haul. But results on the field don’t lie, and Clowney has proven himself as a top defensive playmaker in the NFL. Given how crucial defense has been to the Texans’ recent success, Clowney should not hit the free-agent market.