Here's a closer look at how one of the NFL's top edge defenders has remained unsigned almost two months into free agency and what could be next:
How did it get to this point?
Go back to late last summer, when the Seahawks acquired Clowney in a trade with the Houston Texans. As a franchise-tagged player, Clowney wasn't under contract and thus couldn't be traded until he signed his tender. That gave him veto power over any proposed trade, which he used to get the Seahawks to agree to not tag him in 2020.
After Clowney reached free agency for the first time in his six-year career, one source told ESPN that he was seeking a deal averaging $21 million. A source told ESPN's Dianna Russini that Clowney lowered his asking price to around $17 million to $18 million a couple of weeks into free agency.
It's widely believed that Clowney's injury history has given teams pause, especially with the inability to bring in free agents for physicals amid the coronavirus pandemic. He had core-muscle surgery after the season and has dealt with knee injuries over his career.
How good is Clowney, anyways?
He's much more impactful than his sack numbers suggest. His 32 sacks since entering the NFL as the No. 1 overall pick in 2014 are 45th most in that span. He has never topped more than 9.5 sacks in any season and had three in 13 regular-season games last year.
But Clowney's pass rush win rate of 24.2% since 2017 is ninth best in the NFL. He was fifth in PRWR last season (24.8%) and faced double-teams on 26.3% of his edge-rush snaps, the third-highest rate among qualifying defenders, according to a report by ESPN's Seth Walder. Clowney also scored two defensive touchdowns last season, so his impact went well beyond his three sacks.
What happened with Clowney and the Seahawks?
They made him what one source described as a strong offer, which Clowney rejected and thus is no longer on the table. The Seahawks then reached a point where they determined they could no longer afford to continue pursuing Clowney -- and setting aside the money they'd have to pay him -- at the risk of waiting so long that they would lose out on other deals. That was right before they signed another pass-rusher, Benson Mayowa, and more recently brought back left guard Mike Iupati.
Signing Mayowa to a one-year, $3.05 million deal was indicative of the Seahawks moving on to Plan B in their attempts to improve what was one of the league's least-effective pass rushes in 2019. They've since drafted a pair of edge rushers, trading up for Darrell Taylor in the second round and taking Alton Robinson in the fifth.
Can the Seahawks still afford Clowney?
Over The Cap and ESPN's Roster Management System both list Seattle with around $21 million in cap room after the team released offensive linemen Justin Britt and D.J. Fluker, but that figure requires some explanation.
It doesn't include Bruce Irvin's contract, details of which are not yet known. It doesn't include money the Seahawks have to set aside for their practice squad and injury replacements. Both expenses might be bigger this year with new rules for practice squads and the potential for more injuries than normal coming off an atypical offseason program. The Seahawks structure many of their veteran contracts with per-game roster bonuses and have to set aside the full amounts in cash plus the portions of those bonuses that aren't currently counting against the 2020 cap.
All of those are cash expenses in addition to cap charges. And like other teams, the Seahawks are restricted by a cash budget in addition to a salary cap.
The bottom line: Having $21 million in listed cap space doesn't mean the Seahawks have that much to spend on Clowney or anyone else.
What's Clowney's thinking?
In his first public comments since becoming a free agent, he told Fox 26 in Houston earlier this week that he's in no rush to sign anywhere. He added: "I love Seattle. I love everybody on the coaching staff. I wouldn't trade those guys in. I hope we can work something out."
That aligns with what Clowney has been saying in private about his time with the Seahawks. Once source told ESPN that he helped sell tackle Brandon Shell, his college teammate, on the Seahawks by telling him he'd enjoy playing for Pete Carroll because of the way the coach takes care of veteran players.
One school of thought is that Clowney's patient approach might be a risk in this sense: The same thing that happened with the Seahawks could happen with other teams, meaning that whatever other offers he has turned down might not be there forever.
How could he end up back in Seattle?
According to a source, that would require Clowney taking significantly less money than what the Seahawks previously offered him. Even if he was willing to return at a discounted rate without a better offer from another team, the Seahawks might have to shed that same amount elsewhere or something close to it to fit Clowney into their budget.