(94 WIP) - When there is a big move to be made in the NFL, chances are that Eagles general manager Howie Roseman is involved to some degree. He might just be monitoring it. He might be pursuing it. He might be close to pulling it off. That is how Roseman, one of the most aggressive general managers in the NFL, operates. It is his job to look into every situation.
Which is why recent reports about Houston Texans pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney should be of interest to Eagles fans.
According to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, it would be surprising at this point if the Houston Texans did not trade defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, a move that would end an ugly contract dispute between the teams. NFL Insider Michael Lombardi went on to report that Clowney is being shopped, adding more fuel to the fire.
Here are all of the different ways Roseman and the Eagles will likely look at the possibility of pulling off a big-time trade with the Texans:
Clowney, the player: Clowney has been one of the most disruptive pass rushers in the NFL since 2015, totaling 29.0 sacks over the last four seasons, including 18.5 over the last two years.
The numbers, however, don’t do justice to the player Clowney is.
Here is how Chris Long, former Eagles’ defensive end, described Clowney in a recent piece for Sports Illustrated:
Jadeveon Clowney is one of the biggest, baddest names on the trading block as teams begin to break camp. And guess what, he’s underrated. Don’t let the numbers fool you. He’s as disruptive an “edge rusher” as there is in the league. The thing is, he lines up everywhere. Usually you’ll see him with his hand in the dirt in a "nine technique." But he lines up everywhere. Oftentimes, you’ll see him lined up over the center or guard as a “floater” or backer causing interior linemen headaches in protection or even in the run game. He’s instinctive, explosive and has a nose for the football. He’s an elite rusher who plays the run violently.
That certainly sounds like a player that Roseman and the Eagles, who place a ton of value on the defensive line, would be willing to invest in.
Fit on defense: Clowney can play all over the defensive line, as Long notes. The question is how the Eagles would use him, and whose playing time he would take. Currently the plan for the Eagles along the defensive line is to start Derek Barnett, Fletcher Cox, Malik Jackson and Brandon Graham. Unlike the last few years, when the Eagles shuffled their players in-and-out of the defensive line and moved their players all around, the expectation is they won’t do that as much this year. They will play those four on third-downs and obvious passing downs. Backups Vinny Curry and Josh Sweat will play, but they likely won’t see the huge number of snaps backup defensive ends on the Eagles have gotten in the past.
If the Eagles traded for Clowney, they would have to abandon that plan to a certain degree. Barnett or Graham would become a backup. Jackson and Cox would likely still rush the passer on third down. Figuring out how to get all five players on the field would be challenging. It would be a good problem to have, but it would be a potential issue for defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, and a move for Clowney would mean a fairly significant cut in playing time for one of the current starters. Right or wrong, it is also debatable if the Eagles would want to take snaps away from Barnett at this point of his career.
Immediate need: Clowney coming to Philadelphia might result in a cut in playing time for one of the starters, but it would also address one of the biggest needs on the team — pass rush. Currently, both Barnett and Cox are limited in practice. Barnett is just starting to take team reps and Cox hasn’t even been at the last three practices. Even when Barnett is healthy, it is fair to wonder what the team will get from him considering he is coming off of a season-ending injury and has yet to show he can be a consistent, disruptive pass rusher as a starter. Behind Barnett and Graham are Vinny Curry and Josh Sweat, two players who combined for 2.5 sacks last season.
Clowney would turn the Eagles’ defensive line from a question into one of the biggest strengths on the team, and teams in the NFL that have a dominant defensive line are normally the teams that win far more often than they lose.
Long-term need: At just 26-years old, Clowney is still young enough to be a cornerstone of the Eagles’ team. There is no reason to think he won’t be able to play at an elite level for at least four more seasons. For the Eagles, that means he would be locked into one of the starting spots for years to come. As mentioned above, figuring out how to play Graham, Barnett and Sweat enough to keep all three happy could be an issue. Currently, however, the Eagles don’t have a sure-thing, dominant pass rusher they can count on for the foreseeable future. Clowney would check that box off for the Eagles in a major way.
Money: There is reason Clowney isn’t in Houston right now, and it is an issue the Eagles would have to address before pulling off a trade. The situation is a tricky one, however, as the deadline to strike a deal with Clowney has passed — meaning Clowney would have to play this year on the franchise tag, which is around $16 million. Not only does that eat up almost all of the Eagles’ remaining cap space, but it also means the Eagles would have to wait a full season to pay Clowney, and pay him off of next year’s deals for defensive ends, not the current ones. Recent deals handed out to pass rushers were to Dallas Cowboys’ DeMarcus Lawrence, who landed a five-year, $105 million deal with $48 million guaranteed ($62 million practical guarantees). The contract has an annual average of $21 million. Kansas City handed Frank Clark a five-year, $104 million deal with $43.8 million guaranteed ($62 million practical guarantees), and an average just below $21 million.
Chances are, if Clowney has the kind of dominant year the Eagles would hope for, he will command a deal next offseason that will top those and rival the biggest in the history of the league for a defensive player. Another complicating factor is that next offseason is currently set to be the final one in the current CBA, a reality that might make signing Clowney to a contract a little more complicated.
The bottom line is this — there will be no value for the Eagles when it comes to Clowney. They will pay top dollar this season and then hand out a massive deal to him next season.
Currently, the Eagles are projected to have $5.5 million in cap space for the 2020 season. They currently have $20 million, which would carry over, giving them roughly $25.5 million in cap space. Take away the $16 million from Clowney’s franchise tag, however, and the Eagles would be at around $9-10 million. Signing Clowney, even with a low first-year hit on his contract, would likely take up a decent portion of that deal.
Trade: What it would cost to land Clowney isn’t clear. It is also complicated. Clowney is an elite pass rusher and would likely command a first-round pick in almost any situation other than the one the Texans have gotten themselves in. The fact Clowney has to play a year on the franchise tag and can’t be signed to a deal until next season impacts his value. The fact he isn’t currently with the Texans impacts his value. It wouldn’t be shocking to see Clowney moved for a second-or-third round pick, considering the massive amount of money the team landing him will have to pay him. The Eagles also have a few players that might interest the Texans, who need help along the offensive line. A package centered around Halapoulivaati Vaitai won’t get it done, but Vaitai is a player that the Texans would likely have interest in. The question is how comfortable the Eagles would be trading him, considering he is currently their starting right guard, and the only backup tackle on their roster with actual NFL experience.
You can follow Eliot Shorr-Parks on Twitter at @EliotShorrParks or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org!