If the Seahawks can’t keep Clowney, what’s next for the pass rush?

Mar 20, 2020, 11:19 AM | Updated: 6:18 pm

Seahawks Yannick Ngakoue...

Yannick Ngakoue could be the Seahawks' top target if Jadeveon Clowney signs elsewhere. (Getty)


We’re on the fifth day of “Clowney Watch” as we wait to see if defensive end Jadeveon Clowney opts to return to the Seahawks for 2020 and potentially beyond.

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The Seahawks have been somewhat active in free agency thus far, bringing former first-round pick Bruce Irvin back to Seattle to rush the passer, signing three offensive linemen and re-signing defensive tackle Jarran Reed as well as the earlier signing of tight end Greg Olsen, but Clowney appears to be the Seahawks’ priority, especially with how the rest of the market in terms of pass rushers has disappeared.

Clowney was seen as the top free-agent pass rusher due in part to other edge rushers like Yannick Ngakoue of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Matt Judon of the Baltimore Ravens and Shaquill Barrett of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers all receiving one-year franchise tags from their respective clubs. That left Clowney seemingly in a league of his own since Seattle agreed not to use the tag on him when they acquired him from the Houston Texans last summer.

Reportedly, Clowney’s market has been underwhelming, as teams have yet to offer him the $20 million-plus per year that he is supposedly asking for, and some have said that Seattle has actually offered him the most lucrative deal thus far.

There are also reports that teams have questions about his injury history that can’t get answered due to NFL restrictions on visits because of the coronavirus, and Clowney has never recorded 10 or more sacks in a season, so teams appear hesitant to dish out that much money without seeing more results in the box score.

Now, there are reports that Clowney may be seeking a short-term deal so he can re-enter free agency in the near future. Could that cause a team to offer him a more lucrative annual salary so he spurns the Seahawks?

If that happens, the Seahawks will have to address their pass rush elsewhere, but that could prove tricky as many of the other top free-agent pass rushers are off the market.

Who’s gone?

Dante Fowler Jr. was seen by many as the best pass rusher on the open market after Clowney. After recording 11.5 sacks in 2019, Fowler has reportedly signed a three-year, $48 million deal with the Atlanta Falcons.

The San Francisco 49ers also locked up one of the better free agent defensive ends, re-signing Arik Armstead to a five-year deal worth up to $85 million.

Robert Quinn, who has been a good defensive end in the NFL for a while now despite still being 29, is also off the market, as he reportedly will sign with the Chicago Bears for $70 million over five years.

Some mid-tier players like Mario Addison (Buffalo Bills), Shaq Lawson (Miami Dolphins), Carl Nassib (Las Vegas Raiders), Leonard Floyd (Los Angeles Rams), Emmanuel Ogbah (Dolphins) and Vic Beasley (Tennessee Titans) are all off the market as well.

Additionally, the Seahawks lost Quinton Jefferson, who played both defensive end and defensive tackle in 2019, to the Bills.

Available free agents

There are still some players available besides Clowney, and more could be made available as teams are continuing to cut veterans to increase cap room, but the pickings are definitely more slim than they were when the legal tampering period began on Monday.

After Clowney, the best free-agent fit for the Seahawks would probably be Everson Griffen, who has spent his entire 10-year career with the Minnesota Vikings. He’s a four-time Pro Bowler who has been durable and consistent, and he has ties to Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll having played for him collegiately at USC. Reports came out Friday that he will not be returning to the Vikings.

Another USC product is Clay Matthews, a linebacker, was cut by the Los Angeles Rams on Thursday. While he’s a linebacker, he’s a 3-4 linebacker, so he’s been a pass rusher for the majority of his career.

Carroll knows those two well, so either ending up in Seattle wouldn’t be that big of a surprise, especially if Clowney signs elsewhere.

Speaking of players Carroll knows well, the Seahawks already signed Irvin, but former Seahawks defensive ends Michael Bennett, Benson Mayowa, Cassius Marsh, Dion Jordan, and, unsurprisingly, Ziggy Ansah, are all still on the open market.

Bennett would probably make the most sense of the five as he has the versatility to play both at defensive end and defensive tackle, and he’s been far more reliable and consistent than the other three. Additionally, he’s said he’d like to return to the Seahawks.

After him, Mayowa is probably the most intriguing option as he’s coming off a 7-sack campaign without any starts with the Raiders and is just 28 years old.

Two other players that could also make some sense for the Seahawks are Adrian Clayborn and Markus Golden.

Clayborn, 31, has been more of a role player the last two seasons, but he had a career-high 9.5 sacks in 2017 with the Falcons. He’s only had 5.5 sacks or more three times in his nine-year career, but he could be a nice addition coming off the bench as a situational player for a lower price.

Golden, meanwhile, had 10 sacks for the New York Giants last year after playing just 15 games in 2017 and 2018 due to injuries. In 2016 with the Arizona Cardinals, he had 12.5 sacks. Golden just turned 29 last Friday.

Trade options

If the Seahawks can’t keep Clowney but still want to get a premier edge rusher, they’d have to hit the trade market.

There are three edge rushers that could potentially be available by trade who were all franchise tagged by their respective teams: Ngakoue, Judon and Bud Dupree of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Of the three, Ngakoue is most likely to be moved as he has stated on social media that he has no desire to sign a long-term deal with the Jaguars. One rumor was Jacksonville would send Ngakoue and their second-round pick to Seattle in exchange for Seattle’s first-round pick and one of their two second-rounders.

While that trade would make a lot of sense for both teams, the issue would be that Seattle would have to sign him to a long-term deal. Ngakoue is younger than Clowney (24 versus 27), has been extremely durable and has had at least 8 sacks in all four of his NFL seasons. Would the Seahawks be willing to pay him more than more than they’re offering Clowney?

Judon, 27, has also been durable in his four NFL seasons, and had a career-high 9.5 sacks last season for the Ravens as a full-time starter for the first time in his career. With Baltimore primed for another playoff run, would they be willing to part with the young defensive end?

And in the case of Dupree, I don’t think the Steelers will move him, but they could be inclined to. They traded their first-round pick this year to the Dolphins, so they could be looking for extra draft capital via trade. If so, Dupree would help in that regard.

It’s unclear how well he’d fit schematically in Seattle. He’s played 3-4 outside linebacker during his career, whereas Seattle runs a 4-3 defense, so he’d line up with his hand in the dirt on the line as a defensive end if he were in the Seahawks’ system.

It sure sounds like the Seahawks are all in on Clowney, but if he signs elsewhere on either a short- or long-term deal, I’d expect at least one of these free agents or trade candidates to end up in Seattle this offseason.

Follow’s Brandon Gustafson on Twitter.

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If the Seahawks can’t keep Clowney, what’s next for the pass rush?