BY Art Thiel 09:19PM 03/18/2020

Thiel: Irvin gets Hawks encore, Clowney a pause

Seahawks bring back DE Bruce Irvin, a Super Bowl starter, but are still waiting on DE Jadeveon Clowney to come back to market reality. Only they know his health report.

Bruce Irvin said in 2016 he wasn’t used to his full potential in Seattle, but he’s all smiles in 2020. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

In the official start Wednesday to the NFL free agent bazaar, the largest mystery is in Seattle.

Why doesn’t DE Jadeveon Clowney have a job, with the Seahawks or another team?

To borrow Winston Churchill’s famous description of Russia, Clowney seems to be a riddle wrapped in a mystery.

Part of the answer is known around the league: A physical talent of the first order, Clowney has always been good, never consistently great.

His situation is complicated by the most urgent of current events: The national constraint resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. The NFL responded this week, in a sudden and poorly-thought-out way, by banning the travel of players and team medical personnel to conduct physical exams that are mandatory before free agents sign contracts.

Since Clowney had health problems last season that included post-season surgery to repair an abdominal-muscle tear that he played through for the last half of his only Seattle season, any team is leery about playing top-tier money for potentially damaged goods.

Only the Seahawks know the truth. And they aren’t sharing.

So by Wednesday evening, Clowney was unclaimed.

But the Seahawks have not been thumb-twiddling waiting on Clowney, the market and a vaccine. Before delving further into Clowney, here’s where things stand in the little football shop in Renton since Monday’s commencement of negotiations — again, with no deals formally completed. The Seahawks:

  • Re-signed their own pending unrestricted free agent, DT Jarran Reed, to a two-year, $23 million contract
  • Signed DE Bruce Irvin, Seattle’s first-round draft pick in 2012 and a member of their Super Bowl teams, from the Panthers, terms unreported, plus TE Luke Willson
  • Signed three “budget” offensive linemen, all age 28: Cedric Ogbuehi,  from the Jaguars; Brandon Shell from the Jets, and B.J. Finney from the Steelers, which signals that the Seahawks won’t pursue their own O-line free agent, Germain Ifedi
  • Lost OL George Fant to the New York Jets and DL Quinton Jefferson to the Bills
  • Made tenders to restricted free agents TE Jacob Hollister, C Joey Hunt, WR David Moore and DL Branden Jackson, all but assuring their returns
  • Let FS Tedric Thompson pursue a trade offer, which is polite NFL argot for buh-bye

Wednesday’s signing of Irvin, 32, was a bit of a surprise. But it will be greeted by smiles from the few holdovers in the locker room he left in 2016 to sign a free-agent deal with Oakland. Irvin offered his own grin via Twitter:

Last season at Carolina, Irvin had 8.5 sacks and 16 QB hits, numbers that would have earned him a small parade in Seattle. His arrival helps mitigate the loss of the underrated Jefferson, who started 22 games at end over the past two seasons. Irvin could also help in case free agent LB Mychal Kendricks is unavailable because of his pending sentence after pleading guilty to insider trading five years ago. The most recent sentencing date is March 30.

Along the O-line, Seattle had to stanch the bleeding, which also includes another starter, LG Mike Iupati, 33, who is likely not coming back, plus the possible departure of C Justin Britt, who is coming off a serious knee injury and is owed $8.5 million.

Of the three signees, Shell (6-5, 324), a fifth-rounder in the 2016 draft out of South Carolina who started 40 of 49 games for the Jets, received the most money — reportedly up to $11 million over two years. That alone suggests he’s the likeliest replacement for Ifedi, plus his great uncle is Hall of Famer Art Shell.

Ogbuehi, a 2015 first-round pick by Cincinnati out of Texas A&M, was reported to have signed a one-year deal for $3.3 million. He started 25 games at both tackle spots for the Bengals in 2016-17. Finney, undrafted out of Kansas State, has played tackle, guard and center at Pittsburgh, where he made 13 starts in four years.

Back to Clowney.

Saying he loved his Seahawks experience but loved the top of the market more, Clowney was anticipating premium offers that put him in the class of defenders Aaron Donald, Khalil Mack and DeMarcus Lawrence. But he’s an edge rusher in a 4-3 scheme, eliminating all the 3-4 teams, and his relatively low sack numbers caused more teams to say nah.

Now that a number of other quality free agent edge rushers have found day-one deals, plus a draft coming that has a surplus of same, there are few clubs eager to spend big on Clowney, especially without an exam. Of course it takes only one to make a market, but none of the clubs know what the Seahawks know about his health.

It may be that Clowney has to re-calibrate to a deal for less money and fewer years.

At 26, he still has a bright upside, but at this moment in the NFL calendar, which also has a big public-health crisis wrinkling it, he doesn’t check enough boxes for a mega-deal.

Which points to a return to Seattle, where he now could be paired with Irvin.  The Seahawks pass rush still needs more, but it creeps toward average. That doesn’t seem like much, but average in January might have had them in the Super Bowl.


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YourThoughts

  • jafabian

    The defense is becoming more linebacker-centric which shouldn’t be a surprise with Ken Norton Jr being the coordinator. Clowney has to be liking the moves being done and the club would most likely be fine with him signing a 2-3 year deal since that’s typically how they operate. Bruce has had opportunity to return to the Hawks before but opted for Atlanta and Carolina instead. Glad to see him finally make it back.

    The O-Line however is being patched together with other teams castoffs. The familiarity that the O-Line has enjoyed the past couple seasons is gone. Despite his injury and salary I don’t know if the Hawks can afford to let Britt go. He’s pretty much Wilson’s wingman.

    • art thiel

      The O-line is so hard to read because Wilson rescues them so often with timely scrambles and improbable completions. I think Jamarco Jones has a good shot to be NFL average at guard, but if they move on from Britt, replacement will be hard, unless they think Pocic is ready for a jump.

      • jafabian

        Ethan’s hard to judge because of his injuries. He had a solid rookie season but seemed to take a step backward the next season. We barely saw him in 2019. Now, when Max Unger was traded and losing both James Carpenter and Russell Okung to free agency Wilson’s QBR went down the next two seasons but then progressively went up the next two after Brown and Fluker joined. I’m not quite sold yet on Ethan and Joey Hunt being full time starters but we’ll see. Warren Moon had said that the best thing to help an O-Line is being allowed to stay together so they can become familiar with one another.

        I was hoping the Hawks might be able to swoop in and acquire Trent Williams from Washington the way they did for Brown, Diggs and Clowney but it looks like the price for him is extremely high.

        • art thiel

          The days of holding a line together for more than two seasons are long gone. Better to invest in an O-line coach.

      • wabubba67

        If staying at #27, Seahawks should select the best center in the draft. Either Cushenberry from LSU or the guy from Temple. At #27, that’s where the true value is for Seattle. Use the savings to find someone to pair with Clowney.

        • art thiel

          As I mentioned above, I agree that the OL becomes the first-round priority if Clowney is signed. Starting a rookie at center is risky, but if saving Britt’s salary buys them another starter, it’s probbably worth it.

  • 2nd place is 1st loser

    The O line at this point, still early, is being ignored. If the Hawks don’t re-sign the walking flag machine Ifedi, they’ll either try to grab a bargain in the draft or make another late night shopping spree at the Dollar Tree. Wilson will once again pray that his ability to run for his life will hold up for another season.

    • Husky73

      Ifedi means “orange traffic cone”

      • art thiel

        Think of it this way: He was practicing social distancing before it was trendy.

  • tor5

    I remember when, before the Vikings playoff game that reached -6 degrees, Irvin said anyone who wore long-sleeves was a “punk.” Gotta love it.

    The news about the O-line signings shouldn’t be surprising, I guess. With a few exceptions, this seems to be where Schneider typically looks to go cheap. Would you agree? I guess we can’t pay elite salaries everywhere, but I worry about our $140 million QB.

    • art thiel

      They expended capital on Britt, Brown and Pocic, but it’s true they skate with that unit more than others. I agree that regarding Wilson’s amazing string of healthy seasons, they toy with fate.

      • 2nd place is 1st loser

        Schneider has shown that he loves him some bargain specials at the dollar store for O-lineman, a few exceptions of course. As far as toying with fate with Wilson, it’s gonna be another year of all the time favorite. Run Russell Run, coming to a stadium near you. Go Hawks.

        • art thiel

          Good that you remembered John Moffitt.

      • wabubba67

        Ifedi, too…a 1st round pick.

  • Husky73

    This surprises me. I was under the impression that Carroll was not a fan of Irvin’s?

    • art thiel

      Obviously, they didn’t pick up his option. Carroll felt like Irvin free-lanced too much, Irvin felt like he wasn’t used right. Fairly typical stuff between coach and player. But I never picked up on anything like contempt either way.

      • Husky73

        I will be driving down Thiel Road today. Are there any relatives you wish me to say hello from a distance?

        • art thiel

          In Eastern WA? None.

          Unless you pass the House of Slytherin.

          • Husky73

            Just a bit SE of Lynden, WA.

          • art thiel

            I’d shelter in place.

  • Archangelo Spumoni

    I still distinctly remember at the very end of a game @ Carolina, Irvin sacked Cam on consecutive plays to preserve the win.
    Fun to remember in the normal sense, and extra fun to remember Cam putting on a fine version of the “Cam Sulk.”

    • art thiel

      Irvin had some fine moments, and games where he was invisible. That’s why he wasn’t re-upped.

  • Kevin Lynch

    I don’t see John signing Jadaveon for $20 mill if it’s only on a one year contract and even with someone holding a gun to his head.

    • art thiel

      What’s your price point then? $17? $18? The difference seems negligible relative to fixing a flagrant weakness.

      • Kevin Lynch

        The difference is hardly negligible if he gets injured again or does not return to his top form. It’s unfortunate the Hawks are in this bind but things could get worse. For instance, a failure to improve the offensive line. Check in with your franchise QB.

        • art thiel

          Seahawks have twin urgencies: DL and OL. Just about a dead heat given the investment in Wilson. But they have an upper hand over the rest of the league in signing a superior talent like Clowney, even if it’s only one year — and maybe because it’s only one year. They don’t have nearly the options at RT, except with a first-round draft pick, which is where’d I’d go with it.

    • jafabian

      It’s being reported he might just do that since teams are balking at his price demands. Huge gamble if he does a one year deal. https://www.fieldgulls.com/2020/3/20/21188464/2020-nfl-free-agency-jadeveon-clowney-update-one-year-contract-seattle-seahawks

  • Stephen Pitell

    Getting Reed for a full year with Clowney and Irvin as the starting DE’s, plus Poona, I think that makes a very nice DL. I hate that we lost Jefferson, but Irvin makes up for that, and the rest of those returning will get better year over year since they are all very young. Only Irvin is over 30. We’ll undoubtably add one or two players in the draft. That seems to me to fill our roster, and give us all hope for a better defense than last year. Which is all any of us are asking for.

    Many are suggesting we also get another “star” for the pass rush. Giffen of Minnesota or Ngogui (sp) in a trade from the Jags, I think it is. I hate trading draft picks.

    I like filling most of the holes on the team in FA with pro experience and using draft picks for the best player available. That seems to work better than drafting for needs. We did that last year and got LJ Collier. I’m still hoping for the best with him, but I’m doubtful, and it is not good when a first round draft pick doesn’t make a splash in his first year. It is a year we can never get back of inexpensive play. If a player washes out his first year, makes a bit of improvement his second year, and again in the third year, but doesn’t really impress until the fourth year and then leaves in his fifth year, I don’t count that as a great draft pick. Maybe an OK draft pick, but not an A+ that’s for sure. Drafting best player available seems to usually avoid those bad draft results.

  • Archangelo Spumoni

    All:
    I just rewatched last season’s Hawks/Frisco game on the NFL network (the first matchup that went into o.t.) and if you want to see what a healthy Clowney can do, enjoy the heck out of the replay.