Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but there is another rumor about Jadeveon Clowney floating around. This time it comes from more reputable sources than many of the “reports” that have circulated through the Titans Twittersphere over the past five (FIVE!!!) months.
Let’s start with Ben Allbright of KOA News Radio in Denver, who said on the Pro Football Network’s Draft Insiders podcast that we should look for the Clowney situation to be resolved “in the next couple days” (starts at the 25:40 mark).
Allbright doesn’t offer any predictions about where Clowney ends up, but a timeline is better than nothing. Of course, that could just be more speculation regarding a situation that has, by all accounts, been very fluid all along.
We heard a different theory from NBC Sports’ Peter King during his appearance on 104.5 The Zone’s Midday 180 earlier this week. The veteran NFL writer said that he believes Clowney sitting out the 2020 season was a real possibility if he doesn’t get a salary of at least $15-million.
Frankly, I think the idea of Clowney sitting out the season is preposterous. All of the question marks surrounding him as a player — the injury history, the spotty sack numbers, the inconsistency — will all still be there next offseason.
The only things that will change between now and next March will be moving in a negative direction for him. He’ll be a 28-year old pass rusher instead of a 27-year old pass rusher. He’ll be entering a market with a lower salary cap due to anticipated revenue shortfalls caused by COVID-19. And he’ll have to answer questions about rust and commitment to football after sitting out for a full season over money.
Sitting out the 2020 season would be a disastrous decision for Clowney and I don’t believe that he or his representation are actually dense enough to make this mistake.
Then you have contributions from ESPN’s Josina Anderson and Kimberley Martin indicating that there could be a mystery team in the mix and that Clowney’s asking price remains high.
What do we make of all that information? Well, I’m not sure exactly. What I do know is that Clowney’s best path to making the kind of money he wants to earn is through signing with a team that will put him in a position to succeed, putting up big numbers, and then cashing in next offseason.
My guess is that he ends up signing in the next couple weeks, but I have no clue where and I don’t think anyone else does at this moment, perhaps not even Clowney himself.
So let’s consider the Titans angle here. The Vic Beasley Saga has the fan base more anxious than ever to get Clowney on board as concerns about the pass rush continue to abound, but how desperate is the Titans situation in reality?
Last season, with Cameron Wake playing half the year opposite Harold Landry and a combination of Kamalei Correa, Derick Roberson, and Reggie Gilbert playing the other half, Tennessee managed to cobble together 43 sacks and 142 pressures per Pro Football Reference, good for 13th and 17th in the NFL respectively. However, their pressures rate (sacks + hits + hurries per dropback) was just 21.1%, 24th in the league.
The team that Jadeveon Clowney played for last season ranked lower in all three categories. Seattle finished 29th in sacks (28), 26th in pressures (126), and 28th in pressure rate (19.3%) so clearly Clowney is not going to magically solve the Titans pass rush by himself.
The narrative surrounding Tennessee’s decent sack numbers last season has often been to suggest that a high blitz rate helped them get to the quarterback, but that’s just a half-truth. The Titans blitzed on just 24.6% of snaps in 2019, ranking just 21st in the league.
This isn’t a team that blitzed a lot, they simply blitzed effectively, and there is no reason to expect a giant drop off in that effectiveness. That’s not to discredit Dean Pees and the job he did here, but Mike Vrabel, by all accounts, was very involved in the design of this defense and I don’t think we will see a huge change in scheme regardless of whether Vrabel or outside linebackers coach Shane Bowen are radioing in the calls to Rashaan Evans.
However, simply maintaining last year’s level of effectiveness isn’t good enough. The Titans need to get to the passer more consistently in 2020 if they want to take the next step defensively and become one of the league’s truly dominant units.
Where does that improvement come from if there is no Clowney on the way? Beasley will help some. Yes, he’s in the doghouse right now and we’ve yet to see him even hit the practice field, but he’s tallied at least 5 sacks every season since 2016. That’s not the number they’d like to see from him in 2020, but that mark would have tied with Correa and Jurrell Casey for second on the team last year. Even a disappointing Beasley would be better than most of what the Titans have put on the field besides Landry over the past two seasons.
The biggest push must come from within though. A fully healthy Jeffery Simmons needs to make the second-year leap that many expect to see. D’Andre Walker — who is generating some camp buzz right now — needs to become a quality rotational rusher. Derick Roberson and Kamalei Correa need to pick up where they left off late last season.
However, most importantly, Harold Landry needs to continue his ascent among the pass-rushing ranks. He finished tied for 22nd in the NFL in sacks last season with nine and likely would have cracked double figures if the Titans hadn’t given him such a big workload.
Too often, we judge offseason improvement for teams exclusively based on the names on the roster.
“Team X added Player Y and Player Z, they got better.”
“Team A lost Player B and Player C, they’re going to fall off this year.”
However, the best teams almost always make their climb by developing their own players. Sure, free agent additions can be important to filling holes here and there, but having the ability to grow the skill sets of 52 players is far more important than being able to add one talented player.
Look at the Ravens last season. They lost C.J. Mosley, Za’Darius Smith, Terrell Suggs, John Brown, Eric Weddle, and Michael Crabtree while only adding back Mark Ingram and Earl Thomas. On paper, they were considerably worse, but on the field, they made a leap from 10-6 to 14-2. How? By developing their in-house talent.
Landry will be the Titans best pass rusher in 2020 regardless of whether Clowney signs here or not, and it’s his development — alongside that of Simmons, Walker, and Roberson — that will determine whether the Tennessee pass rush becomes a fearsome unit this season.