It finally happened… after months and months of reports and speculation, the Tennessee Titans are rumored to be adding free agent Jadeveon Clowney. While there is some uncertainty regarding the confirmation of this report, Paul Kuharsky and Dianna Russini are saying Clowney has chosen the Titans.
While we wait for final confirmation, let’s talk about the fun stuff and get into why Jadeveon Clowney and the Titans always made so much sense for each other and how he will fit into this front seven.
Why Clowney and the Titans always made sense for each other
Let’s start with what Tennessee offers Clowney (besides whatever money they’ll be including in his contract). For one, they are coming off an AFC Championship appearance, so they satisfy his stated preference to play for a contender. They also happen to have a big need for a dynamic front-seven player who can disrupt opposing quarterbacks.
They also offer a ton of familiar faces and a familiar scheme that should help him slot into the defense with minimal learning curve. Of course, his famously strong relationship with Mike Vrabel stands out as the key part of this point, but let’s not forget about relationships with guys like assistant strength coach Brian Bell and outside linebackers coach — and Vrabel’s top defensive lieutenant — Shane Bowen, both of whom worked with Clowney in Houston prior to joining Vrabel in Tennessee. Those two are guys that he’ll interact with every single day at Saint Thomas Sports Park.
The Titans also signed fellow Rock Hill, SC native and South Carolina Gamecock, Johnathan Joseph, earlier this offseason. Joseph shared an NFL locker room with Clowney for five years in Houston, but the two were close even before the Texans made Clowney the first overall pick in 2014. Clowney refers to Joseph as his “big brother” and has leaned on him for advice throughout his NFL career.
Beyond the relationship fits, there is also the element of the on-field fit. By this point, you’ve heard that Clowney’s best season — 9.5 sacks, 21 tackles for loss, 21 QB hits, and 64 total pressures in 2017 — came with Vrabel as his defensive coordinator in Houston. No NFL coach has a better understanding of what he is as a football player and how to use him than the Titans boss.
Tennessee is also one of just three teams that could offer him the ability to enter camp with a working knowledge of the defensive scheme (Seattle and Houston being the other two). For a player that is going to enter 2020 with something to prove after finding a disappointing free agent market this summer, hitting the ground running will be crucial to Clowney. Knowing Mike Vrabel’s defense will help him do that.
What is Tennessee getting for their investment in Clowney?
There is little doubt that pass rush was near the top of the team’s needs list coming into this offseason. Adding Vic Beasley and bringing back Kamalei Correa in free agency has helped provide at least a little more juice to the Titans front, but that’s largely offset by the loss of Jurrell Casey.
The Clowney signing changes all of that though. A third down pass rush front featuring Harold Landry, Jeffery Simmons, Jadeveon Clowney, and Vic Beasley will be one of the most physically impressive groups in the NFL. Landry and Beasley providing elite speed off the edge with Simmons’ cartoonish strength and Clowney’s combination of speed and power on the inside will be a load to deal with for opposing offensive lines and should allow Mike Vrabel to be less reliant on an array of blitzes to create pressure on critical downs. And if you really wanted to get wild, how about a third and long front featuring Landry and Beasley outside with Clowney and Rashaan Evans rushing inside?
Clowney will almost certainly be labeled as an outside linebacker in the Titans base defense, but he’s really a movable chess piece in the defensive front that can line up inside or outside depending on the down and distance. In addition to the supersonic pass rush fronts outlined above, he also offers them the ability to use a massive base defense featuring Clowney and Correa as outside backers flanking some combination of Simmons and DaQuan Jones with Jack Crawford or Larrell Murchison on the interior defensive line.
Clowney’s pass rushing chops have come under scrutiny following a 3-sack season with the Seahawks in 2019, however advanced stats have always viewed his impact as greater than his counting stats would indicate. In 2019, he earned the 7th highest pass rush win rate in the league according to ESPN despite being double teamed on close to 24% of pass rush snaps.
Even if you don’t believe Clowney is going to be able to record a high number of sacks for himself, his presence alone should open up more one-on-one opportunities for Landry, Beasley, and Simmons. And if he manages to return to his 9.5 and 9-sack rate from 2017 and 2018, I think pretty much every Titans fan would take that in a heartbeat.