Jadeveon Clowney has signed one-year contracts in each of the last three offseasons, and given that he’s still available on the open market midway through May, he’ll likely be forced to ink another single-season pact. A return to Cleveland is out of the question after Clowney ripped the Browns’ coaching staff at the end of the 2022 campaign. But given that NFL teams can never have enough pass rushers, Clowney should be able to find a new club in the near future.
Best Free Agent Fits for Jadeveon Clowney
After posting nine sacks and 19 quarterback hits for the Browns in 2021, Clowney fell back to Earth last season, managing only two sacks and four QB hits in 10 games. Cleveland sent Clowney packing after he bashed the organization and accused Browns coaches of setting up fellow pass rusher Myles Garrett for matchup success at his expense.
“I just feel like I need to be around somebody that believes in me and my ability,” Clowney said in January. “(It can’t) just be me believing in myself. I believe in myself more than anybody.”
Clowney earned $10 million last season. Thanks to his age (30), lack of production, and personality concerns, he might have trouble reaching that mark again, but an incentive-laden deal could do the trick. However, there are enough veteran edge rushers left in free agency — Leonard Floyd, Yannick Ngakoue, Robert Quinn, and Frank Clark among them — that Clowney’s market could be depressed.
Let’s run through the teams that could make sense for Clowney, starting with a club that added significant defensive talent in free agency and the draft.
The Bears hit the second level of their defense hard in free agency, adding linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards on multi-year deals. Then, general manager Ryan Poles used the draft to find a new starting cornerback in Tyrique Stevenson and add bulk to the interior of Chicago’s defensive line by selecting Gervon Dexter and Zacch Pickens.
After ranking dead last in total points allowed, points allowed per drive, and DVOA in 2022, the Bears’ defense could be on the upswing. However, they still have a glaring need at defensive end.
Head coach Matt Eberflus wants his front four to get home without the benefit of extra rushers. Chicago blitzed on just 18.2% of dropbacks last season, the eighth-lowest figure in the league. But asking an EDGE group of DeMarcus Walker, Trevis Gipson, Dominique Robinson, and Rasheem Green to affect the passer consistently could present a problem.
The Bears still have the most cap space in the NFL, with more than $35 million in reserves. They can easily afford a one-year deal for Clowney, who could give them the boost they need up front.
The Ravens have never been shy about relying on aged veterans on defense. In recent seasons, Calais Campbell, Pernell McPhee, and Justin Houston have all seen ample snaps in Baltimore’s front seven. None of them, however, are still on the Ravens’ roster, and the team could use more depth behind projected EDGE starters Odafe Oweh and Tyus Bowser.
David Ojabo, who might have been a top-10 pick in 2022 had he not torn his Achilles during the pre-draft process, could step up next season. But he only played 21 defensive snaps in his rookie campaign as he continued to recover.
Tavius Robinson, Baltimore’s 6’6″, 265-pound fourth-round pick, is another candidate to see time on the edge. “He gives you some inside pass rush flexibility, but he can also get in a two-point stance and knock back tight ends,” Ravens director of player personnel Joe Hortiz said after the draft.
Baltimore was reportedly interested in acquiring Clowney in 2020 via a sign-and-trade with the Jaguars, but the NFL nixed that deal. If they don’t re-sign Houston or Jason Pierre-Paul (each of whom played at least 300 snaps last season), the Ravens could turn to Clowney as their next veteran option.
The Lions passed on first-round defensive end prospects in the draft in favor of running back Jahmyr Gibbs and off-ball linebacker Jack Campbell. Surprisingly, Detroit then didn’t add an edge defender over the course of the entire draft.
Thus, the Lions are now poised to run a rotation opposite Aidan Hutchinson, who put up 9.5 sacks in his rookie year. Romeo Okwara, Charles Harris, John Cominsky, and 2022 second-rounder Josh Paschal are all candidates to see time in the starting lineup alongside last year’s No. 2 overall pick.
Clowney likely offers a higher floor than any of the Lions’ current options. He’d also be a valuable run defender for a unit that ranked 27th in efficiency and 28th in success rate against opposing rushing attacks in 2022.
But would Clowney mesh with Dan Campbell’s vision for Detroit?
The Lions are building a roster of hard-charging, aggressive players with motors that don’t quit. That hasn’t always been Clowney’s mentality, and his comments about the Browns’ coaching staff could quash any interest the Lions may have had.
Clowney is a South Carolina native, so signing with the Panthers would represent something of a homecoming. Additionally, Frank Reich’s defense certainly has a need for another pass rusher.
On paper, Carolina’s defense looks like a unit with top-10 potential. Brian Burns is already a star, Jaycee Horn could ascend even further, and veterans like safeties Vonn Bell and Xavier Woods will play valuable roles.
But the Panthers don’t have a reliable edge defender to play opposite Burns. Yetur Gross-Matos, a second-round choice in 2020, may have reached his ceiling already, failing to top 3.5 sacks in any season. Recent draft picks such as DJ Johnson or Amaré Barno could factor into the equation, but this is a roster that could use a veteran addition.
Carolina has already used free agency to paper over its need on offense. They’ve essentially built an entirely new unit by adding Adam Thielen, DJ Chark, Hayden Hurst, and Miles Sanders on modest deals. The Panthers could now shift that approach to the defensive side of the ball by signing Clowney, who would project to play an every-down role in 2023.