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Analysis: How the approaching NFL compensatory draft pick deadline could be impacting Jadeveon Clowney’s future

UPDATED: Sat., April 18, 2020

Seattle Seahawks outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney  plays against Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Chris Hubbard  during the second half of a game, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019, in Cleveland. (Ron Schwane / AP)
Seattle Seahawks outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney plays against Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Chris Hubbard during the second half of a game, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019, in Cleveland. (Ron Schwane / AP)
By Bob Condotta Seattle Times

SEATTLE – It’s been a little while since there’s been anything new in regards to the future of Jadeveon Clowney, the defensive lineman the Seahawks acquired to much fanfare last August with the hope he might anchor their pass rush for years to come.

There are increasing indications there may be nothing new with Clowney until after the NFL draft, which begins with the first round on Thursday and concludes on Friday (rounds 2-3) and Saturday (rounds 4-7).

One potential reason for that is an approaching date regarding compensatory draft picks, which has been moved up under terms of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement approved by the league and the players last month.

Since 2011, the league has had a formula for providing extra draft picks (up to 32 each year) to teams that suffer net losses in free agency.

But only unrestricted free agents (players whose contracts expire, not those who are cut or waived) who sign by a specific date are included in the formula.

From 2011-15, that date was June 1, meaning any player signed after that date would not count. Teams that maybe wanted a player but also wanted to try to hold on to any comp picks they felt they might be due would often wait until June 1 or later if they could.

From 2016-19 that date inched a little closer – the second Tuesday after the NFL draft, or usually somewhere in mid-May.

Under the new CBA, that date is sooner – the Monday following the NFL draft, which this year is April 27 (technically, 1 p.m. Seattle time).

That means that if Clowney signs after that time, the team that signs him would not be at risk of potentially losing a comp pick that it may have earned via losing other free agents (the formula is complicated and draft picks are not officially determined until the following year shortly before the draft).

It also means that if Clowney signs with another team after that date, he also won’t count as a loss for the Seahawks and add to their potential comp picks.

When the Seahawks traded for Clowney last September, Seattle knew there was a chance it might not be able to re-sign him.

But all along, the Seahawks undoubtedly assumed that at worst they would be eligible for a comp pick in 2021, which they hoped would likely make up for the draft pick they gave to Houston to get him (a third-rounder in this year’s draft, along with rush ends/linebackers Jacob Martin and Barkevious Mingo).

The pick Seattle traded is No. 91 and now owned by the Raiders after the Texans traded it to get cornerback Gareon Conley.

Seattle, recall, received three comp picks for the 2020 draft for free-agent losses suffered a year ago – No. 101 for the loss of Earl Thomas, No. 144 for the loss of Justin Coleman and No. 214 for the loss of Shamar Stephen (other losses were canceled out by other free agents that Seattle signed).

The date for determining comp pick eligibility was moved up in part because it allows remaining free-agent players – who by definition of the rule are all veterans – to find a home more quickly and not have to wait just so the deadline could pass. It also helps teams in getting free-agent players in sooner so they can take part in offseason programs.

When Clowney officially became a free agent on March 18, no one would have anticipated that the comp pick deadline might come into play.

Clowney and former Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston are the only two of the top 50 or so consensus unrestricted free agents who remain unsigned (Cam Newton wouldn’t qualify since he was released).

In Clowney’s case, he has gone unsigned until now for other significant reasons, namely that his initial asking price, thought to be in the $20 million per year and above range, was far more than teams wanted to pay. He was later reported to have dropped that price to $17-18 million per year, which still appears more than teams want to pay.

Teams also have questions about Clowney’s health and durability – he had core muscle surgery earlier this year and microfracture knee surgery in 2014 – and can’t answer them as well as they’d like since he cannot make a trip to a team facility for a physical due to the coronavirus outbreak.

But if any team was thinking of signing Clowney, that the comp pick date is now 10 days away would likely be a factor.

It certainly could for one team that on Friday made clear again that it has interest in Clowney – the Tennessee Titans.

In a podcast for the team’s website, Titans general manager Jon Robinson reiterated that the team has had some talks with Clowney’s representatives.

“We’ll see,” Robinson said. “Like I said a couple of weeks ago, we’ve had some discussions there and we’ve had some dialogue back and forth. You never close the door on anything.”

Robinson, though, added that nothing appears close.

“As I said earlier, I don’t think there’s anything imminent in the works,” Robinson said. “But we’ll continue to try and work though things and see how they go.”

Per the calculations of OvertheCap.com, the Titans are in line to get a third-round pick as compensation for losing free-agent offensive lineman Jack Conklin, who signed with the Browns.

Signing Clowney for any significant amount could put that at risk. The Titans appear to have cap room to make a play for Clowney if they want, with just under $22 million, according to OTC.

As for the Seahawks, they are not in line to get any comp picks in 2021, according to OTC, due to signing several free agents (such as defensive end Benson Mayowa and offensive tackle Brandon Shell).

Any hope of potentially getting a draft pick for losing Clowney – if they couldn’t re-sign him – is dwindling by the day.

As for Clowney, he might also hope the passing of the comp pick deadline will pump up his market a little more, and maybe help end a saga that has lasted far longer than anyone anticipated.

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