Should the Buffalo Bills trade for a disgruntled star edge-rusher?
By Avery Duncan
Should the Buffalo Bills start trade negotiations for star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney?
In the new NFL, contract negotiations can happen anytime and anywhere; with such comes players making new demands, that teams sometimes can’t (or won’t) fulfill. A prime example has taken place during early July 2019, as star Jadeveon Clowney is looking for a new, pricey contract, and won’t get it from his team. This raises the question: should the Buffalo Bills trade for him?
With nearly $22 million available in cap space, according to Over The Cap, no major contributors hitting the open market next off-season, and a starting quarterback on a rookie-scale deal, the Bills are one of the few teams in the NFL that can be players with their money. This is worth noting, as before one can talk trade, the Bills’ cap space is vital to the thought of a deal.
As a player under the franchise tag, Clowney’s naturally looking for a long-term deal, but he’s not going to get it by the deadline to do so — July 15th — as the Houston Chronicle‘s Aaron Wilson reports.
As a former No. 1 pick and three-time Pro Bowler, the 26-year-old Clowney is likely in-line to receive a similar contract to ones handed over recently to edge rushers Demarcus Lawrence, Frank Clark, and Khalil Mack (combined average of $21.7 million per year over at least four). And deservingly so. Though never boasting a double-digit sack season, Clowney has been on a tear as of late.
After his first two seasons were wasted — primarily due to injuries and an underdeveloped game — Clowney has been the star most expect him to be as of late. In the span of three seasons (2016-18), Clowney’s tallied 158 total tackles, 53 tackles for loss, 24.5 sacks, 59 quarterback hits, four forced fumbles, and three Pro-Bowl nods. He’s missed three games in that same stretch.
Once considered a bust, Clowney is a bonafide game-wrecker. The Bills have talented players across Jerry Hughes in Trent Murphy and Shaq Lawson, but neither is the player Clowney is. In the Bills 4-3, he’d be a hand-in-the-dirt edge rusher; his natural position, as it takes advantage of his lethal blend of power, speed, size (6-foot-5, 255-pounds), and developing technique.
Interestingly enough, the Bills showed some — closer to marginal — interest in Clowney pre-draft, according to a source close to the Texans. The trade never materialized, though, as the Bills favored Ed Oliver rather than a first-round pick swap and more. However, it could still work.
With nearly $22 million in cap space, the Bills have just about what they’d need to pay Clowney on a yearly basis — comparatively speaking with previous edge rush contracts in mind. Depending on the cap hit, the Bills may have to waive a player; Russell Bodine‘s contract with $2.3 million unguaranteed comes to mind, per OTC.
But trading for him wouldn’t be cheap. Sitting at just over $40 million in cap space, per OTC, the Texans are one of the select few teams with more money available than the Bills. Like Buffalo, they have a starting quarterback on a rookie-scale deal. The Texans aren’t desperate to get rid of Clowney due to money — they can afford him no matter the cost.
The Texans also figure to compete, and Clowney helps them do that alongside J.J. Watt. The culmination of that statement, clean salary cap table, and so far salvageable relationship between Clowney and the Texans (indications are he’ll skip no games) is a high asking price. Whether or not Bill O’Brien wants him is unknown too (rumors are, there was a discrepancy between him and now-fired GM Brian Gaine about Clowney’s contract — O’Brien doesn’t favor it).
In all likelihood, acquiring Clowney would be a pricey get for the Bills. A first-round pick would get a conservation starting — with whoever runs things in Houston — but that’s just the foundation; players and/or other picks would surely be included. However, for Buffalo, considering their need to solidify the defensive end/edge position long-term adjacent Hughes and want to compete could make it justifiable.
With a trade for Clowney inevitably comes a long-term contract. This is eerily similar to when the Texans traded for star pass-rusher Mario Williams (also a No. 1 pick that wore No. 90 in Houston) in 2012; a valuable player looking for a new contract that wasn’t going to find it with his current team, then did with his new one.
Final verdict: The Bills can pay Clowney what he wants, but it’s unclear as to if the Texans are going to trade him or not. Alongside Hughes, Oliver, and others, Clowney could take the Bills defense to new heights — an obvious statement. However, acquiring him won’t be cheap.
If Buffalo wants to compete in the same vein popular “rookie-contract quarterback” teams similar to the Chicago Bears in 2018, trading for Clowney is the best player to do so. Considering that Clowney is young and healthy as of late, and will receive a massive contract by some team, somebody can build a defense around him. Whether or not the Bills want to put considerable assets into doing so is unknown. So here’s the answer: yes if they’re going to be a Super Bowl-calibre team right now, no if they want to build through the draft and stay clean cap-wise.