The Z Report

Lance Zierlein: Is Jadeveon Clowney worth $15M per year?

Jadeveon Clowney had a big 2017. Houstontexans.com

The Houston Texans are under the direction of a new GM for the first time since 2006, but we still aren’t sure how different the Texans will operate as it pertains to salary extensions and how they handle roster situations.

On one hand, Bernardrick McKinney was just given a 5-year, $50M deal with $21M guaranteed. Now keep in mind that McKinney is the clear-cut thumper in the middle who has accounted for 95 and 129 tackles over the last two seasons to go along with three and five sacks in both years. McKinney has been productive, durable and consistent. McKinney will be compensated like one of the best inside linebackers in the league starting in 2019, so should Jadeveon Clowney expect the same?

The case for extending Clowney now

You have to pay Jadeveon Clowney. When Clowney has been healthy, he’s been a bonafide shop-wrecker and one of the more disruptive defensive ends in the game. Like homeruns in baseball, sacks are the sexy stat used by fans and media members to determine the worth and effectiveness of a player, but Clowney’s impact as a run defender is substantial and should not be undersold. Just google it.

 

Clowney is a plus pass rusher who has increased his sack total in each season and is coming off of a career high 9.5 sacks. This, despite the fact that J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus weren’t there to occupy blockers and take some of the offensive line’s attention away from Clowney.

J.J. Watt hasn’t been healthy for two full seasons and Clowney’s importance to this defensive front is now more critical than ever. He may not be an elite pass rusher, but he’s a damn good every down player with an ability to alter the course of a game and he’s only getting better. Clowney’s contract negotiations will likely have to start at $14M per year, but getting a deal done now could save the team millions over the life of the second contract.

The case to wait

Don’t be the desperate boyfriend looking to get married too soon, Texans. There is no reason to put an expensive ring on it until you are absolutely sure that Clowney is going to be the same guy we saw last year.

The version of Clowney that we saw last season played the full year, was great against the run and showed continued improvement as a pass rusher. That’s inarguable. But the question is whether that version of Clowney is what we are going to keep seeing. Let’s remember that this is a player who has missed two, three, and 12 games from 2016 thru 2014. He had to have microfracture surgery as a rookie. If you aren’t concerned about future durability then you might be a fool.

One could argue that Clowney approached 2017 like a contract season since it’s not unusual to get extended before your last season. So if that is the case, let’s see if he can maintain his health for consecutive seasons and let’s see if his growth as a pass rusher will continue to yield fruit. We can act like $14M is the starting point in negotiations, but in real life, the starting point is at least J.J. Watt’s average per year at about $16.6M. Can’t the Texans just wait one more season to find out if Clowney is worth this investment?

And so...?

So I’ve shown you the two arguments that are out there for signing and not signing Clowney before the season starts. I have a hard time imagining a world where Clowney isn’t a Houston Texan next season, but it could very well be with a franchise tag attached to him.

You do have to wonder why the Texans haven’t extended him already, but if I were in charge, I think I might be approaching this the same way the Texans are. Nobody is saying he’s not a very good player who is emerging as a great player, but I think I need to see it for another year.


 

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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