clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Jadeveon Clowney’s trade is good for him, good for Seattle, but is part of a growing trend that’s bad for NFL GMs

NFL: Houston Texans at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Seattle has been reverberating and rejoicing for hours now with news of Jadeveon Clowney’s impending arrival. The overwhelming response is that this deal worked out unfathomably in favor of the Seattle Seahawks.

Admittedly, many of us thought there was no way a trade for Clowney would ever materialize, myself included – primarily because none of us thought this good of a deal was attainable. Personally I’m a little torn up about losing Jacob Martin, as he was one of my favorite rising stars on this roster. But this is above and beyond what the 2017 Seahawks had when they acquired Sheldon Richardson.

So what, besides the Houston Texans’ admirable incompetence, led to this trade? More specifically, did Jadeveon Clowney essentially cause this to happen – landing in the exact spot he wanted?

There’s a growing trend in the NFL currently in regard to players making their own demands/deadlines/stipulations – whatever you want to call it – and actually coming out on top. Some are calling it the age of player empowerment, and it’s strong. The movement goes beyond contract negotiations. It involves twitter, and branding, and endorsements, and dictating where to play. The NFL is perhaps not on the same level as the NBA, where LeBron James simply phone calls his roster together, but this latest move is one of many where athletes are getting exactly what they want. Whether through cooperation, frustration, or downright absurd antics, some moves are working very well, while a couple others are not.

Let’s look at five of the bigger athlete-instigated negotiations (two here in Seattle) and how they held up in their attempt to “stick it to the man”. Clowney’s the most recent, but we’ll save him for last.

Antonio Brown

Once upon the time the NFL network erroneously reported (among other things) that Antonio Brown was to become a member of the Buffalo Bills. Very, very early the next morning the Bills killed the trade. The reason? Brown was not going to go.

Not a whole lot more than that was ever reported. The reasons are fairly straightforward; Brown is very good and a bit of a… he likes catching the ball. The Bills are not very good and at best have had questionable quarterback play for some time. If you want Pro Bowl appearances as a WR, Buffalo is a fantastic place to make that challenging.

But what does it actually mean that the player involved refused to be traded? AB did not possess a no-trade clause. But does a great job here of highlighting how Brown became such a headache (albeit a highly desired headache) that the Steelers decided to just quit trying. They effectively gave him power of a no-trade clause in order to speed up the delivery process.

Brown has essentially taken on the system, and so far he’s winning. If the Steelers wanted to keep him, they could tell him that he’ll play for them or for no one. If he chooses to play for no one, he’d owe the Steelers $3.8 million in unearned income for 2019, $3.8 in unearned income for 2020, and $3.8 million in unearned income for 2021. That’s a grand total of $11.4 million in signing bonus money he received in 2017.

But they did none of that, and Brown now keeps us entertained from Oakland with hot air balloons and helmet issues. What’s confusing is if they hadn’t thrown in the towel so early, the Steelers still technically had power to simply trade Antonio Brown away and let the Bills deal with the potential holdout.

This situation has already been compared to Houston’s, for the obvious similarities that Clowney apparently refused to play in Miami. But Brown didn’t even have the leverage that Jadeveon did by holding out on signing his option.

Method: Be crazy enough to drive current ownership up a wall. Be good enough that somebody somewhere else will still pay for your services.

Result: $15-17 million per year, and an entirely new team that Brown already doesn’t want to play for. Huge win for the player, loss for the GM.

Bobby Wagner

The game’s best middle linebacker wanted a new deal, made it obvious, held out from active practicing, showed up every day to mentor young players, and negotiated his own contract extension.

Per Wagner’s own admission, he tries to learn something new each offseason. This year was apparently NFL negotiations.

“This was me trying to educate myself before I get out there in the real world and actually have some real world experience,”

It will probably go down in Seattle opinion as one of the best self-represented contracts ever – especially for home fans comparing it to a very mediocre Richard Sherman deal, but Wagner pulled off a pretty average deal all things considered.

Joel Corry breaks down some of the wins and losses here. This is not at all to say that Wagner’s deal is subpar. It’s just exactly what one might expect. Wagner is now the NFL’s highest paid linebacker, and the biggest win is that he kept the contract from being back-loaded. Wagner gets about 13% more money in the first two seasons than a traditionally back-loaded contract.

Far more importantly, Bobby struck a truly unique balance of using leverage and maintaining team-focused leadership. He maintained an incredibly rare “present” holdout, by not being away from the facilities at all during negotiations, getting the arrangement pre-approved by Pete Carroll himself.

Practice is obviously different without a team defensive captain, so Wagner’s absent presence would have been a constant reminder each day of Wagner’s importance.

Let’s not forget the market was absolutely thrown for a loop when the New York Jets thought they were using monopoly money, as evidenced by most headlines on the subject. The fact that Bobby was able to top a ridiculous contract on his own and keep 3% is undeniably impressive.

Method: Be a calmly forceful team player. Use leverage but not to the team’s detriment.

Result: Three-year, $54 million extension and reputation as a selfless leader left largely intact.

Russell Wilson

This one’s fairly straightforward. Russ seems to be the only person in the NFL who is interested in these self-imposed deadlines. We’re not sure why, we’re not sure who’s idea they are, but both instances functioned as actual deadlines as far as both sides were concerned. The first was more of a convenience thing, being the first day of training camp. The second was April 15th, because, Russell Wilson.

Again as far as I can tell no other self-imposed and completely arbitrary contract deadlines have ever been attempted. But for whatever reason, Wilson wants contracts when he wants them, and so far it’s working.

Method: Ask for totally normal things (contract extension) in a totally abnormal way (finalize things with my baseball agent by next Monday).

Result: League-leading $35 million per year and this gem.

LeVeon Bell, Melvin Gordon, Ezekiel Elliot

Now the momentum starts to shift. LeVeon Bell lost $14.5 million last year by never suiting up. Then he went and signed a fantastic deal with the Jets to make up for all the money he lost earlier. Or not…

Melvin Gordon and Ezekiel Elliot’s status remains to be seen, but Gordon’s talks are not going well. Zeke is reported to be much closer, but nothing points towards the possibility that he’s going to get the 15% above Gurley he’s interested in.

Point here being that a true holdout in attempts to get a contract raised seems to be the last true bastion of franchise power. We’ve seen it here in Seattle as Marshawn, Kam, Earl, et. al received nothing more than the occasional fine waved in their attempts to outlast the management.

Method: Not show up.

Result: Nothing good.

The man of the hour, Jadeveon Clowney.

Former number one overall pick Clowney had more leverage than any in this bunch, save the prospect of upsetting long-term franchise quarterback Wilson.

Similar to Antonio Brown, Clowney refused to play for the team most interested in him. This time the Miami Dolphins. But unlike Brown, Jadeveon had actual power throughout these negotiations. Houston was not able to trade Clowney until he was a member of their roster, which he was not until he signed his franchise tag.

Nobody likes the franchise tag, but in this case it worked out extremely well for Clowney. It essentially functioned as the faux no-trade clause that the Steelers unofficially gave AB. No tag, no trade.

So Miami was out. But why trade him at all?

Clowney is not the first player to suddenly and strongly try to leave Houston. Seattle’s own Duane Brown is a member of that club

Houston’s head coach is a prickly fellow. He pushed the organization to fire GM Brian Gaine very unexpectedly this summer. That particular move is taking quite a bit of heat right now, as Houston is putting on an absolute clinic of why a team might be interested in keeping the services of a general manager.

But instead of allowing Clowney to decide between $16 million or a pointless holdout, they allowed themselves to follow the more emotional route of committing to trade him, regardless of what that final value came out as.

Furthermore, Clowney was explicit that there were two teams on his personal radar - the Philadelphia Eagles and the Seattle Seahawks.

In an earlier day, a statement like this would be met with “so what?” Who cares what the contracted athlete wants, this is a business full of business owners making business decisions, and what you want is not often what you get. When we trade you, off you go.

We may never know exactly how much sway Clowney had in this whole process, but it cannot be coincidence that this trade materialized with one of the two teams he actually preferred. Maybe it’s as simple as Jadeveon pointed Houston in a couple of directions, and eventually fatigue got the better of whomever is making decisions down there, because this is not a stellar deal for the Texans.

NFL team leadership is in a very unenviable position right now. Between the National Anthem, rumblings about player safety, and a growing appreciation for words straight from the players’ twitter accounts, distrust is high. Distrust from both fans and players.

It may be that owners, GMs, and coaches not named Bill Belichick are having a harder time drawing strong lines besides the aforementioned holdouts. Whatever the case, players are treating contracts as guidelines, and teams are treating headaches as trade bait.

We could add in Khalil Mack and the Oakland Raiders trade from last year, and the list would just continue to grow. Players are getting the money they want (sometimes) and getting sent where they want.

It’s a changing league and it’s worth keeping an eye on how this power struggle shakes out.