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The value of a sack in the NFL and why Jadeveon Clowney can’t get paid

Seattle Seahawks v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

It has been 10 months since I wrote my second article for Field Gulls, which my grandmother affectionately refers to as my job for the Seattle Seahawks writing something called “How much does a tackle cost.”

That is a true story, and while not quite the title nor the argument I was making, the concept has come back in recent days because of Jadeveon Clowney’s standoff with the Seahawks.

The point, clumsily made here last May, was that sacks are very nearly measurable in how NFL general managers respond with contracts.

I took a look at the top pass rushers of recent seasons who had been able to secure new deals and compared the similarities across the board.

It’s a decent price range for the top five (I actually did the top seven but didn’t include them in the piece), but after some consideration, a $900,000 difference was still smaller than what I had expected.

Enter Clowney. Reportedly asking over $20 million, after registering only 3.5 sacks last season. Compared to his predecessor, Frank Clark, he was looking for a deal - based on last season - that would have paid him $6 million per sack.

Before you hop in the comments, I think Clowney is an extremely good football player. But all good football players don’t win the Super Bowl, and they don’t all get $100 million in their career either.

Now the two most interesting responses to the below conversation have unfortunately been deleted by their owners, but I stirred up a bit of dust trying to make this point a couple of weeks back:

Jadeveon Clowney’s presence on the edge is insanely valuable.


The market has undeniably given us only two possible options. Clowney has been off on his value to the league, by anywhere from $4-8 million depending on the story.

It is either, (A) because he’s only started all 16 games once in his career, or (B) he’s the best DE to ever play football and NEVER GET 10 sacks.

Do not take B away from me, I need my quarantine-induced overstatements.

Obviously, it’s a combination of both for Clowney this month. Heck, we could even throw in (C) Coronavirus-related complications in regards to physicals. Clowney’s looking at the perfect storm of things to not go his way this offseason.

Like the sack piece from last year, let’s use one of the most recent contracts as a comparison.

DeForest Buckner has been given a mega-deal from the Indianapolis Colts:

  • Four-year extension, five years of high APY
  • $56 million fully guaranteed
  • $21 million per year average for the length of the extension

All this on the back of 7.5 sacks. Crazy, right? Well, he had 12 sacks the year before. He had the same amount of fumbles forced and recovered as Clowney (six) and had exactly double the number of tackles of Clowney (62-31).

But for this study, we’re loving on sacks. Here’s where timing kicks Clowney right in the financial gems. Buckner gets to boast 19.5 sacks over his most recent two-year span - a 9.75 per year average. Clowney’s hit 18.5 sacks over consecutive seasons once, for a 9.25 per year average.

What’s that - half a sack per year doesn’t get you $4-8 million more than a rival, you say? You’d be right, except Clowney’s not trying to get a deal after a 9.25 sack per year average.

Right now, he’s coming off of six sacks per year. Not to mention, 12.5 games started per year compared to Buckner’s two complete seasons.

We only bring up the games played because, as you can imagine, NFL general managers are paying for stats both accrued and expected.

And very clearly, the expectation on Clowney is a big fat question mark. A deserved one too. Last year, Seattle could count on Clowney being disruptive, a playmaker, and a shattering force against the run. But consistent, numbers-on-paper against the most important position in the NFL, the quarterback? Not there.

What’s more, Clowney’s had yet another offseason surgery.

So not only would an opposing general manager be looking at extremely uninspiring sack numbers, but they’re looking at seven missed games in the last two seasons. They’re forced to remember his playmaking or watch tape (which they are unless they’re Bill O’Brien) to gather the full appreciation of who Clowney is as a player.

Here’s the biggest reason this one column on the stat sheet gets paid.

Last year, the Seahawks recorded 26 sacks. Yes, pathetic, but not the point. On the drives where Seattle recorded a sack, they gave up zero touchdowns.

It’s one of the most game-changing plays on a football field, and it’s the biggest blemish on Jadeveon Clowney’s 2019 season, and it’s the thing that may end up causing to him remain with the Seahawks on an extreme discount.