While the market for valuable players has truly died down, there’s still a 21-day window for players that have been slapped with the franchise tag to sign the deal…or be traded.
Naturally as Ravens fans, we look at the list of six players hit with the tag this offseason to see if any are worthy of a trade, then we realize:
— One is a kicker (Robbie Gould)
— One signed his tag two months ago (Grady Jarrett)
Suddenly we’re left with one name: Houston Texans Defensive End, Jadeveon Clowney
While I grasp that trading for Clowney seems like a fantastic idea on the surface…it’s really not. In fact, I think it would be detrimental to what this franchise is working towards with their long-term sustainability goals.
Initially, you need to factor in what the Ravens would have to surrender in order to rope in a stud like Clowney, and using the Seahawks’ trade of Frank Clark to the Chiefs in exchange for a 2019 1st- and 2nd-round pick is where these conversations start. Should the Ravens feel so inclined to pull this trigger, they’d need to feel that they’re in a position where sacrificing their top two picks in 2020 (a draft already being called one of the best in a long time) is worthwhile. They’d also have to realize that currently, they have no idea where they’ll pick in 2020. Should Lamar Jackson take off, it could be the 27th-32nd pick which is easier to swallow, but should the team struggle offensively (I keep going back to the O because it’s the biggest unknown factor right now), would you really feel comfortable giving Houston picks 10 and 42 for Clowney?
Then there’s the contract angle: will Clowney sign a long-term deal in Baltimore, and if so, how much will he demand?
Four splashy deals have been made in the past three months for EDGE guys: Lawrence (5 years/$105M/$65M guaranteed, $21M Average per Year), Clark (5/104/62.3, $20.8APY), Ford (5/85/45, $17M APY), and Za’Darius Smith (4/66/20, $16.5M APY). I don’t expect Clowney to top Lawrence’s number (Khalil Mack is actually top-of-market at $23.5M APY for a 3-4 OLB like Clowney), but I do expect he’ll exceed Ford’s contract, simply due to his consistency over Ford, and being two years younger.
My best guess here?
Five years, $98M ($19.6M APY), with $55M guaranteed.
Assuming Baltimore pulls this massive trigger leading up to a trade that sends away their top two picks in 2020…how can they afford this move?
According to RSR’s resident Salary Cap Guru, Brian McFarland, the Ravens currently sit at a shade under $12M of available cap space , and as Brian also reminds us, they tend to carry $5M into the regular season as injury insurance, which leaves the Ravens with a true cap number of about $7M to sign Clowney. Even if they backload the contract, it’s likely the Ravens are still looking at $12-13M in year one of a new deal which, simply put, means you need to make some cuts.
Right out of the gates, you’ll need to kiss Jimmy Smith goodbye, which means any potential compensatory pick he could’ve garnered for you in 2021 is gone as well. Perhaps you’d prefer to keep Jimmy and cut ties with Brandon Carr instead (both UFA’s in 2020)…well, that saves you $3.5M and you still need another move to make. Cutting Alex Lewis (~$2M) might be enough, but Sam Koch ($3.25M savings) may be the way to go (keep Kaare Vedvik!)
Other names like Tony Jefferson, Brandon Williams, James Hurst… none of them will create the necessary cap space, despite being players some fans clamor to cut ties with in order to make this Clowney deal work out.
Last point of contention here is the residual effect beyond 2019.
Ravens GM Eric DeCosta has suggested that what he wants for the Ravens is to not only build a winning franchise, but also a sustainable contender. To do so, typically means drafting better (and consistently), and not overpaying players when their time comes. In past years, the Ravens became notorious for big deals failing to meet expectations, and draft misses, which pushed the cap to the limit annually and forced the team to kick the can on some contracts, while watching other drafted players depart out of necessity (can’t pay ’em).
We’ve seen these type of moves to reflect EDC’s template for a sustainable contender in his first offseason, including locking up Tavon Young a year early (a deal that went from top sCB money, to being surpassed a month later), as well as taking on the NFL draft in a manner that addressed positions of need (namely WR, iOL, EDGE) instead of overpaying in free agency.
In regards to a possible Clowney deal with Houston, if the Ravens were to trade away their top picks in 2020, while signing Clowney to what will likely be a top-5 EDGE contract that also damages their chances to retain homegrown players like Matt Judon, Peanut Onwausor, and Michael Pierce in 2020?
It would be spitting in the face of the sustainability plans EDC has set for the franchise.
Yes, I do understand that adding Clowney would make the Ravens defense that much more potent. But when you still have three (likely four) years left on a rookie quarterback deal for Lamar Jackson, the goal isn’t to push all of your chips forward and go all in on 2019- 2020 and beyond be damned!
The goal is continued development, sustainability, and being cap conscious along the way.
Trading for Jadeveon Clowney doesn’t allow for any of that.