The Vikings could have pursued free-agent defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, without giving up a second-round pick in 2021 and at least a fifth-round selection in 2022. But the Vikings surely wouldn’t have gotten Clowney for $12 million, the one-year salary Yannick Ngakoue will earn in Minnesota.
So what does the Ngakoue trade mean for Clowney, who continues to be unsigned more than five months into his first-ever foray into unrestricted free agency?
Clowney, who made $15 million last year in Seattle (with the Texans paying $7 million of it to make the trade happen), has spurned offers in that same range. The Seahawks could have secured dibs on Clowney by tendering him a one-year, $16.5 million salary upon the closing of the compensatory-pick window. They didn’t.
Clowney quite possibly has a minimum salary expectation below which he simply won’t play; the talk in league circles is that, for $15 million or less, he simply won’t sign a contract. Maybe, alternatively, he’s waiting to take the best offer that’s available as Week One approaches, allowing him to miss all of training camp before reporting for duty.
Regardless, the unwillingness of Minnesota to pay Clowney something more than $12 million and to keep their draft picks doesn’t bode well for Clowney getting whatever it is he’s looking for. If Clowney doesn’t lower his expectations to reflect the financial realities of pandemic football, he could end up waiting even longer for the phone to ring.
Still, some could look at the Ngakoue trade as evidence that Clowney is worth well over $15 million. If healthy, he’s clearly a better and more disruptive player, who can line up anywhere along the defensive front and blow gaping holes in the offensive line. Given the general sense, as one source put it, that a second-round pick is worth $8 million (the Browns once bought a second-round pick from the Texans for the net cost of $15 million, by taking on Brock Osweiler’s fully-guaranteed contract in 2017), the notion of Clowney getting $20 million isn’t ridiculous, if a team can get him without giving up draft picks.
In the end, Clowney’s health (or lack thereof) remains the key. Even if he’s 100 percent entering the season, how many games would a team get out of him? It should be fairly easy to craft a contract that would protect a team from that outcome and pay Clowney more than fairly if he’s able to suit up and play in every games of the season.
That may be the key to getting something done. How about a $10 million signing bonus, a $3 million guaranteed salary, and $250,000 for each game in which he’s on the game-day roster? That works out to $13.25 million if he suffers a season-ending injury in Week One and $17 million if he plays in all of them.