The Seattle Seahawks badly needed a premier pass-rusher and paid a worthwhile price to get one.
You read that right.
General manager John Schneider’s latest blockbuster trade looks like a steal for the Seahawks considering what they’ve giving up for a 26-year-old pass-rusher who has made three straight Pro Bowls — even if Clowney ends up being only a one-year rental (more on that in a bit). Mingo may have otherwise been released, and while Martin is a promising young pass-rusher with a quick twitch and three more years of team control, he was only slated to be a rotational piece entering his second season.
Clowney’s résumé, on the other hand, includes 18.5 sacks over the last two seasons. According to NFL Research, the 2014 No. 1 overall pick is one of only four players (Aaron Donald, Cam Jordan, Chandler Jones) with 20-plus sacks and 50-plus tackles for loss since 2016.
It was hard to envision the Seahawks getting that type of production at pass-rusher when training camp began. Frank Clark was gone, Jarran Reed had just been suspended for six games and Ansah was still on the sideline as he worked his way back from shoulder surgery with no indication of when he’d be available. Even with Ansah returning to practice last week and seemingly on track to play in the opener, the Seahawks were going to have to count on complementary pass-rushers like Martin and Cassius Marsh to fill primary roles. It still looked like a potential Achilles heel — particularly with Reed absent for a tough early-season stretch — no matter how loaded the Seahawks are at linebacker.
Clowney’s addition changes the outlook in a big way.
The Seahawks now have two edge rushers who can legitimately threaten double-digit sacks and, in theory, make life a little easier on their young secondary that has its question marks. Seattle’s front seven could be as formidable as any in football once Reed returns in Week 7 to join Clowney, Ansah, breakout candidate Poona Ford, All-Pro Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright and Mychal Kendricks.
There is some risk for the Seahawks that this could turn out to be a dud like the trade for defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. They gave up less to get Richardson but only paid him about half as much in 2017 as they’ll owe Clowney on his $15.967 million franchise tender. Richardson’s contract only had one year left when the Seahawks acquired it. He wasn’t re-signed, meaning Seattle gave up a second-round pick, receiver Jermaine Kearse and about $8 million for one underwhelming season.
Even if Clowney ends up walking after a big season that makes him too expensive for Seattle’s liking, the Seahawks would be in line for a high compensatory pick in 2021 to help offset the 2020 third-rounder they’re giving up. They’re already projected to get an extra 2020 third-round pick and entered cut-down weekend with 10 expected selections in next year’s draft.
Not that it’s a foregone conclusion that Clowney is merely a one-year proposition for the Seahawks. They don’t have many big-budget expenses beyond 2019 aside from the recent Russell Wilson and Wagner megadeals, nor do they have any young players other than Reed who are in line for a massive payday. The Seahawks can use 2019 to gauge Clowney’s long-term fit and would be eligible to sign him to an extension once the regular season ends, according to the rules involving franchise-tagged players.
Schneider has an oft-repeated phrase about how he wants the Seahawks to always be a “consistent-championship-caliber football team.” His latest bold move is in keeping with that approach, helping the Seahawks win now while they have an elite quarterback in his prime without that coming at too steep of a cost to their future.
For every Richardson and Percy Harvin trade that Schneider has whiffed on as Seattle’s GM, he’s hit more home runs. Chris Clemons and Marshawn Lynch from 2010 come to mind, as do Clinton McDonald in 2013 and Justin Coleman in 2017.
The Clowney trade could end up being another one. Based on what the Seahawks gave up and what they’re getting, it already looks like it.