The Texans picked up Jadeveon Clowney’s fifth-year option recently, comfortably ahead of the May 2 deadline. The option will pay Clowney, the top overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, $13.846 million in 2018 and is guaranteed for injury upon exercise. This fifth year becomes fully guaranteed early next March on the first day of the 2018 league year.
Clowney has answered critics that had been suggesting the Texans drafted the wrong edge rusher in 2014 with the first overall pick. Knee problems sidelined Clowney for 15 of the 32 regular-season games in his first two years and kept him out of Houston’s playoff loss during the 2015 season. Meanwhile, Khalil Mack, the fifth overall pick, experienced immediate success with the Raiders. Healthy for the first time last season, Clowney was named to the Pro Bowl in 2016 and earned some first-team All-Pro/All-NFL honors. He played a pivotal role in the Texans giving up the fewest yards in the NFL despite losing three-time Defensive Player of Year J.J. Watt to a back injury three games into the season.
Clowney’s stellar play in 2016 has put him in line for a contract extension either this offseason or next year before the start of the 2018 regular season. The Texans have a long-standing policy against negotiating contracts during the regular season. There are challenges the Texans will encounter regardless of whether Clowney is taken care of contractually sooner or later.
The Texans’ pecking order for extensions
DeAndre Hopkins, the Texans’ first-round pick in 2013, staged a one-day holdout when training camp opened last year protesting the Texans’ refusal the negotiate an extension before his fourth year. Hopkins had a point: The Texans had negotiated with Watt and Whitney Mercilus, their first-round picks in 2011 and ’12, before their fourth seasons. Watt’s extension came in early September 2014 in the days leading up to the start of the regular season. Mercilus got his new deal in May 2015 at the deadline to pick up his fifth-year option.
Hopkins is entering his contract year. General manager Rick Smith indicated that the Texans intend to re-sign Hopkins when he addressed the media at the NFL combine in early March. A new deal for Hopkins isn’t imminent.
The Texans run the risk of alienating Hopkins if Clowney is treated in the same manner as Watt and Mercilus before his own contract is extended. After expressing displeasure with his contract situation last offseason, Hopkins would likely view the Texans signing Clowney first as disrespectful and make him willing to test free agency in 2018. At the very least, the Texans should engage in meaningful contract discussions with Hopkins before turning their attention to Clowney. If the Texans were to reach an impasse with Hopkins, Clowney getting a new deal at this juncture should be less of an issue for the Pro Bowl wide receiver.
Proactive NFL teams make a practice of extending the contracts of core players well in advance of free agency. Early extensions can allow teams to lock up very good to great players for a number of years at more affordable rates than if their contracts had expired.
Two fellow 2014 first-round picks that could receive extensions in the coming months might have an impact on Clowney’s next contract. Aaron Donald should get a new deal in 2017 no later than the middle of September if the Rams adhere to the same timetable they did for first-round picks Tavon Austin, Michael Brockers and Robert Quinn.
Donald, the 2014 Defensive Rookie of the Year, has quickly become the NFL’s most disruptive force from the interior of a defensive line. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), his 82 quarterback pressures (combined sacks, quarterback hurries and quarterback hits) were the third most in the league last season and led NFL interior defensive lineman. Donald took the top spot in PFF’s top 101 players for the 2015 season. He was second in PFF’s 2016 rankings. A consensus first-team All-Pro the past two seasons, Donald has an excellent chance of becoming the NFL’s first $20 million per year non-quarterback with at least $75 million in guarantees. That is if Mack doesn’t beat him to it.