Philadelphia Eagles: Back up the Brinks truck for Jadeveon Clowney

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

If Jadeveon Clowney is allowed to hit the open market in March, the Philadelphia Eagles should go all out to sign the versatile edge rushing free agent.

Who was the Philadelphia Eagles‘ last truly great edge rusher?

Sure, Connor Barwin and Jason Babin (yikes), recorded 14.5 and 18 sacks respectively in a single season while donning a midnight green uniform, but the team hasn’t had a defensive end, outside linebacker, or even a defensive tackle who’s recorded multiple double-digit sacks in a row since Trent Cole accomplished the feat for three seasons in a row from 2009-2011.

Brandon Graham has been solid over the last seven seasons, averaging 5.6 sacks a season since his first full season of action in 2012, but those numbers are hardly indicative of an elite edge rusher.

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No, the Eagles’ defense has been absolutely hammered over the last decade with a lack of production on the defensive side of the ball; a shell of the team’s late 80s/early 90s glory when the likes of Reggie White, Clyde Simmons, Jerome Brown (RIP), and everyone’s favorite linebacker-turned commentator Seth Joyner wreaked havoc as the original ‘gang green’.

If the Birds are going to remain competitive and actually elevate their play going into 2019, that needs to change.

Jim Schwartz‘s defense is predicated on an attacking 4-3 wide-nine front that seldom utilizes more than four rushers on any given play. Though this scheme can be deadly and generate pressure with a rotational cast, if the rush isn’t getting home, the back seven’s deficiencies become much more noticeable.

Now granted, sacks don’t necessarily equal production, as the Eagles finished 2018 with six more sacks (44 vs. 36) and 21 more quarterback hits (133 vs. 122) than in 2017, but Schwartz’s pass rush generated far more pressure during their Super Bowl run, and forced opposing teams to literally change their offensive approach to get the ball out of their quarterbacks hands faster.

With Graham set to become a free agent, and Chris Long once again contemplating retirement, the Eagles are going to be investing some sort of capital into fortifying their defensive line, they just need to identify the best option available to finally procure a long-term difference maker.

That player should be Jadeveon Clowney.

The number one pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, selected 25 picks before the disastrous Marcus Smith, Clowney has earned three straight trips to the Pro Bowl from 2016-18 following a quiet start to his NFL season and has averaged a little over eight sacks a season over that tenure.

While that production isn’t exactly prolific, the subtext is what makes Clowney an interesting prospect worthy of a big-time contract.

After spending the better part of three seasons as a ‘hand in the ground’ edge rusher for the South Carolina Gamecocks, Clowney was drafted by the Houston Texans, a team that had built their 3-4 defensive identity around another all-world rusher J.J. Watts.

Initially listed as a defensive end, the position Fletcher Cox played under Billy Davis from 2013-15, Clowney struggled to find his footing in Bill O’Brien‘s defensive scheme, before transitioning to outside linebacker prior to his 2016 breakout campaign. This position, essentially the one filled by Barwin in the Chip Kelly years, has allowed Clowney to rush the passer from the outside with far more regularity and has resulted in a pair of nine-plus sack seasons in 2017 and 2018.

Now imagine how productive Clowney could be if his responsibilities were simplified even further and was given the go to attack the pocket for 60-plus snaps a game?

He would be unstoppable.

Standing 6-foot-5, 255-pounds with a 4.5 40-yard dash, 37.5-inch vertical jump, and 124-inch long jump, Clowney is an athletic freak with the burst needed to blow past even the most athletic left tackle, and bull rush through the stoutest of right tackles. Clowney’s experience in the Texans’ scheme has certainly helped to diversify the admittedly raw skill set he possessed coming out of college, but to truly reach his ceiling as a pass rusher, described as “The talent demands that he becomes the best defensive player in the league” by current Oakland Raiders‘ GM Mike Mayock, he needs a scheme tailor-made for his style of play.

Schwartz’s scheme fits that bill to a T.

Lined up alongside Derek Barnett, Timmy Jernigan, Fletcher Cox, and whomever the team decides to sign this offseason to fill the spots currently held by Haloti Ngata, Treyvon Hester, and Chris Long, Clowney could provide Philly with a second Pro Bowl-caliber lineman with All-Pro potential; one who could be seldom doubled by opposing offensive coordinators thanks to Cox’s presence.

When Cox and Jernigan are on the field together, the Eagles defense is noticeably better, but if you add a player like Clowney to that front, it becomes virtually unstoppable.

Much like how Khalil Mack, the player, selected fourth in the 2014 NFL Draft, has transformed the Chicago Bears‘ defense from good to among the league’s best, Clowney could be the crown jewel of the Eagles’ defensive war chest, changing the team’s fortunes in a way that very few draftees can accomplish as a rookie. Mack is undoubtedly the better of the two players right now, but Clowney was drafted higher for a reason and could have a similar impact on a team.

Will he cost a lot of money to sign? Oh yeah, according to Spotrac, Clowney is in line to earn north of $16.8 million a year moving forward, but that’s only $2 million more than Graham’s projected $15 million a year projections, and the former doesn’t turn 26 until February 15th.

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Simply put, if the Texans do not franchise tag Clowney, a real possibility according to Ian Rappoport, Howie Roseman should go all in on acquiring the superstar edge rusher. Though he’s yet to rack up 10 sacks in a season over his first five seasons in the NFL, Clowney has still been incredibly productive despite largely playing out of position over the last five season. If he were to join a pass rusher-friendly scheme tailor-made for his skill set, like that of the Philadelphia Eagles, Jadeveon Clowney could reach his ‘best defensive player in the league’ potential.