Why the New Orleans Saints Are the Perfect Fit for Jadeveon ClowneyAugust 22, 2020
The New Orleans Saints' quest for a Super Bowl title and Jadeveon Clowney's desire to make good money on a contender seem like a perfect match for the 2020 season.
Saints offensive tackle Terron Armstead made a clear statement about the team's expectation for the upcoming term, per NFL.com's Kevin Patra.
"It's gotta be Super Bowl or bust in all honesty," Armstead said. "That's it. It's not really anything else past that. It's Super Bowl or bust. We don't get to the big dance, it's a failure of a season. That's it."
For consecutive offseasons, Drew Brees has contemplated retirement. At 41 years old, he's going into what could be his last campaign.
Unless the Saints think backup quarterbacks Taysom Hill or Jameis Winston can lead them deep into the playoffs, the front office should load the roster while the team has an open Super Bowl window, with the all-time leader in passing yards (77,416) and touchdowns (547) under center for at least another year.
Despite fielding the third-highest scoring offense in 2019, New Orleans signed Emmanuel Sanders to fill a void at the No. 2 wide receiver spot. On the defensive side of the ball, the Saints ranked third in sacks (51) and second in quarterback pressures (179). Fifteen players recorded at least one sack.
Yet, for the Saints, only Cameron Jordan topped seven sacks in 2019. Fellow defensive end Marcus Davenport was second on the team with six, but he missed three games because of a Lisfranc injury.
Although Davenport made significant strides last season, he's undergone three surgeries (thumb, toe and foot) in two years. Because of his absences and a rotation on the right side of the line, the UTSA product has played less than 51 percent of the defensive snaps in both of his campaigns.
The Saints would like to see Davenport finish the upcoming term healthy while developing into a complete defender, though that's a shaky expectation after he's missed six games.
Skeptics may question whether Clowney's presence would stunt Davenport's growth. On a positive note, the three-time Pro Bowler would strengthen the defensive line's rotation with his ability to pressure quarterbacks and seal the edge against the run.
On the surface, Clowney had a down 2019 campaign, recording 31 tackles, seven tackles for loss and three sacks in 13 games. He still tied for 27th leaguewide in quarterback pressures (30).
Ross Jackson of the Canal Street Chronicles offered an explanation for Clowney's drop-off in production and a reason why he could bounce back with the Saints:
"Clowney's 592 total defensive snaps along the defensive line (not just pass rush snaps) were split among both sides of the defensive line. 319 on the left side, and 235 on the right side, with the remaining snaps spread about. However, in 2018, Clowney was much more focused playing the majority of his snaps along the right side only; 683 of 795.
"Clowney's drop in production last season can easily be connected to his being required to move around a lot more than he is accustomed to doing. In New Orleans, that would not be an issue at all, as Cam Jordan holds down the left edge while Davenport tends to rotate with the aforementioned Saints trio on the right side."
In an NFC South division with quarterbacks Tom Brady and Matt Ryan, the Saints should ensure they have a pass rush that's equipped to apply pressure in spite of injuries, especially with the possibility of COVID-19-related absences. Star wide receiver Michael Thomas seems to believe the defensive line could make room for another playmaker:
After a 28-23 loss to the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Divisional Round, Clowney spoke candidly about his ideal destination, per ESPN's Brady Henderson:
"I just want to win. I'm trying to get to the Super Bowl by any means. That's what I'm looking for: Who's going to get me there? ... I ain't gonna put my body through all of that just to lose no 16 games, go home with my check. I'd hate that, so that ain't what I'm doing. So if I can't win no Super Bowl, I ain't going to no team that can't win."
New Orleans has won three consecutive division titles going into the 2020 season. Although Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will pose a tough challenge, the Saints won't give up the crown so easily with the core of their roster intact. Clowney can join a ready-made contender that has a chance to win a title.
NBC Sports' Peter King told Paul Kuharsky of Midday 180 that he thinks Clowney has set his floor price at $15 million annually. If that's the case, the Saints can shed or restructure a couple of contracts to make room for him. They currently have $7.3 million in cap space, per Over the Cap.
With Clowney, Mario Edwards Jr., who played just 293 snaps on the line last year, could become expendable. C.J. Gardner-Johnson and P.J. Williams can handle slot duties, leaving Patrick Robinson without a clear pathway to playing time in his age-33 term.
Perhaps Clowney and the Saints can come to a middle ground on a one-year deal. Initially, he aimed for approximately $20 million annually, per ESPN's Dianna Russini. The seventh-year veteran may have to settle for the best contract on the table unless he's serious about sitting out for a bigger deal next offseason.
Neither side absolutely needs the other in this scenario.
However, Clowney's desire to win certainly fits with the team that boasts the league's best record since 2017 (37-11). Furthermore, he'll likely see some one-on-one situations with Jordan commanding most of the attention on the opposite end. Those favorable matchups may result in a higher sack total and, subsequently, a bigger payout on the free-agent market in 2021.
Jordan had pass-rushing help on the interior from defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins during the 2018 term (eight sacks), though he hasn't played with a complementary edge defender of Clowney's caliber in recent years. Davenport is coming along, but his injuries raise some concerns.
In 2019, the San Francisco 49ers' dominant defensive line became a vital component to their Super Bowl run. Although the Niners came up short to the Kansas City Chiefs, New Orleans can copy the formula to improve its 13th-ranked scoring defense from last year. With top-10 units on both sides of the ball, the Saints would increase their chance at an appearance in the title game.
As the hourglass on Brees' career runs out of sand, this is the time to take an aggressive approach in adding a high-end playmaker to a Super Bowl-contending roster.