Why didn’t NFL allow Saints or Ravens to accomplish Jadeveon Clowney sign and trade?

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On Monday night, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney will suit up for the Titans. He could have been playing today, for the Saints or the Ravens.

He’s not in New Orleans or Baltimore (we’re told that it would have been Baltimore, not New Orleans) because the league put the kibosh on the possibility of the Browns or the Jaguars signing Clowney and then trading him to the Saints or the Ravens, respectively. It’s still unclear why the NFL refused to allow it to happen.

The knee-jerk, on-the-fly explanation was that, basically, teams can’t trade cash and/or cap space. That’s precisely what would have happened with Clowney. Cleveland or Jacksonville would have signed him and paid a sizable chunk of his 2020 compensation before trading him to New Orleans or Baltimore. The destination team would have surrendered a draft pick and/or a player to compensate the signing team for paying part of Clowney’s salary.

Efforts over the course of the past six days to get a more thorough and detailed explanation for the league’s position on the matter have been unsuccessful. Which leads to this inescapable conclusion: The teams involved should have just done it, and the league wouldn’t have been able to stop it.

As the saying goes, it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission. Although that approach doesn’t entirely apply here (and isn’t always the best way to go, anyway), the Saints and Ravens erred in asking for permission. They should have just done it.

How could the league have stopped it? Browns or Jaguars sign Clowney. Permissible. Browns or Jaguars then trade Clowney the next day to Saints or Ravens. Also permissible.

As to the idea of not trading cash or cap space, that bridge already has been crossed. In 2017, the Texans traded quarterback Brock Osweiler and a second-round pick to the Browns. Basically, the Browns bought a second-round pick for absorbing $16 million in cash and cap obligations under Osweiler’s fully-guaranteed 2017 salary. If the league allowed that trade, there’s no way it couldn’t have allowed Clowney to be signed and partially paid by one team and then traded to another team.

Indeed, last year the Texans did just that with Clowney. On the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, the Texans signed Clowney to a one-year, $15 million deal, paid $7 million of the amount, and traded him to the Seahawks for a third-round pick and two players. The league let it happen.

The difference, of course, was that the Texans held Clowney’s contractual rights via the franchise tag. But, still, the transaction consisted of the Texans paying $7 million in cash and cap space to get value from the Seahawks for Clowney.

So why didn’t the Browns/Saints or Jaguars/Ravens just proceed? The concern was that, if the league stepped in and prevented the trade, Clowney would have been stuck with a team he didn’t want to play for.

Still, that likely wouldn’t have happened. The logic of preventing a trade quickly collapses when considering the implications. Would the Browns have been prevented from trading Clowney to anyone at any point before the trade deadline?

The concern here arose from the bang-bang sequence of signing Clowney then trading him. And since the league was able to keep it from happening simply by saying “no” to a set of circumstances that hadn’t actually become ripe, the league never had to do what common sense and a fair reading of all applicable rules suggest would have happened if the Clowney sign-and-trade had unfolded: The deal would have gone through.

7 responses to “Why didn’t NFL allow Saints or Ravens to accomplish Jadeveon Clowney sign and trade?

  1. I think the big difference between this deal and the Brock Osweiler deal is that this was being made pretty clear what was going on. In the Brock Osweiler, I don’t think anyone knew they would get rid of him.

  2. I think nowadays in the N.F .L there is a cap and sliding scale for the rookies.most second rounders get a 4 year 8 to 9 million dollar contract with a 5th year option.Would you pay 16 million dollars for a round two or even a first round pick? I am glad there are rules in place to not allow teams to get great players while not having to deal with a hard cap.Baltimore would of had a 10-15 million dollar player they wouldn’t be paying that.Plus who knows how the draft will go next season.

  3. The NFL doesn’t work like a court of law. Stare Decisis does not apply. Just because the Osweiler deal happened doesn’t mean the NFL can’t say no to a new deal with the same structure. And I’m right as evidenced by the fact they said no this time.

    Your suggestion to do it and ask for forgiveness ignores the fact that the NFL is successful in part because it’s well run. Owners and Gms work together to make this league stay competitive so that the worst teams always have the chance to become the best teams. It’s one of the best and brightest parts of the NFL and you shouldn’t be telling GMs to go against that.

  4. There is another difference. The Clowney sign and trade was a way for a team to get more top talent than their cap could allow, a player currently worth 15 million when they only had 10 million, a way to cheat the cap. The osweiler trade was a way to get out of overspending, a way to pay less than 15 million for a player worth less than 15 million, a way to avoid having much less talent than the cap would allow. Its like the difference between taking steroids to break a record and taking doctor prescribed steroids to rehab a season ending injury, exceeding limits of performance vs struggling to get back to square one.

  5. Clowney would have had to sign off on this, he would have been the one taking the risk of getting stuck in Jacksonville or Cleveland for a year.

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