On August 27th, Pro Football Network’s NFL insider Tony Pauline mentioned that the Steelers could potentially be an option for free agent pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney. On the NFL Draft Insiders podcast, Pauline mentioned that a “source close to Clowney” had told him that the Steelers were “poking their nose around” the idea of signing the big-name free agent.
While the possibility of Clowney to Pittsburgh is certainly an interesting one, it doesn’t really add up. The Steelers have hardly any cap space left, and will need to use what they have in upcoming extensions with the likes of Cameron Heyward and JuJu Smith-Schuster. Besides, they already have one of the best pass-rushing tandems in the league in Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt.
But if the Steelers did try to sign Clowney, it would require them to dump enough cap space to fit him on the roster. This would likely happen by trading pass-rusher Bud Dupree and his cap hit of over 15 million. A Dupree trade would likely result in anywhere from a second to fourth round pick in compensation, with Clowney starting in Dupree’s place.
But despite being a former No. 1 overall pick, Clowney wouldn’t be much of an upgrade from Dupree. He actually might be more of a downgrade.
Clowney played in 13 games last year, but only recorded 3 sacks, compared to Bud Dupree’s 16 game, 11.5 sack breakout year last season. In fact, Clowney has played in the league for one more year than Dupree, but has only garnered half a sack more in his career. That isn’t to say the two careers are directly comparable, but rather that Clowney isn’t as major an upgrade over Dupree as some have said. The former Texan did make three straight Pro Bowls from 2016 to 2018, but failed to reach ten sacks in all three years.
Dupree has spent his entire career in Pittsburgh and knows the system. He has a great thing going with T.J. Watt and is above-average defending the run and rushing the passer. Adding Clowney right before the season starts and trading away Dupree would mess up the chemistry on Pittsburgh’s defense, and would be a unnecessary attempt at improving something that isn’t broken in the least. The last-minute addition of Clowney would require him to learn the defense in a very short amount of time, and could lead to a tough start for what would be an otherwise dominating defense.
Long story short, if the Steelers dropped Dupree for Clowney, the potential improvement would be outweighed by the potential of something going wrong. Clowney would likely want a big deal as well, which would impede the Steelers plans to re-sign T.J. Watt in the future. It simply isn’t a good idea.
So why would the Steelers have any interest in Clowney? It seems unlikely they would want him as a rotational backup to Watt and Dupree, as the team lacks the cap space for such a move and seems to have confidence in rookie Alex Highsmith. The most plausible scenario is that the Steelers are performing their due diligence on Clowney. He’s a big name who hasn’t been signed yet, and the Steelers aren’t hurting themselves at all by simply taking a look. On the other hand, they could be thinking ahead about the possibility of a freak injury happening to either Watt or Dupree, in which Clowney would be an excellent replacement.
Pauline himself didn’t believe Clowney would sign with Pittsburgh, citing the team’s dire cap scenario. He confirmed that another AFC North team, the Baltimore Ravens, were definitely in contention, though, which makes sense due to the cap space created by Earl Thomas’ departure.
Adding Jadeveon Clowney to the Steelers roster is certainly an intriguing idea, but there isn’t much of a chance it will actually happen. Besides Pauline’s report, there hasn’t been much chatter about Clowney to Pittsburgh, and certainly none about Dupree being traded somewhere else. Unless Kevin Colbert has something crazy up his sleeve, there isn’t much of a chance that Dupree and Clowney will be swapping spots in Pittsburgh in 2020.