2020 Saints free agents: Midseason updates on key departures

The New Orleans Saints lost 2020 free agents like Teddy Bridgewater, Vonn Bell, A.J. Klein, and Eli Apple. How have they done at midseason?

The hard part of NFL free agency is that you can’t re-sign everyone. That’s something the New Orleans Saints experienced this offseason when veteran players like Teddy Bridgewater, A.J. Klein, and Vonn Bell left for fresh starts in other cities around the league.

But how have those departures performed at the midway point in 2020? Some of them have earned captain status with their new teams, while others are already on the job hunt again. Here’s a quick checkup on the biggest names that left New Orleans:

Report: Saints attempted first-of-its-kind sign-and-trade to land Jadeveon Clowney

The New Orleans Saints pulled off all the stops, including an attempted sign-and-trade deal to acquire free agent DE Jadeveon Clowney.

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They used every trick in the book, but the New Orleans Saints weren’t able to land free agent pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney, who instead reached a contract agreement with the Tennessee Titans. But it wasn’t for lack of trying.

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero reported that the Saints stretched their ambition to its limits and attempted a sign-and-trade deal to acquire Clowney. Unable to match Tennessee’s contract offer totaling $15 million, the Saints approached another team with more salary cap space, proposing that they sign Clowney and take on the bulk of his cap hit, then trade him to New Orleans in exchange for a second-round draft pick and player to offset the costs.

It would have been bold. These sort of maneuvers are more common in the NBA, but they aren’t really allowed per NFL bylaws (or at least in such an obvious fashion). The Cleveland Browns once agreed to accept a second-round pick in exchange for taking on Houston Texans quarterback Brock Osweiller’s $16 million salary, for example. Other trades have been made that had one team take on a portion of salary to help facilitate the deal, but this apparently crossed a line.

But it all fell apart. Rapoport and Pelissero’s report adds that the NFL office wasn’t likely to approve the deal, interpreting it as a violation of rules preventing cash-for-pick trades.

Then again, that’s just their source’s belief. The deal didn’t actually go in front of NFL executives, and similar arrangements had been worked out before. Without putting it to the test, it’s impossible to say whether it would have been blocked by the league.

At the end of the day, fitting Clowney’s cap hit on the books was just too complicated a process for the Saints to pull off cleanly. It certainly didn’t help that he was eager to go play for Mike Vrabel again after having his best production under Vrabel’s coaching in Houston. There may be a parallel timeline where the Saints made this happen, but in our reality, it’s time to move on.

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Saints, Seahawks outbid by Titans in Jadeveon Clowney sweepstakes

The New Orleans Saints made a competitive contract offer to free agent DE Jadeveon Clowney, but the Tennessee Titans had more to give him.

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It’s finally over: the Tennessee Titans have won over free agent pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney, agreeing to sign him to a one-year contract worth as much as $15 million. That follows a strong recruiting effort from the New Orleans Saints spearheaded by head coach Sean Payton.

And it doesn’t look like the various contract offers were that far apart. The Saints were able to get within $2 million of the Titans offer, per ESPN’s Dianna Russini, but NFL insider Josina Anderson spoke with Clowney and reported that, “it came down to familiarity over economics.”

That suggests that, in a vacuum, the Saints and Titans put money on the table that Clowney would have signed off on. But the opportunity to reunite with his old Houston Texans position coach, Mike Vrabel, was too good to pass up.

Don’t get it twisted: it’s a bummer that the Saints took such a big swing at a big-time free agent and whiffed. At least they didn’t need him to turn the pass rush into a functional unit, instead acting as the X-factor that could have helped the defense take a step up. The Saints will still be stout up front without him.

And if it’s any consolation, they weren’t the only team Clowney turned down. Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer reports that Clowney passed on proposals bringing in north of $15 million per year earlier this summer because he didn’t want to play for those teams; the Saints, Titans, and Seattle Seahawks each made competitive offers over Labor Day weekend, but the Titans were his preferred fit. Breer added that while Clowney had interest in joining the Baltimore Ravens, the feeling wasn’t very mutual.

Report: Jadeveon Clowney expected to sign with the Tennessee Titans

Mike Vrabel and Jadeveon Clowney are ready to reunited in Tennessee.

The biggest free agent out on the market appears to have found a home. Defensive lineman Jadeveon Clowney is reported to be heading to Mike Vrabel and the Tennessee Titans.

There is a connection between Vrabel and Clowney, who was the No. 1 overall pick in 2014. He spent time with Vrabel as a Houston Texan. Clowney moved on from Houston to Seattle and now heads to Tennessee, the third team in his career.

Per ESPN.com:

The seventh-year veteran had his best season in 2017, when he played in Vrabel’s scheme for the Texans. Clowney posted career highs in sacks (9.5), tackles for a loss (21) and QB hits (21) that season.

In addition to Vrabel, Clowney played for Titans outside linebackers coach Shane Bowen in Houston. Titans defensive backs coach Anthony Midget held the same title on the Texans staff that coached Clowney.

Clowney was named to three consecutive Pro Bowls from 2016-18 with the Texans. Overall, he has 236 tackles, 32 sacks, 9 forced fumbles, 7 recoveries, 51 tackles for loss, an interception and 4 defensive touchdowns.


Report: Saints come up short, Titans expected to sign Jadeveon Clowney

The New Orleans Saints missed out on Jadeveon Clowney, who is expected to sign with the Tennessee Titans as a free agent from the Seahawks.

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They made a strong effort, but it wasn’t enough. The New Orleans Saints weren’t able to sway free agent pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney and he is expected to sign with the Tennessee Titans, per ESPN’s Dianna Russini. The opportunity to reunite with his old position coach, Mike Vrabel, wasn’t something the Saints could compete with.

This whiff leaves the Saints where they started at defensive end: with Cameron Jordan and Marcus Davenport starting on each side, backed up by third-down specialist Trey Hendrickson and emerging second-year pro Carl Granderson. That’s not a bad group, but it would have been better for adding Clowney to it.

To be clear: the Saints didn’t need Clowney. They chose to go after him because he could have elevated the defense to another level. It’s unfortunate that their sales pitch didn’t win out, but it isn’t the end of the world.

And another angle to consider is that the Saints showed other possible big additions how far they’re willing to go to get an edge. If a star player becomes available at the NFL’s trade deadline in October, New Orleans has the resources on hand to go get them.

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Report: Jadeveon Clowney fires agent again amid free agency tour

The New Orelans Saints are trying to recruit star pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney, but it’ll be hard to sign him after he fired agent Bus Cook.

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Here’s a new wrinkle to the Jadeveon Clowney saga: NBC Sports’ Mike Florio reported that Clowney has parted ways with his agent, Bus Cook of B.C. Sports. It would be the second year in a row in which Clowney has fired his agent near Labor Day weekend; unsatisfied with progress on a long-term deal with the Houston Texans, Clowney briefly went without Cook’s representation before re-hiring him four days later.

It’s unclear what the play is this time. Clowney could be looking to hire a new agent (Florio added that Kennard McGuire of MS World LLC is a strong possibility), but Cook would have to waive the NFL-mandated, five-day window preventing Clowney from bring in new representation if he’s going to sign a contract with the New Orleans Saints or anyone else.

Of course, Clowney could always negotiate the deal himself, but results have been mixed when NFL players have represented themselves in these sort of contract talks.

Maybe this will end up going smoothly for the Saints as they work on a one-year contract offer for Clowney. But he already knows what the Tennessee Titans can offer him; Titans coach Mike Vrabel, Clowney’s former position coach with the Texans, said as much Friday when he confirmed that his team’s offer is on the table. If things get too sketchy with the Saints without an experienced agent on hand to review their contract offer, Clowney could very well go with the known quantity in Tennessee.

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Sean Payton, Saints coaches join Jadeveon Clowney for private dinner

Sean Payton and two New Orleans Saints coaches reportedly joined Jadeveon Clowney for a private dinner catered by Clowney’s personal chef.

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It was reported earlier on Friday that the New Orleans Saints were sending a member of their coaching staff to meet personally with free agent pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney, but it appears that plans developed. Saints coach Sean Payton was joined by two assistants for dinner with Clowney in Texas, catered by Clowney’s personal chef.

That’s a heck of a recruiting pitch, driving home just how badly the Saints want Clowney to be part of their team. They have a lot overcome between some difficult salary cap maneuvering and their top rival for Clowney’s services as a free agent — the Tennessee Titans, who have more salary cap space and a tight connection to Clowney in Mike Vrabel, who was Clowney’s position coach and defensive coordinator with the Houston Texans.

And this is somewhat-familiar territory for Saints fans. It isn’t the first time Payton has tried to wine and dine a splashy free agent; in 2017, he and Ndamukong Suh had a long discussion over breakfast in New Orleans, only for Suh to choose the Los Angeles Rams instead.

But it’s still great to see how committed the Saints are to seeing this through. Time will tell if their efforts paid off.

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Saints still in on Jadeveon Clowney, but Titans’ Mike Vrabel speaks up

The New Orleans Saints are going hard after free agent defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, but Tennessee Titans coach Mike Vrabel is in the hunt

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We’re onto the next hour of Jadeveon Clowney Watch, with the New Orleans Saints vying against the Tennessee Titans and maybe another team or two for the free agent. And Titans coach Mike Vrabel confirmed Friday that his team has put their offer on the table.

“We have an offer out, we’ve been in contact with Jadeveon, with J.D. and his agent,” Vrabel said in a media conference call after Titans practice. “That’s all I can report, and that’s all I really know.”

It’s confirmation of what was expected: that the Titans, who have been reported to be in negotiations with Clowney’s representatives for months, have put their best foot forward and taken a shot at signing the 2014 first-overall draft pick. Whether or not it’ll be enough to convince Clowney is anyone’s guess.

For their part, the Saints aren’t content to just exchange phone calls. They’ve reportedly sent a coach to Houston to track down Clowney and personally sell him on what New Orleans has to offer. The Saints have also done their homework on how to fit a possible Clowney contract on their books by calling veterans about contract restructures. Those are some great lengths to go to, but it’s always wise to be prepared.

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Report: Saints send a coach for personal meeting with Jadeveon Clowney

The New Orleans Saints have sent a member of the coaching staff for a last-minute recruiting pitch with Pro Bowl DE Jadeveon Clowney.

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With training camp nearly wrapped up, the New Orleans Saints have been working hard to make one big splash before the start of the regular season: a deal with free agent pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney. While Saints coach Sean Payton has reportedly been involved in several conversations with Clowney, the Saints have had to contend with rival offers from other teams like the Tennessee Titans.

On Friday, ESPN’s Dianna Russini reported that the Saints stepped up their efforts by sending a coach to Houston, where Clowney has lived since being picked first overall by the Texans back in 2014. The hope is that a one-on-one pitch could be what it takes to push this recruiting effort over the finish line. This follows an earlier report that players and coaches from the Saints and Titans had been reaching out to Clowney privately to try and win him over.

It’s unclear which member of the coaching staff is making the trip; if it were Payton himself, that would have probably been indicated in the report. Other options may be defensive coordinator Dennis Allen or well-respected line coach Ryan Nielsen, who worked as North Carolina State’s recruiting coordinator before joining the Saints.

The Saints are holding their final training camp practice session on Friday, so the coach’s absence could be noted by media on the scene. While driving can take more than five hours, flights from New Orleans to Houston average about 75 minutes, so it’s just as possible that the Saints could have all hands on deck for practice before this brief business trip.

It’s a bold move, and we’ll just have to wait and see if it pays off. Stay tuned.

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Crafty contracts, salary cap accounting can help the Saints afford Jadeveon Clowney

The New Orleans Saints are going hard after free agent defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, and could find the salary cap resources to sign him.

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Could the New Orleans Saints land Jadeveon Clowney? They’re making a spirited effort according to reports from ESPN and NFL Network, aiming to get Clowney in the building with a week to spare before their Sept. 13 season opener against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

But how can they afford Clowney’s services? Mike Garafolo reported for NFL Network that the Saints have reached out to agents representing their players already under contract about restructures, which would do a lot to increase their room beneath the salary cap (currently at about $7 million, per the NFL Players Association).

Those restructures have been a common tactic for the Saints, who frequently convert large chunks of guaranteed salaries into signing bonuses to spread cap hits over future years. It requires that a player already be under contract in the next fiscal year or two to pull off, but it’s a strategy that’s worked for New Orleans against the backdrop of an always-rising salary cap.

If Clowney is still set on a per-year salary of $15 million, the Saints could accommodate him with a one-year deal featuring “ghost years” to offset the salary cap charge. This is a contract model they pioneered with Drew Brees and Teddy Bridgewater that relies on automatically-voided future years that exist only for cap accounting purposes. It would allow Clowney to get the money he wants now while the Saints get billed for it later.

But it’s risky when teams know the cap will be as low as $175 million in 2021, a plummet to the tune of $23.2 million. Doing restructures and writing up voided years now limits what the Saints can do later to retain star talents like Demario Davis and Alvin Kamara, but those are problems for next year.

There’s a world where Kamara gets extended and Clowney brought on board right around the same time, but it’s the equivalent to walking a tight rope at 15,000 feet. One misstep could bring everything crashing down, as happened when contracts with Jairus Byrd and Junior Galette tanked for the Saints in the mid-2010’s. They survived that stint in the darkness, and must have learned enough to think it’s worth risking again. With their window to win a Super Bowl with Brees about to slam shut, they’re sparing no expense.

So the tools are there for the Saints to make a huge splash at the end of training camp. The question seems to be whether they can successfully outbid (or at least out-recruit) competitors like the Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars, and maybe Clowney’s last team, the Seattle Seahawks.

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