NASHVILLE, Tenn. — New Tennessee Titans outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney has yet to find a longterm home in the NFL.

The Houston Texans, who drafted Clowney first overall in 2014, decided against giving him an extension after his rookie contract expired and, instead, traded him to the Seahawks. After one year in Seattle, Clowney found himself on the move, again, during the 2020 offseason.

He hopes the Titans allow him to end his days of being an NFL vagabond.

“Hopefully, they see me as a piece on their defense in the future,” Clowney said.

Thanks to the familiarity he has with several members of the Titans’ coaching staff—and the familiarity they have with him—Clowney has a real shot to succeed in Tennessee and earn the longterm contract that, to this point in his career, has eluded him.

CHOOSING VRABEL

Typical free agents don’t join their new team already having an in-depth understanding of the scheme they’ll be playing in or significant levels of comfort and familiarity with the coaching staff.

Yet, that’s exactly the position Clowney is in, and it’s what makes the Titans’ decision to give him a $13 million contract so wise.

Clowney, who was reportedly pursued heavily by the Browns, Saints and Ravens in addition to the Titans, chose Tennessee because of his experience with head coach Mike Vrabel, who he played under in Houston for four seasons.

“I think Mike Vrabel is one of the smartest coaches I’ve ever had since I’ve been playing football,” Clowney said. “He knows football front and back, and he knows how to put guys in position to make plays.”

PLAYING EVERYWHERE

It should come as no surprise that Clowney has such a high level of respect for Vrabel. Clowney’s best NFL season—in which he totaled 9.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and 21 tackles for loss—came in 2017 with Vrabel as his defensive coordinator.

Clowney played all over the field that year, taking snaps as a defensive end, defensive tackle and linebacker.

Vrabel, who’s preached the importance of “front multiplicity” since the day he became the Titans’ head coach, figures to continue taking advantage of Clowney’s versatility in 2020.

“He’s got really good football IQ,” Vrabel said, reflecting on his memories of Clowney from their time in Houston. “He has an ability to learn and study, understand the concepts that we’re trying to coach.

“Again, he had a good grasp on what we were asking him to do, some other stuff along with his original job, so I think that it became easy to learn a second job.”

NOT YOUR TYPICAL FREE AGENT

Vrabel and his staff understand that Clowney is at his best when he’s moving around, and that’s precisely why Clowney is set up for success in Tennessee.

Yes, he knows a handful of the coaches and has a jump start on learning the Titans’ defensive scheme, but perhaps what’s more important is the fact that the coaches know him.

“Anytime you get these free agents, if you have familiarity with them, I think it helps,” said Titans outside linebackers coach Shane Bowen, who also coached Clowney in Houston.

“Everybody’s got different personalities, different things that motivate them day to day, how they fit in with the other guys. A lot of that comes into play with free agents, and, if you have a better understanding of that out of the gate, I think it makes their transition a little easier.”

The problem with most massive free-agent contracts in the NFL, and the reason why they so rarely work out, is that teams often hurl money at a player in hopes that they can come in, adapt to the scheme and be some sort of savior.

That’s not what this is.

The Titans know exactly what they have in Clowney, but they also know what they don’t have. They also won’t be asking him to transform their defense, a unit that helped the Titans reach the AFC Championship in 2019, but to merely improve it.

Clowney’s move to the Titans has a chance to be a major success. If it is, he won’t have to look for a new home in 2021.

Cover image: George Walker IV / The Tennessean via pool and David Butler II / USA Today


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