When the Eagles face the Seahawks on Sunday at the Linc, two players the Eagles could have had – defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and wide receiver Josh Gordon – both will be in uniform for Seattle.
The Seahawks acquired Clowney, a prolific pass-rusher who had 18½ sacks the previous two seasons, off the discount shelf from the Houston Texans a week before the start of the season for a 2020 third-round pick, second-year linebacker Jacob Martin, and edge-rusher Barkevious Mingo, who is on his fifth team in seven NFL seasons. As part of the deal, the Texans even agreed to pay half of Clowney’s $17 million salary.
The Seahawks claimed Gordon, a talented but troubled player who has been suspended several times for violations of the NFL drug policy, on Nov. 1 after he was waived off injured reserve by the Patriots. He had 20 catches for 287 yards and a touchdown in six games with the Patriots when they put him on IR with a knee injury.
According to two league sources, the Eagles inquired about Clowney, who is playing under the franchise tag this season, but never made a serious offer.
As for Gordon, the Eagles never put in a waiver claim for him. Because they had a worse record than the Seahawks when Gordon was waived, he would’ve been awarded to them. But they expected to get DeSean Jackson back soon, and they also were reluctant to throw someone with Gordon’s history into their locker room.
“They were very unique situations,’’ Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said this week in a conference call with Philadelphia reporters. “We needed to find help improving our pass rush. When J.D. [Clowney’s nickname] came along and he was available, we just thought it was a great opportunity.
“With Josh, he just became available [because the Patriots waived him]. He’s an extremely talented football player. He was looking for a place [to play] and we gave him a chance. He’s responded well.’’
Gordon had two catches for 27 yards and played 27 snaps in the Seahawks’ 27-24 Week 10 win over the 49ers.
Clowney has only three sacks this season but is 16th in quarterback pressures among the league’s edge rushers with 44, according to Pro Football Focus. The Eagles’ Brandon Graham has 51 and Derek Barnett has 34.
Clowney had 10 pressures in the Seahawks’ win over the Niners before their Week 11 bye.
“Last week was his best game, his most productive game,’’ Carroll said. “We did some things in that game that helped him. I’m hoping that down the stretch, we can continue to improve and see a lot of productivity from him. But he definitely was the fire-starter in that [Niners] game, and we were fortunate to have him.’’
The Eagles are 21st in sacks per pass play and tied for 15th in total sacks with 25, 10 of which came in one game, against the 3-7 Jets.
Given the importance of the front four’s ability to rush the passer in Jim Schwartz’s defense, you’d think the Eagles would have jumped at the chance to acquire a player of Clowney’s freakish ability, either as a one-year rental or a long-term investment. Particularly given the cheap price Houston was willing to accept for him.
“It’s easy to say when a top-tier player is out there and you have a chance to win a Super Bowl, that you should do everything possible to get him,’’ said Joe Banner, the former Eagles president. “And considering that Houston actually paid half of his salary, it’s even easier to say they should’ve tried to acquire him.
“But the Eagles are at a point where they have an exceptionally strong team, and the next challenge for them is can they sustain this team at this level over a long period of time. That’s when you look at a guy like Clowney and say, ‘You know what? Our defensive line is already pretty strong. We are going to face some tough choices over the next few years. Do we really need to give up any assets and make thia move?’ ’’
The Eagles re-signed 31-year-old Brandon Graham in the offseason, and signed free-agent defensive tackle Malik Jackson to a three-year, $30 million contract (he ended up later injuring his foot and is out for the season). Derek Barnett, their 2017 first-round pick, is just 23.
And Fletcher Cox’s cap number skyrockets next year from $11.9 million to $22.8 million. Still, Clowney would have looked awfully good in their defensive end rotation.
Carroll and the Seahawks, meanwhile, had no such reservations. They had traded away their best pass-rusher, Frank Clark, to the Chiefs in the spring for a first-round pick this year and a second next year. They selected an edge-rusher, TCU’s L.J. Collier, with the pick they got from the Chiefs. But Collier is a project. He has played just 69 snaps in six games and doesn’t have any sacks.
“We jumped on the opportunity to get him,’’ Carroll said of Clowney. “We’re taking it one year at a time and looking ahead. We’re learning a lot about him. He’s been a great addition to our club. We’ll figure out what happens in the future as we move forward.’’
The Eagles really could use Gordon right now. They gambled on the 32-year-old Jackson and lost. He played in one game and then got hurt, came back two months later, and got hurt again. The rest of their wide receivers have been ineffective. The unit is last in the league in yards per target (6.1) and 31st in yards per catch (10.8).
Gordon is only 28. He led the league in receiving yards in 2013 and was a first-team All Pro selection that year.
Banner was the Cleveland Browns’ CEO in 2012 when they selected Gordon in the supplemental draft that year.
“I know the best and the worst and the strengths and the weaknesses of Josh,’’ Banner said after the Seahawks claimed him. “There’s a huge upside. The talent is there. But it’s also a huge risk.’’
Carroll doesn’t view it as a risk.
“We’re just giving the guy a chance to play,’’ he said. “We thought it would help the club. He’s very amicable. Hard worker. Learns well. He’s jumped right in with us. We’ll just take it one week at a time and keep working with it. I’m glad to give him an opportunity. I hope he can make the most of it.’’