For the Titans, the celebrated Jadeveon Clowney saga ended with barely a trace | Estes

Gentry Estes
Nashville Tennessean

When word circulated early last month about Jadeveon Clowney’s knee surgery, Mike Vrabel didn’t quite acknowledge it was season-ending. “But I’m not standing here today expecting to have (him) back,” said the Tennessee Titans’ coach at the time.

Given that, I held no visions of No. 99 donning a cape and flying in from injured reserve for the playoffs to save a defense in need when I asked Vrabel on Monday about Clowney’s recovery. The answer was to be expected.

“I couldn’t help you out with that one, man. I’m sorry,” Vrabel shrugged it off dismissively.

So no chance at a return if the Titans keep going in the playoffs?

“I would say no.”

Thus — officially, I suppose — we can close the book on Clowney Mania 2020.

This terribly overhyped, wholly unproductive saga dies as it once thrived — without closure, mysterious and unsettled as ever. Clowney is off somewhere, bound for Team TBD in 2021, his head coach reluctant to discuss him.

We don’t know why Clowney didn’t produce more with Vrabel. We don’t know what happened with his knee, whether he could have tried to play through it or not.

As is, he barely leaves a trace in Nashville. He never made much of an impact, on or off the field. The Titans barely even got to know him. 

They spent nearly $13 million for eight games, 19 tackles, six QB hurries, a forced fumble and zero sacks — one fewer than Wyatt Ray and Brooks Reed each have.

Clowney will be little more than a postscript for the Titans team approaching Sunday’s playoff game against the Ravens on a quest to debunk the belief that an NFL team must have a serviceable pass rush to reach a Super Bowl.

Revisionist history may point to Clowney's injury as a stumbling block should the Titans' postseason fall short. But we don’t know that to be true.

He didn’t help the pass rush much when he was playing. He wasn’t awful, but he wasn’t anything special, certainly not enough to justify the sweet deal he waited to finalize until after his new teammates had sweated through training camp — which left him hardly any time to get up to speed. That was a red flag, in hindsight.

But you can’t fault the Titans for signing Clowney. They’d been patient all summer. They had the cap space, and it was worth the gamble on a one-year contract.

Plus, it had been built up so much. For months, the thought of Clowney to the Titans had gained momentum and tantalized fans. There was the suspenseful, prolonged free-agent chase, the celebrated 11th-hour addition, the sense that the Titans had scored big by landing that one available star player capable of putting them over the top. Instead, it was a swing and miss.

Given the pressing need, though, the Titans had to do it.

On that, you can fault the Titans. Jon Robinson spent two of his first three draft picks this past year on offensive players who've either barely played (Darrynton Evans) or have barely been able to be a part of the team (Isaiah Wilson).

The Titans didn’t draft an edge rusher in 2020. They threw money at free agents to fix the problem, which isn't ideal or a path Robinson usually prefers.

To be fair, Clowney wasn’t even the Titans’ worst offseason signing at his position. That was Vic Beasley, who was released despite the team burning almost $10 million on that mistake.

Concerns about the pass rush were legitimate though, and they've played worse than feared this season. As badly as the Titans needed Clowney this summer, they could use him even more now.

NFL Network’s Dec. 6 report of Clowney’s surgery on his left meniscus said he’d be rehabilitating for months in Houston rather than in Nashville with the Titans. Vrabel didn’t say this, but the nature of his response Monday suggested Clowney hasn’t been a presence for some time. The coach sounded fed up with the whole situation.

Who knows where he’ll be next season, too, how long it’ll take for him to sign and who’ll be willing to put up with a lengthy ordeal like it was in 2020?

The Titans could try to re-sign Clowney, but offering him anywhere near his 2020 asking price would be a fool-me-twice, shame-on-me type of blunder. They’d be better off spending the money on a handful of defensive players who’ll want to be out there and be invested in the Titans.

Some team will pay him plenty, though. Count on it.

The résumé remains strong. For many, Clowney will always be the South Carolina wrecking ball who knocked the helmet off a Michigan player in one of college football’s all-time highlights.

Everyone knows what Clowney can do.

We just never saw it in Nashville. Not even close.

Reach Gentry Estes at and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.