Seahawks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney rests on the bench during a game against the Buccaneers on Nov. 3, 2019, at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Seahawks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney rests on the bench during a game against the Buccaneers on Nov. 3, 2019, at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Carroll: Seahawks ‘trying’ to reach deal with Clowney

But the defensive end will likely test the free-agent waters and reportedly wants to be paid top dollar.

By Bob Condotta / The Seattle Times

INDIANAPOLIS — Shocking news from the Seattle Seahawks here at the NFL combine Tuesday — they’d like to re-sign Jadeveon Clowney.

“We’re going to try,” said coach Pete Carroll during a pre-combine press conference Tuesday afternoon. “We’re trying to get it done. He had a fantastic season. We’d love to have him back.”

Okay, so that actually isn’t shocking at all.

In fact, everything the Seahawks said Tuesday about Clowney is what would be expected, with general manager John Schneider echoing what Carroll said when he met with reporters Tuesday morning in what was his first interview with the media at-large since before the 2019 season.

“We’d love to have him back, obviously,” Schneider said.

Now comes the hard part — getting it done.

Clowney will be one of the top free agents available when the new league year begins March 18 unless Seattle can work out a deal with him beforehand, which seems like a longshot given that the implication all along has been that Clowney wants to test the market.

Schneider said figuring out exactly what it might take to re-sign Clowney is one of the main tasks for the Seahawks during their week in Indianapolis.

One of the first steps in doing that will be a meeting this week between Seahawks reps and Clowney’s agent, Bus Cook — Schneider said they’ll have talks in Indianapolis.

But also a goal will be figuring out what the league-wide market will be for rush ends.

As Schneider noted, when the Seahawks were at the combine a year ago, “I thought Frank (Clark) was going to be on our team.”

But shortly afterward, the market for defensive ends inflated greatly when Dallas signed DeMarcus Lawrence to a five-year contract extension worth $21 million per season.

That led to Seattle deciding that re-signing Clark to a long-term contract would cost more than the team wanted to pay, and ultimately led to the Seahawks trading Clark to Kansas City (Seattle had retained Clark’s rights through the free agency period by giving him a franchise tag).

“It’s really a daily or weekly process of figuring out how you’re going to put this thing together,” Schneider said of the quick-changing market. “We have some cap flexibility this year (roughly $51 million as of Tuesday), which is great. But it’s not just about this year. It’s planning for next year and the following year as well. We have to be cognizant of where we’re going.”

The league’s players could approve or vote against a proposed new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in the next few days, which could clarify things, though Schneider said he couldn’t talk in any specifics about the CBA.

Schneider also said meetings with agents at the combine should help clarify how the market will go at every position.

Asked if he had a better feel for the defensive end market than he did a year ago at this time, regarding Clark, Schneider said, “Not as we are talking today. But hopefully by the end of the week we will.”

While Clowney is the most high-profile Seahawks free agent, he is hardly the only key one.

Two other stalwarts of the defensive line last year — tackle Jarran Reed and end/tackle Quinton Jefferson — are also free agents, as are offensive linemen Germain Ifedi and George Fant.

Schneider didn’t get into specifics on any of those players, other than saying the team would like to have them back. In other words, there’s no reason yet to publicly box the team into a situation one way or the other, especially until the team knows how the market may unfold.

Schneider made clear that improving the defense is the Seahawks’ biggest priority after finishing 22nd in points allowed last season. Step 1 to getting better will be to avoid getting worse by losing a player like Clowney.

“We need to improve our pass rush,” Schneider said. “We need to try to get the coaches as many players as we possibly can on both sides of the ball, but obviously defensively we were ranked a little bit lower than we were on offense.”

Clowney, acquired in a trade with Houston a week before the beginning of last season, had just three sacks, but ranked much higher in other statistics that measured quarterback pressure.

Schneider noted Clowney’s 9 and 9.5 sacks his final two seasons with Houston and said “he’s the exact same player that he was” with the Texans.

Schneider said health won’t be an issue when it comes to negotiating with Clowney.

Clowney injured a core muscle in his memorable performance in a win at San Francisco in November that hampered him the rest of the season. He likely would have had surgery if the injury hadn’t come at a time when surgery would end his season, especially with Seattle in the midst of a playoff run. Clowney has since undergone surgery, which Schneider said went well.

Clowney said at the end of the year he hopes to play for a contender next season. The Seahawks also hope they will have a “home-field advantage” in trying to re-sign him.

But reports since the end of the season said Clowney will want to be paid as much as any defensive player in the NFL. That means, if taken literally, he’d want to top Bears linebacker Khalil Mack’s $23.5 million per season. Perhaps more likely, Clowney might want to top Lawrence’s $21 million per year with the Cowboys, the highest salary for a defensive end in a 4-3 defense.

Asked if he thinks the Seahawks have an advantage because Clowney played a year in Seattle, Schneider smiled and said, “You’d like to think so.”

Asked if the Seahawks could be willing to tell Clowney they would match any offer, Schneider said, “Absolutely.”

But Schneider also knows, realistically, it’s all going to come down to the offers Clowney gets by the middle of March. Clowney asked Seattle to promise to not use the franchise tag on him, which all but assured he will hit free agency. Schneider said Tuesday the team isn’t likely to use a tag on anyone.

“He loved the culture, loved the coaching staff, loves the chefs, loves our equipment guys,” Schneider said of Clowney’s first season with Seattle. “He’s a really fun guy. He’s a blast to be around, and I hope we can continue that.”

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