While listening to The Terrible Podcast Friday afternoon on my drive up to Minneapolis for a flight down to Pensacola, Dave Bryan and Alex Kozora raised an interesting point in regard to the recent signing of EDGE Melvin Ingram. Dave compared the signing of Ingram to that of Jadeveon Clowney signing with the Cleveland Browns this offseason, questioning whether the addition of Clowney earlier by Cleveland on a one-year deal was a better move than waiting and signing a guy like Ingram months later.
This idea made me want to analyze the comparison between the two signings as include the signing of FA Trey Hendrickson to a large multi-year extension with the AFC North rival Cincinnati Bengals. The purpose of this study is to analyze the signings from a variety of angles and then open it up to discussion in the comments section below which team in the division made the better signing All contract numbers for this study were provided by Spotrac.
Let’s start in-house with the signing of Melvin Ingram to a one-year, $4 million contract. The Pittsburgh Steelers actually tacked on an additional four voidable years onto the deal to make his 2021 cap charge $1,660,000 with the rest of the money to toll over to 2022. While this isn’t ideal for the future, Pittsburgh has shown no issue adding dead money into 2022, signing multiple UFAs this offseason to voidable year deals in attempt to field a roster that can compete for a potential “last dance” with Ben Roethlisberger at the helm.
Also, given Pittsburgh is set to pace the league in 2022 in projected salary cap space at the moment, Kevin Colbert likely has no problem pushing some money down the road to field a competitive roster this season.
In terms of Ingram as a player, 2020 was a difficult season for him, playing only in nine games after suffering a knee sprain early in the season, plopping him on IR for three weeks to return to action, but couldn’t manage the injury and was shut down in Week 11 for the remainder of the season.
However, before this, Ingram had been a model of consistency as a pass rusher and run defender for the Chargers, making the Pro Bowl in three-straight seasons and never dipping below seven sacks in the past five. His TFL numbers and QB hits via Pro Football Reference are also near the tops in the league during that time frame while showing the versatility to line up virtually anywhere along the defensive front, rushing from the edge, on the interior over the guard, from the off-ball linebacker spot, and even drop into coverage and provide solid play as a coverage defender.
His age can be seen as a negative, recently turning 32, but advanced statistics suggest that Ingram was just as productive in 2020, recording six QB hits and 22 hurries in nine games played, as he was in 2019, despite not recording a sack. Kozora points out as much in his film study of Ingram in 2020, suggesting he still has some good production left in the tank should he have his knee injury behind him.
Now on to Clowney. Clowney signed a one-year $8 million contract that includes an extra $2 million in incentives related to games played, sacks, etc. The Browns also tacking on an additional four voidable years onto Clowney’s deal, dropping his 2021 cap hit to $3,870,588 with the rest to follow following the 2021 season. This deal also includes a $4,500,000 signing bonus, $7,000,000 guaranteed at signing, and roster bonus of $470,588. Clowney signed the deal back in April, pairing the former #1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft with fellow #1 overall draft choice Myles Garrett from the 2017 draft class on the other side.
While the pairing may look outstanding on paper, Dave Bryan did a good job pointing out Clowney hasn’t exactly lived up to the hype his draft capital warranted thus far. He has currently recorded 32 sacks in seven professional seasons, seeing a career-high of 9.5 back in 2017 with the Houston Texans. He had a good season of nine sacks in 2018 but has since make very little impact in that department the past two seasons, notching three sacks in 13 games played with the Seahawks in 2019 and zero with the Titans in 2020 before injury derailed in 2020 campaign much like Ingram. Now Clowney’s impact spans much farther than sacks, as his TFL and QB hit numbers nearly pace the league in his last three season back with Houston. He has always been a stout run defender, setting the edge well and making an impact in the backfield.
However, he hasn’t managed to be the model of health during his time in the league, suffering a meniscus tear in 2020, core and groin strains plus a knee and hip sprain in 2019, as well as microfracture surgery back when he entered the league in 2014.
Finally, we get to examine the contract of Trey Hendrickson. Trey Hendrickson signed a 4-year, $60,000,000 contract with the Cincinnati Bengals including a $10,000,000 signing bonus, $16,000,000 guaranteed, and an average annual salary of $15,000,000 with a cap hit of $12,476,470 in 2021.
While the numbers are quite staggering at first glance, Cincinnati did plan a potential out at the conclusion of the 2021 season, taking on $7,500,000 of dead cap via the signing bonus with no additional guaranteed money spanning past the 2021 season. Essentially, this can be seen at an expensive one-year addition for Hendrickson to prove the Bengals what he did in 2020 wasn’t a fluke. 2020 was the first season Hendrickson started more than three games, starting 15 contests and tallied 25 combined tackles (22 solo), 12 TFLs, 13.5 sacks, and 25 QB hits while playing 53% of the defensive snaps (558) for the New Orleans Saints.
Before this breakout season, Hendrickson had never tallied more than 4.5 sacks, four TFLs, and recorded less than 20 total tackles on a season. It should be noted that he had been more of a rotational player up until this point, but he monster breakout while still playing a limited snap share (played only 154 more snaps in 2020 than in 2019) leaves one weary of possible regression coming leaving the stout defensive front in New Orleans and being the guy offensives scheme for in Cincinnati.
When looking at it from a youth perspective in the seat of a general manager, Clowney and Hendrickson seem like better initial options given their ages of 27 and 26, respectively compared to the age 32 Ingram.
However, given that Clowney is on a one-year deal and Hendrickson is essentially on a one-year pact as well, this point could be seen as mute. Clowney could play himself into a contract extension with Cleveland but given all of the other names the Browns have to re-sign in the coming months, even if Clowney puts together an impressive 2021 campaign, he will likely try and hit the market again when the cap goes up and look for greener pastures elsewhere. Hendrickson has to capitalize of the Bengals taking a shot on signing him to a big deal, producing at a Pro-Bowl-caliber level in 2021 of may find himself back on the street in 2021 as well while still forcing the Bengals to fork up another $7.5 million to part ways with him to do so, basically tying almost $20 million to him in 2021 if things don’t work out.
Sure, Hendrickson could play himself into a long-term solution for Cincinnati but given his lack of proven track record and the history of FA edges not panning out for the Bengals, I’m starting to lean that this may trend the same direction.
All this being said, I personally think the best value of the three EDGE signings in the AFC North is Melvin Ingram to Pittsburgh. Everyone expects him to essentially play the mercenary role this season, rotating in with the likes of T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith while providing a leadership presence in the locker room that the team desperately needs after the roster overhaul they have experienced thus far this offseason. Ingram could also be a great mentor to a player like Highsmith, allowing him to progress at his own pace rather than putting the weight of world on his shoulder to produce at a Bud Dupree-like level in his second season.
Given his proven track record, the amount he signed for in late July, and the outlook in terms of contribution to his respective team in 2021 in comparison to the other two defenders, I think that Ingram was a great choice signing by Pittsburgh.
What are your thoughts on the signings of Ingram, Clowney, and Hendrickson to their respective teams? What are your expectations for each player in 2021 and potentially beyond? Who in your mind was the best signing? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!