SEATTLE -- On that late-August afternoon when Jadeveon Clowney stormed out of NRG Stadium as a member of the Houston Texans for what he correctly assumed would be the final time, the disruptive defensive end was not a happy man. Having been resigned to accepting the one-year tender the Texans had offered him under the franchise tag, then likely hitting free agency after the 2019 campaign, the first overall pick of the 2014 draft felt blindsided by the sudden realization that he was no longer in Houston coach Bill O'Brien's plans.
"What people don't know about that situation was, O'Brien called me five or six times over the offseason, and I always told him I would come in and sign the tender, but not till right before the season," Clowney said Monday night after helping his new team, the Seattle Seahawks, to a 37-30 victory over the Minnesota Vikings in front of 69,080 grateful fans at CenturyLink Field. "I love Houston, and I love my dudes, but I wasn't under contract, so I wasn't going to take the risk (during the preseason).
"It was getting close to the time I said I'd come in, and all of a sudden O'Brien] called me and said, 'You need to come in and talk to us.' When I got there they're talking about me signing the tender and going to the [Dolphins (via trade). They said, 'It'll be good for you and good for us.' I'm like, 'Good for me? They're gonna tank the season for a damn quarterback! Find me a team that can win, and I'll sign the damn tender.'
"People say, 'He was trying to leave.' That's a lie. I didn't ask them to trade me. I didn't even ask them to pay me any more. I just wanted to play one last year with my teammates. But hey, it's part of the business. It was a business move, and I got the short end of the stick at the time. Now? It looks like I got the big end of the stick."
Rest assured, Clowney's not speaking softly. And in impacting an impressive Monday Night Football victory for the Seahawks (10-2) for the second time in three weeks, the 26-year-old edge rusher continued to affirm his status as a key part of one of the swiftest and most stunning rebuilding efforts in NFL history.
Despite parting ways with some of the decade's most accomplished players in recent years -- including safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, cornerback Richard Sherman, defensive lineman Michael Bennett and running back Marshawn Lynch -- Seattle remains an elite ensemble with genuine championship aspirations.
General manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll mapped out this makeover late in the 2017 campaign and, after shedding several stars the following spring, shocked the NFL by reaching the playoffs last season. They're now on the verge of taking the next step, thanks partly to the presence of Clowney, who they acquired for a third-round pick, pass rusher Barkevious Mingo and linebacker Jacob Martin.
To say Carroll is pleased with the trade is like declaring that Patriots coach Bill Belichick detests postgame handshakes with victorious former assistants.
"He's a wild man out there," Carroll said of Clowney nearly an hour after Monday's game, at the entrance to a cleared-out Seahawks locker room. "If you're [an opposing quarterback], you don't know when he's gonna cut loose and get in your mug, and he's making a huge difference. I'm really proud of what this team is all about -- we should've done this last year. We're getting there, and we get a little better here before all is said and done."
Consider the rest of the football world on notice. At least, it should be. After jumping out to a 34-17 lead over the Vikings (8-4) early in the fourth quarter and repelling a furious Minnesota comeback attempt, the 'Hawks are tied with their NFC West rivals, the San Francisco 49ers, and the New Orleans Saints for the conference's best record. The Niners and Saints (one of the two teams to defeat Seattle this season, along with the 10-2 Baltimore Ravens) face off Sunday in New Orleans, while the Seahawks head to L.A. for a prime-time date with the Rams, last season's conference champs.
The NFC is loaded in 2019 -- just ask the Vikings, who fell a game behind the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North -- but anyone who rules out the 'Hawks as a legitimate Super Bowl contender isn't paying close enough attention.
"I didn't know we were this good when I got here, and I think a lot of people still don't know what we've got going on," said Clowney, whose night included a forced fumble, a tackle for loss and a quarterback hurry. "We're a very resilient team. This team doesn't ever quit. We never fold. We know we're gonna play hard and come out and try to dominate every game. That's how we feel when we walk in this building. We don't care about the score. We don't care about anything. We don't think we're ever out of the game.
"I've never been so confident. I feel like we're going somewhere. This is a special group. We've got good players at every position, and our quarterback is amazing. Sometimes, even during games, I have to remind myself what we have here. I'm like, 'Damn, are we that f------ good?' "
Though the Seahawks had their share of stellar moments on Monday -- including a 60-yard touchdown pass from MVP candidate Russell Wilson to wide receiver David Moore that gave them a 27-17 lead with five seconds left in the third quarter, a trio of timely takeaways and a gutsy fake punt from their own 32-yard line with 11:18 remaining in the game -- they also had some sloppy offerings. The most glaring example: Wilson's errant attempt at batting a deflected pass to the ground, which instead turned into a 20-yard interception for touchdown by Vikings safety Anthony Harris, giving Minnesota a 14-7 lead with 5:09 left in the second quarter.
In other words, this wasn't nearly as impressive as the Seahawks' previous Monday night appearance -- a Nov. 11 road game against the then-undefeated 49ers, which Seattle won in overtime on Jason Myers' 42-yard field goal as time expired.
Clowney, who terrorized the Niners throughout that game (and was awarded NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors), sat out the Seahawks' subsequent victory over the Philadelphia Eagles with a hip/core injury that he'll likely have to manage for the remainder of the season.
If he has his way, he'll be playing well into January -- and, perhaps, in early February -- for a franchise that tasted Super Bowl success six seasons ago, came within a painful yard of repeating and has since rediscovered the physical ground attack it enjoyed during Lynch's Beast Mode heyday.
On Monday, halfbacks Chris Carson (23 carries, 102 yards) and Rashaad Penny (15 carries, 74 yards; four receptions, 33 yards) each scored a touchdown as offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer leaned on his Jumbo formation, with backup tackle George Fant often serving as a sixth offensive lineman.
"The running game is a staple of our offense," said veteran left tackle Duane Brown, a former Texans teammate of Clowney's who was acquired by Schneider in a savvy deal just before the 2017 trade deadline. "We're a very confident team, and that's just the culture here -- the culture that those guys (Sherman, Thomas, Lynch et al.) helped build, and which has lived on. We've fought through a lot of adversity."
In late August, after Clowney rejected the Texans' attempt to trade him to Miami, it was Brown who helped convince his former teammate that Seattle would be a favorable destination. Suffice it to say, Brown is happy it worked out.
"That was key," Brown said of the trade. "He's a very disruptive player. Even though his stats aren't mind-blowing, other teams know you've got to account for him, and trust me, he's affecting the game."
The Seahawks have plenty of big games to come -- their regular-season finale, a rematch with the Niners at CenturyLink, could decide the division, a first-round bye and possibly the No. 1 seed -- and their road through the playoffs in a loaded conference looks to be a rugged one.
"We'll be back here again in January," predicted Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph (four receptions, 50 yards, one TD) as he walked off the field Monday night. "When you score 30 points on the road, you think you have a good chance, but we shot ourselves in the foot. They're a good team, but if anybody in our locker room had any doubt that we can play with anybody, anywhere, they shouldn't anymore."
"That's the next time we can see them," Clowney said, laughing. "That's cool. I swear, I didn't want to leave there (this year). I guess it was O'Brien's call. My attitude was, 'See you around -- hopefully.' But hey, we're 10-2, so I don't care anymore. We have a great team, and I know where we're headed."