RENTON, Wash. -- Pete Carroll had to catch himself Wednesday when he was asked how Jadeveon Clowney was feeling three days after his return from a two-game absence.
"He's fine," Carroll said. "Well, he's practicing and going. He's doing the best he can so he's ready to go again."
Translation: Clowney is healthy enough to play in the Seattle Seahawks' wild-card game on Sunday at Philadelphia, albeit it at nowhere near 100 percent because of his lingering core muscle injury that might require surgery after the season.
The Seahawks, with their defensive limitations, will need everything they can get out of Clowney if they're going to make a deep run in the playoffs. He was arguably their most impactful player on that side of the ball before he suffered his core injury in Week 12. What's more, Clowney could use a strong finish as he heads toward free agency and tries to secure a long-term deal, be it from Seattle or another team.
Technically, the Seahawks and Clowney could negotiate an extension now that the regular season is over. Prior to that, they weren't allowed to, per rules for players who were given the franchise tender, as Clowney was with Houston. He had to sign the tender before the Texans could trade him to Seattle, and before he did, he got assurance from the Seahawks that they wouldn't tag him after this season.
Joel Corry, a former NFL agent who writes about salary-cap and contract matters for CBSSports.com, doesn't see any sense in Clowney signing a deal now that he's less than three months from hitting the open market. Clowney, the No. 1 overall pick in 2014, played on a fifth-year option last season and then a one-year deal with Seattle. That means he has played six seasons without reaching unrestricted free agency.
"Now that the regular season is over, he can do a long-term deal," Corry noted. "But why would you do a long-term deal right now if you went to the trouble to insist upon a clause where they can't put a franchise or transition tag on you? To me, the whole reason you get that is because you want to see what's out there when every team can bid for your services without any type of compensation or restriction ... And if you want to stay, your best deal is going to be when there's pressure from other teams."
Clowney's core injury kept him out of the first Eagles matchup in Week 12 as well as the Seahawks' Week 16 game against Arizona. He traveled to Philadelphia before the rest of the team to meet with Dr. William Meyers and decided to put off surgery until after the season.
His core injury is one of a few factors that make his free-agent outlook hard to predict. There's also the fact that he has generated a lot of pressure but has only three sacks to show for it. Clowney is fifth in ESPN's Pass Rush Win Rate, at 24.8%. That metric, which is powered by Next Gen Stats, measures how often a defender beats his blocker in 2.5 seconds or less.
"His pressure typically is, when he's healthy, around the same as those guys who are in the $20 million-per-year neighborhood," Corry said. "It's comparable. By pressure, I mean sacks, hurries, hits combined. ... All you have to do is point to that Monday night game against San Francisco, that's why you pay that guy. If I'm representing him, Seattle's going to have to be comfortable paying him more than what they didn't want to pay Frank Clark, or I'm focusing elsewhere."
Clark got a deal last offseason from the Chiefs averaging $20.8 million with $62.3 million in guarantees. The Seahawks used the franchise tag on Clark, then traded him to Kansas City when DeMarcus Lawrence's extension with the Cowboys ($21 million APY, $65 million in guarantees) pushed his price tag beyond what Seattle was willing to pay.
The past three seasons, Clowney is ninth in PRWR, at 24.2%. Lawrence (26.6%) and Clark (15.2%) are fourth and 54th, respectively.
"Sack numbers are meaningless," Corry said. "Pressure -- whether you get pressure. Because you saw, he had what? One sack ... that San Francisco Monday night game, but he was everywhere. He affected the game when he wasn't getting a sack because of pressure he put on the quarterback."
Clowney also scored one of his two defensive touchdowns in that game. His other was a pick-six in Week 4 at Arizona.
"He's an unusual player," Carroll said. "He really is. He's an unusual player. He's gifted. He can make real issues for your opponent by his penetration, by his length, by his instinct, his burst. All that stuff. It just didn't translate in terms of sacks, but it surely did in terms of production. This was his first week back, and he played a good, solid game. Nothing outstanding jumped out, big plays to speak of, but he played a good, solid football game. It's kind of like getting back out there. It was good for him and for us.
"He's a unique player, though. He's got unique skills. Unfortunately, the injury that he's dealing with, when you have the core injury, it just kind of drags on you. It's hard for the guys to really get back to full explosive. They can kind of play, but it's hard to get to full explosiveness and the quickness that they have. He's just dealing with it, and he's doing a great job of battling and fighting to play and help his team."
It all points to Clowney testing the market come March. In the meantime, he can pad his résumé -- and his wallet -- with a strong finish in the playoffs.
"Right now, I haven't even thought about it," he said of his upcoming free agency. "I'm just thinking about this game. Free agency will take care of itself. Wherever I'm supposed to be, I'll be. I'm not worried about it. We'll just see how it goes."