SOUTH CAROLINA FANS might as well get accustomed to what is fast becoming the inevitable: All-everything defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is understandably not in this for the long haul.
Clowney’s tale has turned into the biggest college football soap opera of the season. Call it “As Clowney’s World Turns.” In six weeks, the talented junior from Rock Hill has transformed from Heisman Trophy contender to injury-riddled non-factor in USC’s quest for SEC success.
When Clowney notified Steve Spurrier minutes before kickoff Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium that he could not play because of bruised ribs, the question buzzing around the program is whether Clowney wants to play at all.
That is not an easy question to answer, first because the media rarely is permitted meaningful access to Clowney. Also, the USC coaching staff seems to have little inkling of Clowney’s mindset.
“I will just say, he told me he couldn’t play,” Spurrier said following Saturday’s game. “That his ribs hurt, couldn’t run. Said, ’I can’t play.’ I said, ’That’s fine, you don’t have to play.’ We’ll move on. He may not be able to play next week, I don’t know.”
Lorenzo Ward, USC’s defensive coordinator conceded being caught off guard by Clowney’s decision to not play even though the player did not practice on Thursday.
“I was totally surprised,” Ward said. We went through walk-through earlier today, and he said he was hurting, but I thought he was going to play. I don’t think it had any effect.”
Neither Spurrier nor Ward questioned the validity of the injury, and no one should. But when a player produces a litany of injuries and minor ailments, it is worth considering what else might be swirling around Clowney’s head — particularly given his status as the a first-round pick in the NFL draft.
Clowney said he had a stomach ailment that caused dehydration against North Carolina, bone spurs in his foot that limited his mobility in games against Georgia and Vanderbilt, and a stomach bug against Central Florida.
Let’s be honest here. There is not an agent in the country who does not want to represent Clowney as a professional athlete. Agents have been known to chirp in the ears of both the athlete and his family.
When Clowney said he might need surgery following the season to deal with his bone spurs, you have to believe there are a few agents who would prefer he have the surgery now and forgo the remainder of his final college season. With surgery out of the way, Clowney could better prepare for the NFL Combine, where he could cement his status as the best player in the draft.
Although it is easy for outsiders to say Clowney should play without fear of injury, he and his family know full well that a serious injury could cost them millions of dollars and future financial security.
Clowney was on the sideline a year ago when USC star running back Marcus Lattimore went down with a knee injury for the second consecutive season. Lattimore was considered a potential late first-round or early second-round NFL pick. Instead, he fell to the fourth round and received a $300,584 signing bonus.
Since little contract money is guaranteed in the NFL, it is all about signing bonuses for the players. Eric Fisher, an offensive tackle from Central Michigan, was the first selection in the 2013 NFL draft and received a $14.518 million signing bonus from the Kansas City Chiefs.
That is the kind of money Clowney is looking at banking should he be one of the top three picks in the draft. Should an injury force Clowney down the draft board — let’s say to the middle of the first round — his financial windfall would be diminished considerably. Sheldon Richardson, a defensive tackle from Missouri, was the 13th selection in the draft and received a $5.69 signing bonus from the New York Jets.
Granted, that is still life-changing money for a soon-to-be 21-year-old and his family, the kind of cash that makes it more understandable for Clowney to have at least one eye on the prize down the road, perhaps at the expense of any kind of reward as an amateur college player.
Clowney was cornered after Saturday’s game and asked if he would return for this coming weekend’s game at Arkansas.
“I don’t know,” he said.
Every USC fan surely would have preferred to hear Clowney say he hoped to recover quickly from his injury and would work his hardest in practice this week to be ready to play on Saturday.
Heck, USC fans would prefer Clowney followed the lead of his teammate, quarterback Connor Shaw, who said there was no way a shoulder injury suffered against Central Florida was going to keep him on the sideline for one game.
Understand, though, that Shaw’s next injury does not have millions of dollars riding on it.