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Jadeveon Clowney 'wanted to mature more' before going back home to Panthers

No longer a case of the right team, wrong time, the stars have finally aligned for Jadeveon Clowney to join his hometown club.

The Panthers signed the edge rusher on Wednesday who grew up in the Carolinas and starred collegiately for the Gamecocks, bringing Clowney back to his roots after a winding, 10-year career in the NFL.

"I used to just watch them on TV all the time and say I can't wait till I get my opportunity to do that one day," Clowney said during Friday's introductory news conference, per the team website. "Years ago, when I hit free agency, I told my agent not to reach out to Carolina because I wanted to mature more. And to get to this point where I know if I have to go back there, I can handle myself, and it won't be a problem for me to do my job because I was still learning how to be a pro.

"So now I'm 31. I said I'm at the age now where I'm cool going back home; I can handle myself."

Clowney was a monster in three seasons for South Carolina from 2011-13, garnering highlights aplenty for lumber-laying while amassing 24 sacks and nine forced fumbles before becoming the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.

That brought him to the Houston Texans, where he took time to come into his own as a professional but eventually made three straight Pro Bowls between 2016-18.

He ended his first five years in the league with a trade to Seattle, then spent the back half of his 20s as a nomad. Since 2019, Clowney has played for the Seahawks, Titans, Browns and Ravens, staying more than a season only in Cleveland. 

He took his lumps -- mainly with injuries but occasionally running afoul of his coaching staff, such as when the Browns held him out of the 2022 regular-season finale due to comments over his usage.

But while he never developed into the unblockable sack maven many projected him to be, Clowney became and continues to be a solid contributor. He's produced four different seasons of nine-plus sacks, including 9.5 for Baltimore last year, tied for his career high.

At 31, Clowney has shown he can come in and contribute in a new environment time and time again. 

Perhaps his latest jersey change taking him back to where it all began explains his uncharacteristic willingness to commit to a contract so early in the process. Clowney has always taken his time, signing with the Browns in April 2021 and then again in May 2022, but bookending those contracts by waiting until September 2020 to make a deal with the Titans and August 2023 to join the Ravens.

He's with Carolina now in March with a full offseason program ahead of him. After so many chapters leading to his storybook trip home, his next will come as an experienced veteran, attempting to assist a young Panthers team in getting back to winning.

"It's going crazy right now back in Rock Hill," Clowney said. "All these Carolina fans down the road, and I grew up like 30 minutes from here, so it's going to be crazy.

"It's exciting. I've been looking forward to growing up watching this team all my career and all my life. Once you get to the NFL, you wonder how they run things, how they do things up there, and for me to just be in this building now on the team. I'm looking forward to the opportunity to go ahead and showcase myself and also meet new guys and build new relationships throughout this team and see how far we can go."

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