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How much will it cost Seahawks to keep Frank Clark in 2019?

Frank Clark is in for a big payday from the Seahawks, possibly through the franchise tag. (AP)

There’s no question that defensive end Frank Clark will be with the Seahawks next year – at least not for head coach Pete Carroll, who said as much in a January 7 interview with 710 ESPN Seattle’s Brock and Salk. But retaining Clark won’t be cheap, and the conversation about his future brings up questions about a designation the Seahawks haven’t used in nearly a decade: the franchise tag.

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How does the franchise tag work?

A franchise tag is essentially a one-year deal that guarantees a player no less than the average of the top five salaries at his position or 120 percent of his previous salary – whichever is greater. For a defensive end in 2019 that will likely be just over $17 million, the second-highest tag value after quarterback. If Seattle uses the tag on Clark, it would be accountable for that money right away, meaning it will count against the 2019 salary cap (but no further).

Teams are allowed just one franchise tag per year, though it’s used somewhat infrequently; there were just five franchise-tagged players in the NFL in 2017. And the Seahawks haven’t used the franchise tag on a player since 2010.

Is the franchise tag needed to keep Frank Clark?

The Seahawks don’t have to use the franchise tag on Clark. They can also offer him a long-term contract. But critics tend to assume Seattle will use the franchise tag for a few reasons, most of which are financial. Mainly, the 25-year-old Clark is fresh off his best year and has established himself as Seattle’s top pass rusher. But with the cost for elite pass rushers increasing, that could be more than the Seahawks are willing to commit to right now.

Also making the designation more likely are comments from Clark’s agent, Erik Burkhardt, who told ESPN’s Brady Henderson that both he and Clark aren’t afraid of the franchise tag in the case that the two sides are unable to settle on a contract.

“There are two reasons that you’d have any hesitation doing whatever it took to get Clark to a long-term contract,” 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny O’Neil says. “The first would be you’re at least a little uncertain about how he would handle getting that much money paid. Will that affect the way he plays? The way he prepares?

“I actually think that’s less of a consideration than the second part, which is strictly financial in that you are negotiating with him at the height of his leverage. Not only is he about to become a free agent, but he’s coming off the best season of his career. Of his four seasons, this was a significant step forward. And you might want to say, ‘OK, let’s see if he can sustain that for another year,’ and if he does that then you know it wasn’t just a blip-up in a contract year.”

Technically, Clark’s rookie deal will expire in March, after which he would be able to sign with any team. But letting Clark walk is out of the question for Carroll.

“He has just grown so tremendously,” Carroll told Brock and Salk. “He is one of the great leaders on this club and he’s grown into that. It’s just a marvelous growth and elevation of his awareness. He’s really focused and centered on what he’s doing and where he fits and how things fit together. I’m really impressed, thrilled about it. He ain’t going anywhere. We’re not losing him.”

When does Seattle need to make a decision?

The Seahawks can use the franchise tag beginning Feb. 19 and must make a decision by the March 5 deadline. It’s worth noting, though, that a player doesn’t have to be stuck with that designation all year; both parties have a separate, mid-July deadline to rescind the franchise tag in favor of a new contract.

While it’s not normally favored, some players may be more willing to stick with the tag and test the market the following year.

“Once you put the franchise tag on someone, which is going to be about $17.3 (million) for defensive ends (in 2019), that’s going to be used as a baseline for a long-term deal,” CBS Sports’ Joel Corry told 710 ESPN Seattle’s John Clayton. “Most agents are going to take that franchise tag and then they’re going to assume you get franchised a second time and then they’re going to take the two of those and use that as a rough estimate for an average. That’s automatically putting you at $19 million…

“Most players still don’t like (the franchise tag),” Corry continued. “I’ll put it this way: they’d prefer to be married as opposed to date, which is what the franchise tag is because it doesn’t provide you the illusion of long-term security. There’s no true security because the contracts aren’t fully guaranteed, like in baseball or basketball. But the numbers have jumped exponentially as the cap keeps going up, since (the franchise tag) is now tagged to the increase in the cap. So it makes it a little more palatable.”

Check 710Sports.com on Wednesdays this Seahawks offseason as Stacy Rost looks at one of the 10 biggest questions facing Seattle in 2019.

Previously in the series:
Will the Seahawks move forward with — or without — K.J. Wright?