Moore: Seahawks need to play hardball with DE Frank Clark

Mar 11, 2019, 10:25 AM
Frank Clark, Seahawks...
The window is open for Frank Clark and the Seahawks to agree on an extension until July 15. (Getty)

Reports are circulating that Seahawks defensive end Frank Clark will not sign his franchise tag, throwing doubt into his future with the team. What should the Seahawks do with him now?

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This is what we woke up to Monday morning after thinking that Clark was OK, maybe even better than OK, with being tagged by the Seahawks based on some of his Twitter comments. Through social media, he has told us many things in the past week in a trio of Tweets:

“Looking forward to what the future holds, very blessed and thankful.”

“Everybody on our defense special, just watch.”

And replying to Russell Wilson, who congratulated him on being tagged: “Appreciate you more than you’ll ever know. Let’s go on this run.”

On the outside looking in, you’d think a raise from $950,000 to $17.1 million would be a lottery-like windfall, but I’m not in his shoes. When you play in the NFL, you’re always one play away from a career-ending or altering injury so I understand the need for guaranteed money.

Plus, if you’re fortunate enough to play the second-highest paying position in the league and as good as Clark is at rushing the quarterback, might as well cash in while you can.

But it’s clear that he thinks he’s worth more than the Seahawks do. Maybe he wants Aaron Donald money — the Rams’ defensive tackle, who led the league with 20.5 sacks last year, signed a six-year, $135 million extension with $87 million guaranteed last August. Or maybe he wants Khalil Mack money — when he was traded from Oakland to Chicago last year, he signed a six-year, $141 million contract with $60 million guaranteed. Pro Football Focus estimates that a fair deal for Clark would be five years at $87.5 million with $53 million guaranteed.

That’s an average of $17.5 million a year, a little above what he’ll make in 2019 on the franchise tag. But I’m guessing he wants closer to $20 million a year, and I can’t see the Seahawks going that high.

If they don’t meet Clark’s demands, then what? It sounds as if Clark won’t show up for training camp or preseason games, and unlike Earl Thomas, who was under contract when he held out last year, Clark won’t be subject to fines because he will still technically be a free agent. The Seahawks have until July 15 to negotiate a deal with him, and after that, they can’t work out a new contract until the season ends.

Which camp are you in: the one that thinks the Seahawks should pay Clark what he’s seeking since he’s an elite pass-rusher, totaling 35 sacks in his career, including 13 last year when he ranked in a tie for seventh in the league? I could see this as a pretty big camp given that Clark is the far-and-away best pass-rusher on a team that needs more pass-rushers even if he stays.

So he’s got pretty good leverage, but I’m still in the other camp. My fellow campers and I believe that Clark should sign the tag and play for $17.1 million this year. Again, I get the possibility that he might suffer an injury that will dramatically impact his future earnings potential. But flip it around. What if he records 18 or 19 sacks in 2019 and helps lead the Seahawks to the Super Bowl? Can you imagine what he’d be worth next year at this time after a season like that? And he would still be only 26 years old.

Looking around the league at pass-rushing salaries, Donald and Mack are the only ones I could find who would make more than Clark if he plays for $17.1 million this year. Von Miller of Denver will make $17 million in 2019, and J.J. Watt checks in at an average of $16.6 million.

If you forced me to make a decision now on Clark instead of later this spring or summer, I’d say the Seahawks should look into trading him. If I’m Pete Carroll, I don’t want three or four months of reporters asking me daily questions about Clark’s whereabouts. “Hey Pete, any updates on Frank?” Spare me the distraction of another disgruntled player feeling like he’s somehow being financially hosed.

And I would think that if Clark doesn’t show until the first week of the season, missing training camp and the preseason has to hurt him. I doubt that he’d be the ferocious pass-rusher that we’ve come to know right away. September might be a month for Clark getting up to speed. But you aren’t paying $17.1 million for three-quarters of a season.

Plus if he signs the tag and doesn’t get the contract extension that he wants, there’s a good chance that Clark will show up unhappy, and who knows if that will be a good thing or a bad thing. I’d guess it would still be a good thing, using it as fuel to have a huge season for a bigger payday in 2020. But if you told me it would be a bad thing, that Clark might turn sullen and confrontational, I wouldn’t be surprised.

I don’t want to risk a potentially poor outcome. I’d take a gamble on trading Clark and hope to see continued development from Jacob Martin, who had three sacks and six QB hits in his last seven games. I’d also hope that Rasheem Green will blossom in his second year. Then I’d see what I could find in a pass-rusher heavy draft. While also exploring the possibility of signing Trey Flowers, the top available pass-rusher, when the free-agency free-for-all starts on Wednesday.

In other words, I know it’s football, but I’d play hardball with Frank Clark.

Have you listened to “Bark?” It’s Jim’s podcast about dogs, available at 710Sports.com and wherever you find podcasts. If you’re interested in sponsoring “Bark,” please contact Jim at [email protected].

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Moore: Seahawks need to play hardball with DE Frank Clark