Now that the Seahawks have quarterback Russell Wilson signed through 2023, the biggest mystery about their offseason is what they are going to do with defensive end Frank Clark.
That his future remains uncertain has led to rumors he could be traded.
And at least one part of that equation appeared to get some clarity Saturday in a tweet from ESPN’s Adam Schefter, who wrote that the Seahawks are asking for package that “would need to include at least a first-round pick.”
That might be a pretty stiff price to pay for Clark, which might decrease the odds of a trade occurring.
The reason that could be seen as a pretty prohibitive asking price is two-fold.
One, as former NFL exec Mike Tannenbaum tweeted shortly after Schefter’s tweet Saturday, this week’s NFL draft is regarded as particularly deep in pass rushers.
“While Clark is a talented player, given the depth of DE’s in this draft, teams needing a DE, likely would rather draft a pass rusher, which is a more cost effective alternative, than paying Clark and giving up a high pick,” wrote Tannenbaum,a former general manager of the Jets and vice president of football operations for the Dolphins who now works for ESPN.
And two, as Tannebaum noted, any team acquiring Clark would then face the same quandary the Seahawks are in now -- how much to pay Clark to keep him for the long term? No team would want to give up anything substantial for Clark without assurances he is going to stick around for the long haul.
Clark, recall, received a franchise tag in March from the Seahawks that guarantees him $17.1 million for the 2019 season once he signs it (he has yet to put pen to paper).
Clark, though, would prefer a long-term deal, and probably would like to get one similar to the contract recently signed by DeMarcus Lawrence of Dallas, a five-year deal worth up to $105 million that includes $65 million guaranteed.
As detailed earlier this month, Clark has one more sack (35) in one fewer seasons than Lawrence in the NFL and is coming off a season that is statistically just a little bit better in the marquee pass-rushing stats-- he had 13 sacks in 2018 to Lawrence’s 10.5, and 27 quarterback hits to Lawrence’s 23.
But do the Seahawks want to make that same kind of commitment, one that would make Clark among the top handful of highest-paid defensive players in the NFL (just his tag number puts him at number six for the 2019 season)?
Along with the question of whether they think Clark is worth that much is also that the Seahawks also would like to extend middle linebacker Bobby Wagner.
And further complicating things is that Clark’s agent, Erik Burkhardt, told ESPN.com last fall that playing on the franchise tag in 2019 and then hitting free agency is a potential outcome that he has no problem embracing.
“Just to do an early deal for the sake of doing an early deal doesn’t excite us,” Burkhardt said last October. “Especially for a guy like Frank who’s already a dominant pass-rusher in this league and is just scratching the surface of what he will be.”
In other words, no hometown discount for Clark, which is why the Seahawks are leaving all options open, including a trade.
General manager John Schneider acknowledged on Thursday that the Seahawks are listening to trade offers for Clark.
“We are always trying to understand what the landscape is throughout the National Football League,” he said. “If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be doing our job. We can’t ever have our head in the sand with anything. But we love Frank, obviously. That’s why we franchised him.”
Indeed, Schneider said the Seahawks budgeted to pay Clark his franchise tag number this season -- all of it would count against the salary cap in 2019 -- so they don’t need to make a move just to clear out cap space.
And the Seahawks can also drive a hard bargain in asking for a first-round pick because they can also be patient.
That deep defensive end corps in the draft means Seattle could well take a pass rusher this year to groom as a potential replacement for Clark -- the Seahawks have the 21st pick in Thursday’s first round, though they do not have a second round pick due to the Duane Brown trade in 2017.
And Seattle can just have Clark play on the tag in 2019 and wait until later to sort out a long-term deal, though it will obviously be even trickier the closer Clark would get to being an unrestricted free agent.
But if Seattle were to draft an edge rusher this year, they could at least get a sense of if they have a legitimate potential replacement on the roster while Clark plays on the tag in 2019, giving them an even better grasp of their options.
There have been reports that Clark will not report until his long-term situation is settled.
But Schneider said last week that he does not anticipate Clark holding out, and it seems as if Clark would surely report and sign his tag in time to play the 2019 season and not miss out on the biggest payday of his career (he has made just under $4 million so far).
The Seahawks can negotiate with Clark until July 15, after which he can play only on the tag with no new talks allowed until after the season. However, Clark can sign the tag at any time, and as long as he is not signed he is not subject to fines if he does not attend mandatory practices and minicamps or training camp.
Asked last week about the report that Clark would hold out, Schneider said: “That’s not my understanding at all. We’ve had very direct conversations, both myself and Frank and people in the organization and Frank and obviously myself and his agent, Erik Burkhardt.”
Many have wondered if Wilson’s four-year, $140 million extension would make it more difficult for the team to keep Clark, who was the team’s second-round pick in 2015 out of Michigan.
But Schneider said no, stating “we budgeted for Frank at the franchise number so, no. Not necessarily, no.”
And while some might think that’s just spin, there’s a reason to think that the fundamental issue facing the Seahawks when it comes to Clark is totally separate of anything to do with Wilson -- specifically, do they want to pay him $100 million or anything close to that?
About all we may know is that there figures to be a lot of discussion about Clark and his future over the next few days.