Seattle Seahawks

Seahawks’ Frank Clark took hard road to arrive at cusp of superstardom, super riches

Pete Carroll will keep Seahawks rolling on, no resting starters with playoffs clinched, Sunday vs Arizona: “Not changing anything”

Coach Pete Carroll said he will keep Seattle Seahawks rolling, not resting starters with playoffs clinched, Sunday in the regular-season finale vs Arizona: “Not changing anything.”
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Coach Pete Carroll said he will keep Seattle Seahawks rolling, not resting starters with playoffs clinched, Sunday in the regular-season finale vs Arizona: “Not changing anything.”

The Seahawks have a powerful tool few thought they’d have this Christmas.


And, consequently, a playoff spot entering Sunday’s relatively meaningless regular-season finale at home against Arizona.

Russell Wilson, K.J. Wright and others talked after Sunday night’s playoff-clinching home win over Kansas City about the Seahawks believing in each other all year when most were saying this was a 4-12 or 5-11 team. Such was the pessimism from Seattle losing Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, their offensive and defensive coordinators and seven other assistant coaches from last season’s first team playoff miss in six years.

“You hear it. You hear the noise,” Wright said. “You hear the 4-12 predictions, the 5-11s. And that stuff motivates you. We kept believing.

“We’re just getting started, man.”

Yet the Seahawks have believed in nothing more in the last four years than they have in turning around Frank Clark’s career.

And his life.

From ‘The Jungle’

He’s a emerging NFL superstar now, with a career-high 12 sacks in 15 games this season, the pass-rushing force on a playoff-bound team.

But four Christmases ago, Clark was directionless. He was 21 years old, just out of jail, working out on his own, hoping for a shot in the NFL he thought he may have just blown.

Clark grew up in one of the notoriously tough areas of Los Angeles, Baldwin Village. Actor Denzel Washington depicted the neighborhood as a crooked cop immersed in its street drug trade in the movie “Training Day.”

“They call it ‘The Jungle,’ ” Clark told The News Tribune in 2016 of his native area bordering the Crenshaw district, southwest of downtown Los Angeles. “Basically, I mean, there aren’t too much I want to talk about, you know what I mean, about that. It’s a rough area.

“It’s hard making it out of that city. It’s a city within the city of Los Angeles. Anybody who knows LA knows that’s one of the roughest parts of the city.”

He made it out, to Cleveland to go to live with relatives and go to high school. He excelled at Glenville High School, class of 2011, and earned a scholarship to the University of Michigan.

But in November of 2014 Michigan kicked him out of its football program. That was following his arrest and brief jailing for domestic violence in Ohio.

A police report seemed to depict he struck his girlfriend during an incident at a hotel outside Sandusky, Ohio. After an investigation the prosecuting attorney there determined Clark did not strike her. The prosecutor agreed to reduce the charge through a plea bargain to disorderly conduct, a fourth-degree misdemeanor.

A few months later, the Seahawks made Clark their top pick in the 2015 draft.

“Believe in me,” Clark said the night he was drafted.

Coach Pete Carroll, general manager John Schneider and the Seahawks did, when many NFL teams took Clark off their draft boards.

Three years later, people still criticize the Seahawks for having Clark on the team. For many, those merely charged with domestic violence deserve no second chances.

Carroll takes a more nuanced approach. One that seeks to draw the good out of everyone he leads.

“I think it’s more the philosophical outlook, and also the confidence that you can help guys,” Carroll said Monday. “If you can sense that they’ve got the stuff that it takes, then, obviously, you take risks sometime on young guys because of their background.

“But because a guy is a young guy and he has some challenges or some concerns or whatever doesn’t mean that’s who he is or that’s what his life is going to be.”

The payoff

Three and a half years after the Seahawks took that chance on him, Clark is on the verge of superstardom. And super riches.

He has 31 sacks in his last 46 games, since the start of the 2016 season. He is in the final year of his rookie contract. He’s yet to re-sign, and could become a free agent on the open market in March.

Carroll said Monday that Clark isn’t going anywhere.

“We’re working on it,” Carroll said during a Christmas Eve press conference at team headquarters the morning after Seattle clinched its sixth playoff appearance in seven years with a 38-31 home win over Kansas City.

“I mean, Frank, he’s a Seahawk. You guys know. We’ll figure it out somehow, and work at it. It’s a big issue.”

“It’s been marvelous to watch him grow. ...Fourth year, so it’s like he’s a senior now,” the former USC coach said. “He’s acting like it. He’s embraced the opportunity and the role. He’s grown to it. There’s that freshman year, than the sophomore year... he’s just grown right before our eyes...

“It’s just marvelous to see.”

Clark has a 2-year-old daughter, born in Bellevue, over whom he dotes and smiles. And he is about to become wealthier than his wildest dreams.

Clark’s agent, Erik Burkhardt, told’s Brady Henderson in October that he and Clark are willing to wait into the spring on signing a new deal, and would be fine with the franchise tag in lieu of an agreement with the Seahawks on a long-term contract.

No wonder.

The franchise-tag cost for defensive ends in 2018 was $17,143,000. Assuming a rise corresponding to the expected increase of about 8 percent in next year’s league salary cap, the tag number for defensive ends in 2019 should be around $18.5 million.

That would be almost 20 times more than the $943,941 Clark is earning this year.

With each game Clark dominates and storms in to harass quarterbacks, his price rises. This is a passer-and-sack-the-passer league. Quarterback and pass rusher are the two most coveted commodities, and thus the best paid.

Just ask Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack. Those two pass rushers became the highest-paid defensive players in league history one day apart this summer. Mack signed a $141 million, six-year deal with Chicago, 24 hours after Donald got his $135 million, six-year extension with the Rams.

By waiting, Clark is betting on himself: That he won’t get injured to drop his market value, and that another NFL team will still want to pay him huge dollars in 2020 after his franchise tag that would tie him to Seattle for one year expires. He will still only be 26 years old this time next year.

Of course, the Seahawks could franchise tag Clark a second time, for 2020, if they wanted to go that acrimonious route.

Carroll has been making it sound like it won’t come to any of that.

And Clark doesn’t want to leave.

He said in October he wants to stay with the Seahawks for as long as the rain falls here, for all long as Mount Rainier is tall.

“Hell, yeah. Hell, yeah. Hell, yeah,” Clark said before the Oct. 28 game at Detroit.

Clark’s recent pain

Last winter, Clark endured a tragedy so much more important than football.

He lost his father and three other family members in a fire at a home in Cleveland.

The Seahawks’ defensive end shared his grief online Feb. 4, writing: “Words can’t replace the pain.”

“My father was killed in an arson fire along with 3 other members of my family on the East Side of Cleveland. Pray for me and my family during this time,” Clark wrote.

The Cleveland Division of Fire confirmed four people, including Frank Clark III, died in the house fire in the South Collinwood neighborhood of East Cleveland on Jan. 30.

The younger Clark, 24, attended nearby Glenville High School. His mother had him move from Los Angeles to Cleveland to live with family members when he was 12.

Officials from the Cleveland Division of Fire told the city’s WEWS television the surviving woman jumped from the burning house. The bodies of those latter four were found dead in the home. Officials told WEWS the husband and wife were sleeping on the second floor of the home when the fire awakened them. The mother tried to rescue her son, but she was repelled by smoke. She escaped by jumping through a second-floor window.

“I can’t even imagine,” Carroll said.

“We’ve talked about it. It’s devastating family concerns, and he’s figured out a way to take care of everybody and share the love and do all that he could to do something about it. It doesn’t go away. Something that tragic doesn’t go away. He’s taken it with him. But he’s put it in a place where he can be productive and help people out. He’s helping his family in enormous ways.

“And he’ll helping, doing more of that in the future.”

A future Carroll insists will be — and Clark says he wants to be — with the Seahawks.

“Of course. Of course. There is no place I’d rather be than Seattle,” Clark said. “Like I’ve said, like I’ve been saying, my family loves it here. My daughter was born here, in Bellevue, two years ago.

“There’s no other place I’m sure anyone would rather be, or anyone would rather visit, than Seattle.”

Gregg Bell is the Seahawks and NFL writer for The News Tribune. In January 2019 he was named the Washington state sportswriter of the year by the National Sports Media Association. He started covering the NFL in 2002 as the Oakland Raiders beat writer for The Sacramento Bee. The Ohio native began covering the Seahawks in their first Super Bowl season of 2005. In a prior life he graduated from West Point and served as a tactical intelligence officer in the U.S. Army, so he may ask you to drop and give him 10.