We are about to find out how close the Seahawks are in contract negotiations with their leading sack man.
Tuesday, the NFL’s two-week window opened to designate franchise- and transition-tag players for 2019.
Frank Clark is a primary candidate to get one, specifically a franchise tag, to keep him from entering free agency when the NFL market opens March 13.
Clark, 25, has an expiring contract. Seattle’s leading sack man with 13 last regular season and another one in the playoff loss at Dallas last month has yet to agree to an extension.
Coach Pete Carroll has said, repeatedly, Clark isn’t going anywhere, that he is “a Seahawk” and will remain one in 2019.
“We’ll figure it out, somehow, and work at it,” Carroll said Christmas Eve. “It’s a big issue.”
And Clark told me on the night of that loss to the Cowboys in the wild-card playoffs Jan. 5 that he expects to be a Seahawk in 2019, if not beyond.
“At the end of the day, I just feel like whatever’s in my coach’s plans, whatever’s in our guys’ plans, I think they are going to take care of it,” Clark told me in the visitors’ locker room in Arlington, Texas.
Right now there are two ways to keep Clark on the team this year: re-sign him to a long-term contract likely to approach $15 million or more per year with rich bonuses and guarantees up front befitting a top pass rusher in this passer-and-sack-the-passer league; or, give Clark the franchise tag for a one-year deal.
Seattle hasn’t used a franchise tag since 2010, Carroll’s and general manager John Schneider’s first season leading the team. And that was on a kicker, Olindo Mare.
A franchise tag on Clark would cost the Seahawks about $18 million, guaranteed, on a one-year contract,. That is based on the franchise-tag figure in 2018 for NFL defensive ends, and the league’s expected rise in salary caps and tag numbers from year to year.
Clark has been willing to wait on agreeing to an extension. No wonder. He knows the tag is an absolutely splendid option for him: he would be earning about 20 times more than he did last season, when his base pay was $941,000 in the final year of his rookie deal as Seattle’s second-round draft choice in 2015. Plus with a franchise tag, Clark would be eligible for free agency again this time next year, and would still be just 26 years old.
The Seahawks would rather not have that huge, $18 million salary-cap charge this year for Clark. They still want to re-sign starting guards J.R. Sweezy and D.J. Fluker. Productive nickel defensive back Justin Coleman can also become an unrestricted free agent March 13.
And, oh, yeah, franchise pillars Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner have contracts expiring after this year. The Seahawks will within the next year be paying them, too. Royally. As in, as the top of the league’s pay scale at quarterback and linebacker, respectively.
That is why Schneider, his contract staff and Carroll have been working for months to get Clark re-signed on a multiyear extension that would have a more team-friendly cap number with large guarantees for him in its initial years.
That hasn’t happened yet.
The next two weeks offer a procedural way for the Seahawks to buy more time.
Designating Clark as their franchise-tag player for 2019, each team gets one per year, would not end the Seahawks’ opportunity to re-sign him to a longer-term deal. They would still have until another league tag deadline, July 15, to sign Clark to a multiyear contract and then rescind the tag.
After July 15, any franchise-tag player can only sign a one-year contract with the tagging team.
As for the less-restrictive transition tag, the Seahawks infamously used one in 2006 with All-Pro guard Steve Hutchinson. That was to save a few million dollars that year versus the restrictive franchise tag. Bad idea. Minnesota ended up signing Hutchinson to a $46 million contract when his agent, Tom Condon, included unprecedented “poison pill” provisions in the Vikings’ offer sheet that Seattle could not match.