Seattle Seahawks

Seahawks GM assesses Russell Wilson talks, chances Frank Clark stays--and Earl Thomas’ exit

The Seahawks have started at least initial talks on a new contract for franchise quarterback Russell Wilson.

They still “love” K.J. Wright. But they will be assessing what the Pro Bowl veteran linebacker is hearing about free agency over the next two weeks before having a clearer read whether he will remain with Seattle.

They remain intent on keeping Frank Clark from entering the free-agent market that opens March 13. It remains to be seen whether that’s with a franchise tag or long-term contract extension for their leading sack man.

No, the Seahawks have not talked to Earl Thomas recently. But Richard Sherman is publicly endorsing him to come join him in San Francisco.

(How many more signs can there be that the All-Pro whose contract is ending and who recently moved back to his native Texas is absolutely out of Seattle?)

And, no, their general manager does not like Wilson flying helicopters all offseason.

“No,” John Schneider said with a grin Wednesday from behind a podium at the Indiana Convention Center as the 2019 NFL combine began.

“No, I do not.”

That was Schneider’s and the Seahawks main news from the first day of the combine.

As for the more pertinent matter of keeping Wilson under contract with a megabucks deal beyond his current one ending with the 2019 season, Schneider said: “We’ve been in communication with his agent, Mark (Rodgers), and I’m sure we’ll continue to talk. There’s just, there are some guys who are unrestricted free agents right now, you know, so we try to work through that process and the different phases of it.

“There are several guys who have one year left on their contracts, in terms of extensions (fellow franchise cornerstone Bobby Wagner’s deal also ends after the 2019 season).

“Obviously,” Schneider said of Wilson, “he is incredibly important.”

Thomas’ time in Seattle was seemingly near an end last summer when he held out for all of the offseason and training camp; he returned to the team in early September days before the opener to avoid losing game checks. He wanted a new Seahawks contract at the top of the market for safeties, or to be traded. He got neither.

One week after he was blowing off practices while still mad at the team, Thomas broke his leg during a game at Arizona Sept. 30. Thomas’ time with the team basically ended when he flipped a middle finger at the Seahawks’ sideline from the back of a motorized cart as he was being taken off the field with his season- (and tenure-) ending injury.

Unlike fellow injured Seahawks star safety Kam Chancellor, who stayed around the team mentoring through the end of last season, Thomas stayed away.

Asked Wednesday if he’s been in contact with Thomas recently, Schneider had a short, clear answer. It said plenty.

“No,” the Seahawks GM said.

“He is a free agent. He is going to test free agency.”

Schneider wasn’t the only one talking about Thomas at the combine Wednesday.

Sherman was inside the Indiana Convention Center passing by three Bay Area reporters who cover his 49ers. He stopped to talk—about Thomas.

“If the money’s equal, he’s going to Dallas,” Sherman said, according to Chris Biderman of the Sacramento Bee.

The three-time All-Pro cornerback and former Seahawk said, per Biderman, that he expects San Francisco and re-joining his former “Legion of Boom” teammate in Seattle “to be a clear option.”

Sherman called the 49ers an “easy fit” for Thomas.

Clark’s rookie contract is ending. Seattle’s top pick from the 2015 draft had a career-high 14 sacks in 17 games, including one in the playoffs, last season. He stands to get a raise from $943,000 in 2018 to at least $17.3 million or so in 2019. That’s the figure estimated for a franchise tag for defensive ends in the league this year.

Clark is still only 25, likely on the cusp of his prime. He told me in the locker room at Dallas Jan. 5 minutes after the Seahawks’ season ended with a playoff loss to the Cowboys that he expected the Seahawks to re-sign him, that he will be at team headquarters April 15 when Seattle begins its formal team offseason program.

This is no standard contract negotiation between employer and employee. It’s not cold business devoid of emotion or personal connection.

Schneider took a chance on Clark four years ago, months after Michigan kicked him out of its program for a domestic-violence arrest that had some NFL teams dropping him from their draft boards that year.

Schneider was asked if there was any update to Seattle’s talks on a new contract for Clark.

“Frank and I, we have a great relationship,” Schneider said. “Communications have been great. There’s a strong level of trust between the two of us.

“So that would be the update.”

Schneider said he expects Clark to be a Seahawk in 2019.

Does the GM expect to use the team’s lone franchise tag for the year on him to do that? The last time the Seahawks used a franchise tag was in 2010, on Olindo Mare, a kicker. That was in Schneider’s and coach Pete Carroll’s first months running the Seahawks.

“Ummm...I don’t know yet,” Schneider said of using a tag to keep Clark in lieu of a multiyear extension. “I mean, it’s been 10 years. Olindo Mare. I know.

“We actually talked John Lynch into doing that with their kicker,” Schneider joked.

This week the 49ers and Lynch, their general manager, announced they were using their franchise tag to retain kicker Robbie Gould.

Wright has said he intended to test the free-agent market. Schneider said the Seahawks have been talking to Wright’s representatives, and that Wright proved upon his return from knee surgery with impressive games late last season and a extraordinary one in the wild-card playoff loss at Dallas last month that he still can be a Pro Bowl-caliber player.

“We sit down with all of our unrestricted guys and talk to them. We have a personal talk before they get to free agency, so they know what’s shaking,” Schneider said. “We’ll meet with all of their representatives down here (in Indianapolis). So by the end of the week we’ll have a better feel for where his market lies.

Of Wright in particular, the GM said: “He’s been incredible for us. He had a rough year with a knee injury, but when he played, he was phenomenal. We love him.”

Later, off the podium, Schneider said: “K.J. has been a really, really important part of what we have been doing, and we would love to have him back. It’s just a matter of him, his people are going to figure out and get a good lay of the land this week in terms of speaking with other teams, you know.

“But obviously we are going to stay in close communication with him.’’

Yet the chances on him returning to the Seahawks appear to still be 50-50, at best.

Wright is 29. He played in only six of the 17 games this season following knee surgery in August and a setback in his return. He sees what the Seahawks have done—and not done—for Thomas and wonders what’s next for him.

What indications have the Seahawks given him they might re-sign him?

“Nothing,” the 2017 Pro Bowl outside linebacker said last month.

“I want to be here. I’d love to be here. I love playing with this team, with (defensive coordinator Ken) Norton, with Bobby (his All-Pro linebacking partner),” he said. “And I believe it would be in the team’s best interests if I stay here.

“I’m heading to free agency. We’ll see how that goes.”

As for the business of the combine, Schneider did nothing to refute the fact the Seahawks are in Indianapolis shopping for extra selections to make in April’s draft, as much as for prospects to pick.

What are the chances Seattle stays with only four picks through the end of the draft?

“I hope it’s slim, yeah,” he said.

Seattle has four picks, the fewest in the NFL and what would be the fewest in team history, following trades—such as the one during the 2017 season that netted veteran left tackle Duane Brown at the cost of the Seahawks’ second-round pick in 2019 to Houston.

The Seahawks own the 21st-overall pick in the draft April 25. But they are almost certainly going to trade down to get more selections in rounds two through seven. Schneider has not used the Seahawks’ original first-round pick since 2011. Trading down has become a draft way of life for Seattle under Schneider and Carroll.

And now, with only four choices, it’s a necessity.

“It’s a challenge,” Schneider said. “We try to fix our team all throughout the year. It isn’t like the draft is the only avenue that we build our team. We’re constantly working the waiver wire, practice squads, with the trade deadline. Not having our second-round pick this year with Duane, that’s a challenge for us. We gave up a sixth-round pick for (2018 backup quarterback Brett) Huntley, then Shalom (Luani) with our seventh (to Oakland in another trade, in September).

“It’s a challenge. But it’s exciting. It’s what we do. Our guys do a great job on draft of working our relationships around the league and then we’re trying to navigate where we’re going throughout the draft and targeting players and moving along.

“We don’t necessarily have to go (trading) down all the time. But it’s kind of fun.”

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.
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