Frank Clark was right last month when he said he sensed he’d remain a Seahawk.
And Pete Carroll accurately foreshadowed it last week at the NFL combine when he said: “Frankie will be with us, yeah.”
The Seahawks ensured that on Monday by using their franchise-tag designation on Clark, keeping their top pass rusher from NFL free agency that begins next week.
The league and team confirmed Monday afternoon the Seahawks are applying their franchise tag on a player for the first time since 2010. That was on kicker Olindo Mare, in the first months of Carroll and general manager John Schneider running the franchise.
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“Beat the odds, remain humble, do numbers,” Clark posted Monday afternoon online on his Instagram account.
The Seahawks used the non-exclusive franchise designation on Clark. Technically, he can negotiate with other teams on a long-term deal. But if he were to sign elsewhere, after the Seahawks would have a chance to match such an offer, the signing team would owe Seattle two first-round picks. That’s very unlikely to happen.
Tuesday is the league’s deadline for teams to designate franchise-tag and transition-tag players. The franchise tag for NFL defensive ends is a guaranteed $17,128,000 for 2019.
Clark will take that.
He earned $943,000 last season, when he had a career-high 14 sacks in 17 games during the final year of his rookie contract as Seattle’s top draft choice in 2015. And if he signs the franchise-tag offer, he can become a free agent again this time next year at age 26, still in his prime.
“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 The News Tribune Jan. 5 of the Seahawks, minutes after he had a sack in the team’s wild-card playoff loss at Dallas that ended last season.
They did. But they still have work to do with him.
Tagging Clark doesn’t mean the Seahawks are done trying to agree on a long-term extension with him. A multiyear deal would be at a better cap number with an attractive signing bonus than the straight $17.1 million cap charge that comes with the franchise tag.
The Seahawks have until a league deadline of July 15 to sign Clark to a multiyear deal. After that date, a tagged player must play the 2019 season on a one-year contract for the team that designated him, and he cannot any subsequent multiyear contract with his previous team until after its last regular-season game of 2019.
So Monday’s move buys the Seahawks time to find a more cap-friendly deal, while ensuring Clark plays for them this year and stays out of lucrative free agency.
This is no standard contract negotiation between employer and employee. It’s not cold business devoid of emotion or personal connection.
Clark has given no indications he is going to be a star disgruntled at being denied a first chance at free agency, or do what Le’Veon Bell did when Pittsburgh franchise tagged its top running back in 2018 and not sign the tag’s one-year deal.
Clark has said how much he appreciates Carroll and Schneider and the Seahawks for believing in him.
Monday night, he posted on Twitter: “Looking forward to what the future holds. Very blessed and thankful.”
The Seahawks took a chance on Clark four years ago. Months after Michigan kicked him out of its program for a domestic-violence arrest, some NFL teams dropping him from their draft boards that year. Even though critics were howling across the Pacific Northwest about bringing society’s epidemic of domestic violence into their locker room, the Seahawks made Clark the first player it drafted in 2015, in the second round.
“Frank and I, we have a great relationship,” Schneider said Wednesday at the combine in Indianapolis. “Communications have been great. There’s a strong level of trust between the two of us.”
The Seahawks have been talking with Clark and agent Burkhardt for months about a long-term extension, and Monday’s move m they have four more months to get one done. That would be better for than a franchise tag for the team’s 2019 salary cap.
A multiyear deal would be for a lower cap number and presumably lower base salary for this year, sweetened for Clark with a signing bonus and upfront guarantees that make his overall pay greater. Teams can prorate signing bonuses over the life of a contract to make deals more cap friendly, which is why most big-bucks extensions are for four or five years (five years is the maximum time a team can prorate a signing bonus per the CBA).
Clark and his agent Erik Burkhardt have been willing to wait, because the franchise tag means he gets that mammoth raise, almost 20 times his 2018 pay, and can still and be eligible to become a free agent again this time next year.
With each game Clark dominated and stormed in to harass quarterbacks the last two seasons, his price went up. 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 last 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 bet himself: That he wouldn’t get injured enough to drop his market value, and that another NFL team will still want to pay him huge dollars in 2020 after his franchise tag expires.
Asked Thursday if it is more important to the team to get a long-term deal done with Clark, Carroll said: “It is, ultimately, yeah.
“Frankie just turned 25. He’s still a very young football player. Made a huge step this year in terms of leadership, growth and maturity. It was so obvious. I was really proud of seeing that develop for Frank. He played great, too.
“Frank, he’s a very valuable football player. And that’s the process we’re in the middle of, and all that. I can’t tell you guys how that’s going to turn out.
“But it’s going to be positive for the Seahawks. And for Frank.”
Clark has 34 sacks in his last 48 games. He may not even be in his physical prime yet, especially not after bulling through wrist and other injuries the past two seasons to pick up a Seattle defense that seemed without a pass rush after Pro Bowl ends Michael Bennett got traded and Cliff Avril retired following the 2017 season.
“It’s been marvelous to watch him grow,” Carroll said in December, as Clark was in his career year. “Fourth year, so it’s like he’s a senior now. 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.”