Seattle Seahawks

Latest “news” on tagged Frank Clark? Leverage season begins as Seahawks seek a long-term deal

Franchise tag applied, welcome to the leveraging stage of Frank Clark’s future with the Seahawks.

That’s the meaning behind an unsubstantiated report Clark “won’t be signing his franchise tag or showing up to training camp unless the Seahawks give him the deal that he has earned,” and that “if they don’t, they’ll only have him for another 16 games... when other top FAs (free agents) are up, too.”

That’s according to Ian Rapoport of league-owned NFL Network.

That’s also obviously according to Clark’s side of negotiations with the Seahawks on a long-term contract that remains in play.

What that really means: Clark isn’t going to sign his franchise tag, or any deal, until, well, he does.

The team bought time getting a new deal done with its top pass rusher last week when it used its one-per-year franchise tag on Clark. The tag means a one-year, $17,128,000 salary fully guaranteed. It also keeps him from entering free agency.

The free-agent market had a soft open Monday with a two-day negotiating period, the so-called “legal tampering period. Signings can become official at 1 p.m. Wednesday with the start of the new league year.

The franchise tag gives Seattle and Clark four more months to negotiate an extension. July 15 is a league deadline for players who have received a franchise tag to sign a multiyear deal with the tagging team instead. If there is no new deal by July 15, the tagged player must play under a one-year deal with the tagging team, if he plays at all in 2019. He cannot sign a long-term deal from after July 15 until the conclusion of the 2019 regular season.

So as talks on that extension Seattle and Clark have both said they want continue, what’s one, clear way to show the Seahawks Clark isn’t content? That he still intends to command as much as he can possibly get on a longer-term deal, to stay with the team that took a chance on him and made him its top draft choice in 2015?

By threatening not to show up for anything other than the real games to earn all of that $17 million under the franchise tag, if it comes to that.

Big-money contract negotiations wouldn’t exist in the NFL without one side seeking leverage, public, private or perceived.

Until Clark signs his tender offer for the franchise tag, he is not under official contract with the Seahawks. So he could by letter of the league’s collective bargaining agreement stay away from all team activities from the start of formal offseason workouts at Seahawks headquarters that begin April 15, through training camp that starts in late July, even up to the opening regular-season game in early September, all without being subject to team fines.

Miss that opener, though, and Clark would lose a first game check of $100,753. So he will show up for that.

Much of what you will hear and read between now and then, including these ongoing negotiations on an extension, involves leverage.

Former agent Joel Corry, who now writes for CBS Sports, gave perfect context to all this.

“Frank Clark saying he won’t go to training camp without a new deal isn’t a unique stance for franchise players,” Corry wrote on his Twitter account Sunday. “Missing part or all of the preseason after the 7/15 long term deadline passes is a pretty common occurrence. Besides (Pittsburgh 2018 tag holdout) Le’Veon Bell, the tender is eventually signed.”

Until Sunday’s “leak” of intent from Clark’s side, the 25-year-old defensive end had given all indications he was OK with the franchise tag. It was increasing him pay from $943,000 last year, the final one of his rookie contract, to more than $17 million. He is still in the process of getting a longer-term deal with rich, up-front guarantees and salary-cap numbers friendlier to the Seahawks than the franchise tag. Even without a new deal beyond the tag, Clark could be eligible again for either free agency this time next year, or an additional $20.55 million guaranteed should the Seahawks decide the give him another franchise tag for 2020.

That would be almost $38 million, fully guaranteed, the next two years. And after a possible second tag, Clark would still be only 27 years old when he could become eligible for free agency’s riches.

That’s why Clark and his agent, Erik Burkhardt, have been willing to wait and be picky on the Seahawks’ contract offers. For them, as long as Clark keeps performing, tagging is terrific. Sunday’s leveraging is a reminder if the Seahawks want a more team-friendly long-term deal, they need to come with big guarantees, probably starting above that $38 million.

Until then, until the real games begin in September, he doesn’t have to show up. So he may not.

In the hours after the Seahawks designated Clark as their franchise player for 2019 on Monday, the first time Seattle had used that hammer in nine year, Clark did not indicate he wouldn’t sign. He didn’t rail against the system keeping him from free-agent riches.

Just the opposite.

“Looking forward to what the future holds,” Clark posted on his Twitter account hours after Seattle gave him the franchise tag. “Very blessed and thankful.”

But now is the time for leverage.

The bottom line for Clark: even the franchise tag for 2019 represents a massive, life-changing raise—before any longer-term extension.

Clark grew up the Baldwin Village section of Los Angeles, depicted by Denzel Washington in the film “The Jungle.” He has said that as a boy he was sometimes homeless and hungry. In 2014, after moving to be with family in Cleveland for a better life, he got kicked out of Michigan’s college program after he was arrested and briefly jailed in a much-debated domestic-violence case.

With the franchise tag Clark will earn almost 20 times more this year than last with Seattle.

Yet still just 25 years old and coming off a career-high 14 sacks in 17 games, including the Seahawks’ playoff loss at Dallas in early January, he and his agent want to maximize every dollar they can. And they can. Clark’s skill is of supreme value in the pass-happy NFL: a guy who speeds off the edge to pressure and sack quarterbacks.

But the Seahawks can’t give Clark the moon and its stars, not with the contracts of franchise cornerstones Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner due to end after the 2019 season. To fit all three under the salary cap for 2020 and beyond, as is Seattle’s plan, general manager John Schneider and his negotiating team need to find out what up-front signing bonus and guarantees would satisfy Clark, while at annual base-salary levels that would be far more cap friendly than the full cap charge of a franchise tag, or two. Teams can prorate signing-bonus money across the life of a multiyear contract, up to five years, per the NFL CBA.

As a complicating matter to all this, the existing CBA expires after the 2020 season. No one, including Schneider, knows for sure if the franchise tag will exist in the new CBA, or what else may change that could apply to a long-term deal for Clark, Wilson and Wagner.

Aside from this posturing, does Clark have any of the animosity, say, departing Earl Thomas still does toward the Seahawks?

No.

The team took a chance on Clark four years ago. Months after Michigan kicked him out of its program for a domestic-violence arrest in Ohio, some NFL teams dropping him from their draft boards in 2015. 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 that year, in the second round.

“Frank and I, we have a great relationship,” Schneider said two weeks ago at the combine in Indianapolis. “Communications have been great. There’s a strong level of trust between the two of us.”That hasn’t changed with one tweet this past weekend, or even with the franchise tag.

It’s just now is the season for leverage.



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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