Russell Wilson got his record cash.
Onto the next.
That’s the world in which Seahawks and general manager/lead contract negotiator John Schneider is immersed this spring.
The GM’s next is Frank Clark.
With Wilson’s NFL-record $140 million extension including another record $65 million signing bonus done officially as of Tuesday, and even with the draft days away, Seattle’s priority now is Clark. The Seahawks have an NFL deadline of July 15 to get an extension done with their top pass rusher. That’s the result of the franchise tag the team gave Clark last month, keeping him from free agency and contractually binding him to Seattle for 2019 at a cost of $17,128,000.
Talks between Schneider and Clark’s agent Erik Burkhardt have been going on for months, and Schneider said he’s had “direct conversations” with the defensive end.
As Wilson’s contract negotiations neared their finish line late Monday, national reports said “buzz” across the NFL is Seattle is listening to trade offers for the 25-year-old Clark, perhaps in search of a deal before the draft that begins next Thursday.
This Thursday, tonight, Schneider hosted his annual Ben’s Fund charity dinner at El Gaucho restaurant in Bellevue for autism. There, during a question-and-answer session on football matters with four of the team’s beat writers, the GM was asked about the rumors the Seahawks are exploring possibly trading Clark.
“We love Frank. He’s an incredibly effective pass rusher. And we love him. That’s where it stands,” Schneider said.
“Basically, when you are getting close to the trade deadline and you are get close to the draft, it’s major speculation, ton of drama, all the news outlets and everything. I get it. It’s what we are doing. It’s entertainment.
“People around the league know we are in every deal, that the people on my staff we are always trying to understand what the landscape is throughout the National Football League. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be doing our job. We can’t have our head in sand about anything.
“But we love Frank, obviously. That’s why we franchised him.”
Schneider was asked if there was an assurance he could give to Seahawks fans that Clark is going to play for Seattle in 2019.
“Yeah,” the GM said. “I’m not under the impression that he won’t. I don’t know that he won’t.”
Kansas City put a franchise tag on top pass rusher Dee Ford last month, then traded him to San Francisco in lieu of a long-term deal. The 49ers signed Ford to multi-year contract instead worth $17 million per year.
After July 15, Clark can only play in 2019 for Seattle on the one-year franchise tag and can’t sign a multi-year deal until after this year ends, per the league’s collective bargaining agreement. So the franchise tag bought the Seahawks four more months to negotiate with Clark on an extension that would be more salary-cap friendly than the tag; Clark’s entire $17.1 million would count against Seattle’s cap this year. The team can spread the financial hit on a longer-term deal with Clark over the life of the contract, up to five years per the CBA.
To be sure, Seattle wants to have one of the league’s best young pass rushers—the player Schneider and coach Pete Carroll made their top draft pick on faith in 2015 months after Clark got kicked out of the University of Michigan’s program for a domestic-violence incident—for more than just this year.
It’s going to come down to how much Clark asks to be paid for 2020 and beyond.
There was another rumor, from Ian Rapoport of NFL Network within days of the Seahawks putting the franchise tag on Clark, that said the pass rusher won’t report to any Seahawks activity including training camp that begins in late July until he has a new deal to his liking.
Schneider said: “No, that’s not my understanding, at all.
“We’ve had very direct conversations, both myself and Frank, and people in the organization and Frank, and obviously myself and his agent, Erik Burkhardt.”
Schneider said signing Wilson to his extension with $107 million guaranteed does not make it more difficult to retain Clark.
“No,” he said. “We’ve budgeted for Frank at the franchise number, so not necessarily, no.”
At the franchise number. That’s $17.13 million. Not more.
Schneider insisting on a traditional structure for Wilson’s deal and getting the quarterback and his agent Mark Rodgers to drop their insistence Monday night on an unconventional, potentially exorbitant escalator clause may prove to help the Seahawks re-sign Clark—as long as Clark isn’t asking for the moon and stars, too.
Wilson’s initial aim was to get a clause that would increase the quarterback’s salary per annual increases in the team’s salary cap. Instead, Wilson got Seattle’s standard contract structure: hefty signing bonus prorated against the cap over the life of the deal, and guarantees paid out each year instead of all up front.
For instance, the Seahawks will pay $30 million of Wilson’s record $65 million signing bonus this year, and the remaining $35 million next year as a deferral, according to CBS Sports’ Joel Corry, a former agent who has obtained details of Wilson’s annual money in his new deal. That makes Wilson getting $70 million guaranteed in the first 12 months after signing, including a $5 million salary for this year. He gets the other $37 million of his guaranteed money in subsequent years.
And the Seahawks get to play a shell game with money to create cap space, thereby maintaining the ability to give Bobby Wagner and Clark at or near top-of-the-market offers.
Thing is, the market for Clark has appeared to re-set since the Seahawks gave him his franchise tag last month. It’s likely between the $17 million annually San Francisco gave Ford and the average of $21 million per season DeMarcus Lawrence got from Dallas this month.
Clarence Hill Jr. of The Fort Worth Star-Telegram confirmed Lawrence, the top pass rusher who played under a franchise tag last season for Dallas, received a benchmark $105 million over five years from the Cowboys, with $65 million guaranteed. Those are unprecedented numbers for a position other than quarterback.
Lawrence is reportedly receiving $31.1 million in the first year of his new deal. That’s the most cash in hand in year one for a non-quarterback in league history. Lawrence’s cash is $48 million over the first two years, $65 million over three years.
His average of $13 million guaranteed over the five years of his whopping new deal is the highest such figure for a non-quarterback in NFL history.
Yes, Clark absolutely noticed.
Why would Clark ask for the same or more than Lawrence and Ford?
Clark is 13 1/2 months younger than Lawrence. Lawrence turns 27 this month. He has 26 sacks in his last three seasons with Dallas, including 10 1/2 last season. His production has spiked and dipped with his fortunes over his career: he had zero sacks his rookie season of 2014, then eight, then one sack in 2016. His ‘16 season began with a four-game suspension by the NFL for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.
Clark has 32 sacks in his last three seasons with Seattle. That includes his career high of 13 last season, plus another in the Seahawks’ playoff loss at Lawrence’s Cowboys in January. He said he got those 14 sacks last season while playing the 17 games with torn elbow ligaments.
He said after the 2017 season in which he had nine sacks he played through broken bones in his hands that year.
Clark has seven more sacks over the last three regular season than Ford (32 to 25). He is three years younger than Ford.
Schneider was asked Thursday if Lawrence’s and Ford’s new contracts have changed the Seahawks’ negotiating landscape with Clark.
“No,” Schneider. “No, not really.
“There’s been some things that obviously we didn’t expect. But once that happens you kind of roll with it and try to adjust everything. You have to be able to roll with the punches...
“It’s a constant process, but it’s a process we pride ourselves on doing throughout the year. We’re just in a hyper-focus period right now.”
Seahawks players, including Wilson, again were celebrity waiters for the Ben’s Fun dinner event,, as were former Seahawks such as Hall of Fame tackle Walter Jones and Super Bowl quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.
Schneider and his wife Traci started Ben’s Fund in 2012 to provide support to children and young adults with autism through financial assistance and guidance. The Schneiders’ son Ben has autism.