With the Dallas Cowboys re-signing DeMarcus Lawrence to a five-year, $105 million extension with $65 million guaranteed — the market has been set for Frank Clark.
He has more career sacks than Lawrence (35 vs 34) and he’s younger (27 vs 25). Clark had a more productive year in 2018 with 13 sacks compared to Lawrence’s 10.5. Athletically Clark is a superior talent. There’s no realistic argument for him being awarded a cheaper contract.
So what are the Seahawks going to do?
Lawrence, Khalil Mack and Aaron Donald are the only three defensive players averaging more than $20 million per season. Mack and Donald are game-wreckers and game-winners. Lawrence is a quality pass rusher but doesn’t have the ability to take over a game like Mack and Donald. Neither, currently, does Frank Clark.
The Seahawks have to determine how much potential remains with Clark. He doesn’t turn 26 until June and with an elite physical profile — it’s possible he could become more consistent and more dominant in the coming years. He’s always had the potential to develop into one of the leagues best defensive ends. If that’s his trajectory over the next few seasons — it’d be a real shame to miss out on his prime having spent four years carefully bringing along his talent.
Last season was his first year as the main man. Previously he’d played in a rotation with Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett. Gaining 13 sacks was a nice start for Clark as the focal point of the pass rush.
The other thing to consider is the rapid growth of the salary cap and player salaries. For all the hand-wringing some members of the media do about the CBA — players have never been wealthier. The earning potential has exploded in recent seasons.
$20m a year for Clark today sounds like a kings ransom. But how will it look in two years time when Myles Garrett and Joey Bosa get paid? And when you consider Trey Flowers is on $18m a year, C.J. Mosley $17m a year and Za’Darius Smith $16.5m a year — doesn’t that put a potential Clark contract into context?
While he probably doesn’t warrant a deal similar to Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack — Clark is a better player than Flowers, Mosley and Smith.
For me there are two realistic scenarios here:
1. Pay Clark the going rate and build with a player you’ve already accepted is part of your new core
2. Let him play out the 2018 season on the tag, just as the Cowboys did with Lawrence, and see what the situation is in 12 months time
People will rightly question the first scenario because of the cost. Yet, as noted above, $20m a year might seem like a bargain in two years time if salaries continue to increase and Clark turns into a star.
The second scenario is a gamble because you run the risk of losing Clark in free agency in 2020. That could easily happen. However, the Seahawks seem to want to exhaust all possibilities with their players. They didn’t take the best offer for Earl Thomas and were happy to risk losing him in free agency. They haven’t traded Clark despite knowing it would cost a fortune to keep him long term. I think there’s a realistic chance they’ll run the risk of losing him for nothing more than a third round comp pick next year — simply to give themselves the longest possible window to tie him down.
You can make a compelling case for trading Clark now, getting more than a possible 2021 third round comp pick and being able to draft a rookie to replace him at a team-friendly price.
Sounds great, right?
But what if nobody wants to trade for Clark?
Mike Garafolo said it’d take a high first round pick. Is that what the Seahawks want — or is it what teams are actually willing to pay?
Here’s the thing — the 2019 draft class is loaded with defensive line talent. Why would anyone trade a high pick for Frank Clark to pay him $20m a year with $65-70m guaranteed when you can draft a pass rusher in round one at a fraction of the cost?
It’s not realistic. Not this year.
Perhaps a team in the late first round might consider it? There’s no guarantee though. And if teams are only talking about a second rounder at best — the Seahawks might think they’re better off keeping Clark and trying to extend his contract this summer rather than giving up for just a second rounder.
After all, who thought the offers for Earl Thomas would be so weak a year ago? Their best offer was a third round pick. It’s easy to say ‘trade a player’ — it’s a lot harder to make it happen for a fair deal.
When the Bills were being linked a few weeks ago I proposed a trade that included swapping #21 for #9 and Seattle getting Buffalo’s second rounder (#40). I think that’s about the best you could hope for. You’d have a shot at one of the top rookie defensive linemen and you make up the gaping hole in round two.
Again though — how interested are Buffalo in a deal like that? Especially now you’d have to pay Clark a mega-contract with massive guarantees.
A trade just doesn’t seem likely at this stage — because of the cost of the contract and the talent in the draft. And if that assertion is correct — the Seahawks have to make a call on whether they want to pay the market rate or wait this out.
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