Seahawks’ Frank Clark still showing ‘I’m one of the best pass rushers in the league’
That glow emanating from the West Coast late Friday afternoon was Frank Clark smiling.
Waiting continues to pay off for the Seahawks’ top pass rusher. Hugely.
What had Clark beaming was this news from Dallas Friday afternoon: The Cowboys ended a year-plus contract stalemate with DeMarcus Lawrence, their top pass rusher who played under a franchise tag last season. Clarence Hill Jr. of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram confirmed Lawrence is re-signing with Dallas for a benchmark $105 million over five years, with $65 million guaranteed.
Those are unprecedented numbers for a position other than quarterback in the passer-and-sack-the-passer NFL.
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.
And, yes, Clark is absolutely noticing.
Yes, double-dance emojis on Twitter.
The Seahawks are in ongoing negotiations with Clark’s agent, Erik Burkhardt, to get a multiyear deal done beyond the franchise tag the team placed on Clark last month. That tag kept keep him from free agency and obligated him to Seattle again in 2019. The tag is worth $17,128,000 guaranteed to Clark to play for the Seahawks this year.
Teams that use the franchise tag have until July 15 to reach a longer-term agreement with the tagged player, per the league’s collective bargaining agreement. After that date the team and tagged player can’t strike a long-term deal until after the season; the only way Clark will then play for Seattle would be on that one-year franchise tag deal.
Contract negotiations in the NFL, in all pro sports, are about making comparable arguments. Agents begin their talks with teams with portfolios of like players who are the same age, or older, as their client, then make side-by-side comparisons of production and value to their teams.
It’s the same process the Seahawks and the agent for Russell Wilson, Mark Rodgers, are going through right now. His agent is comparing Wilson’s age and accomplishments to those of Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, the league’s highest-paid player (for now) at $33.5 million per year with $98.2 million guaranteed. Aaron Rodgers is five years older with as many Super Bowl rings as Wilson. Wilson’s agent is also making comps of his client with Atlanta’s Matt Ryan. Ryan got $100 million guaranteed within a year of re-signing last spring from the Falcons. He’s three years older than Wilson, with zero Super Bowl titles.
Here are Clark’s comps with the newly minted Lawrence. They are the new starting points for Clark’s agent in talking to the Seahawks:
Lawrence is 13 1/2 months older than Clark; 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 is 25 years old. He 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.
“I was given the option of surgery but I would’ve been out for 8-10 weeks,” he wrote on Twitter about the ‘17 season. “At the time we were struggling with more terminal injuries to our defense and I knew I could fight through mines.”
Clark said the night of that playoff loss at Dallas Jan. 5 he thought he was going to remain with the Seahawks.
“I think they are going to take care of it,” he told me in the locker room in Arlington, Texas, after Seattle’s last game.
And coach Pete Carroll has said multiple times in recent months that Clark is remaining with the team that took a chance on making him its top draft choice in 2015.
“Frankie, he’s a Seahawk,” Carroll said in December. “And we’ve got to figure it out somehow.”
That task just got more difficult for Seattle. The price of taking care of Clark just skyrocketed—on top of the richest-deal-in-the-league money they are planning to offer Wilson, whose contract ends after the 2019 season.
The Seahawks used the non-exclusive franchise tag on Clark. That means technically another team could sign him away to a new, huge deal, but only by giving Seattle the crippling cost of two first-round draft choices to do so. That is almost unheard of. The Seahawks can also by NFL rules rescind the tag before the season, but have shown zero indication they would do that.
While he and his agent negotiate with Seattle on a mega, long-term deal, Clark has not signed his tender for the tag. Not doing so keeps him from being under contract—his rookie deal ended with the end of the Seahawks’ 2018 season—and thus keeps him from being subject to team fines if he decides not to show up for Seattle’s mandatory minicamp in June. That’s part of the final stage of the team’s official offseason workout program that begins with voluntary conditioning April 15.
Friday’s deal for Lawrence again showed why Clark has been willing to wait on the Seahawks tagging him, on signing that tag tender, and on a multiyear extension with Seattle.
The market for edge pass rushers just re-set itself. Clark is poised to move to the top of it.
No wonder he’s double dancing on social media.