Will they trade down, again?
Will they first select an edge pass rusher, a position the entire league covets? A safety to replace Earl Thomas? How about a big wide receiver, now that Doug Baldwin is trying to come back from three surgeries this offseason at age 30?
None of those pertinent questions for the Seahawks in the NFL draft that begins Thursday mean more right now than: will Seattle trade Frank Clark?
The constant chatter about that around the league has made Clark’s future the most non-draft-pick story in the NFL leading into this draft. Monday reports were the Chiefs, Colts and Jets have talked to the Seahawks about acquiring the 25-year-old pass rusher who is coming off a career year and for now is Seattle’s franchise-tag player for 2019.
The Chiefs are one of four teams who have inquired about Seattle defensive end Frank Clark, a league source told McClatchy’s Kansas City Star.
The Athletic reported the Jets are interested—and that Seattle wants New York’s third-overall choice in this draft.
That is not happening.
“Watched something this morning where everybody figured it out for us,” Schneider said with a snicker on Monday, before he and coach Pete Carroll briefed Seahawks chair Jody Allen on their draft plans.
Schneider’s acknowledgment for the past week of fielding trade offers for Clark and the ongoing buzz about it is odd. It’s a departure from the Seahawks’ usual ways preceding a big move.
It smells like a fishing expedition. Like Schneider and the Seahawks are trying to attract a mega offer—a first-round choice in this draft—before it is Seattle’s turn to pick Thursday at 21st overall in round one.
If the Seahawks don’t get that offer for Clark that blows them away, they keep him for 2019, at a minimum. And they’ll seek other trades to add to the NFL-low four choices they have in this draft.
“This time, and the trade deadline, there’s some speculation about a lot of players,” Schneider said, reiterating what he said last week at his annual charity dinner in Bellevue.
He is saying the team is listening to trade offers for Clark out of due diligence.
“We’re involved in a lot of deals. We take a lot of pride in that,” Schneider said. “We wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we weren’t listening to everybody.
“I get it, people need to speculate this time of year. ...We take a lot of pride in having relationships through the league and understanding what’s going on as much as we possibly can.”
Schneider and Carroll made Clark 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. To be sure, Seattle wants to keep one of the league’s best young pass rushers and their homegrown star for more than just this year. They want the force they’ve developed from rookie year into one of the NFL’s top passers.
Clark is coming off a career best season employing one of the league’s most coveted skills, sacking quarterbacks. And he’s still just 25 years old.
Whether he stays or goes is going to come down to how much Clark asks to be paid for 2020 and beyond.
One of the reasons Seattle gave the franchise tag to Clark last month was to buy time to reach an agreement with him on a long-term extension. After July 15, Clark can only play in 2019 for Seattle on the one-year franchise tag. He can’t sign a multiyear 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 $17,128,000 from the tag 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.
Schneider openly and honestly talking about a trade of Clark on the eve of the draft is a strong indication what he and his agent Erik Burkhardt have told the Seahawks they want in a multiyear contract is not what the team is willing to pay. Not with Seattle intending to extend All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner’s contract at a top-of-the-market rate. Wagner’s current deal ends following the upcoming season.
You have a better chance of Schneider letting you see the Seahawks’ draft board than the GM providing a public update on how contract talks with Clark are progressing.
Let’s try: How are negotiations with Clark going?
“Great question,” Schneider said. “One that I can’t answer, brother.
Schneider did answer when asked if it is feasible for the Seahawks to have re-signed quarterback Russell Wilson to an NFL-record $140 million contract last week and still be able to re-sign Clark, Wagner and 10-1/2-sack defensive tackle Jarran Reed after his rookie deal ends with 2019.
“Feasible. Very challenging,” Schneider said.
“Were you in my bedroom last night when I woke up in the middle of the night? No, I think about it all the time.”
The market for Clark has 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.
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 multiyear contract instead worth $17 million per year.
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.
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 33 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 eight more sacks over the last three regular season than Ford. He is three years younger than Ford.
Fact remains, the Seahawks have a premier edge pass rusher they aren’t going to just give away because contract negotiations may be getting sticking. It’s a position and asset the increasingly pass-happy league’s been coveting for decades.
“It’s been a critical position forever,” Carroll said. “The hardest, most unique player to find: Big, fast, agile, athletic as he can be, to rush the passer. It’s why people reach so far to find those guys.
“They’re so rare.”
And, the Seahawks are reminding the rest of the league, so valuable.