“Business is business so you gotta pay me.” — Frank Clark
The offseason has begun for all but two teams, and football is now in business mode — as Richard Sherman and Frank Clark tweeted recently.
It has been assumed that the Seahawks will keep Clark, their only legit outside pass rusher, via a contract extension or the franchise tag. Pete Carroll confirmed that thought in December when he told 710 ESPN, “He ain’t going anywhere. We aren’t losing him.”
But Carroll also admitted, “We’ve got to figure (the contract) out somehow. It’s a big issue.”
What if the issue is too big? What if John Schneider decides that Clark, who garnered 14 sacks while playing through a bunch of injuries in 2018, is not worth a long-term investment at $17 million APY or more? What if Schneider thinks he can get an equitable pass rusher for closer to $10 million? Or two rushers for the price of Clark?
Remember: This offseason has to shadow 2013, when Schneider added Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett to Chris Clemons to create a nice three-man weave around quarterbacks on the way to a Super Bowl title. This time, Clark is playing the Clemons role, but the trio doesn’t necessarily have to include Clark. Any three good veteran pass rushers will do.
Here’s how Schneider can get them:
If Clark asks for $20 million APY, Schneider should franchise him (the projected number is $17.3 million) by the March 5 deadline. Keep negotiating, aiming for a deal capped at $15 million, while scouting for other pass rushers.
Leading into the March 13 start of free agency, Schneider should look hard at cap casualties, which could include Miami’s Robert Quinn, New York’s Olivier Vernon, Minnesota’s Everson Griffen, Kansas City’s Justin Houston and Indy’s Jabaal Sheard, plus Tampa Bay tackle Gerald McCoy and Jacksonville tackle Malik Jackson. The strong defensive line draft class figures to make teams more willing to get rid of overpriced players, which could create a bit of a buyer’s market.
Once the league year begins, Schneider could look into free agents who might be cheaper than Clark — e.g., Baltimore’s Za’Darius Smith, Washington’s Preston Smith, the Rams’ Dante Fowler or New England’s Trey Flowers. Schneider will know the markets for many of them by the end of the Combine on March 4.
If Schneider could add a couple of reasonably priced pass rushers — a la 2013 — he could then try trading Clark if no deal seemed possible. If some team were willing to pay the 25-year-old star, Schneider might be able to net a first-rounder or a second and something else. If he pulled that off, Schneider suddenly might have three or four players for almost the price of one.
Of course, those scenarios rely on a lot of assumptions — the biggest being that Schneider actually would consider playing tag-and-trade with Clark. He probably wouldn’t do that — he’s not shrewd enough — but he very well might be willing to spend some money on a couple of impact linemen to add to Clark or replace him if Schneider chooses not to use the franchise tag.
Schneider loves to build his team through the draft and generally does not pay outside free agents — except in odd years (like now) when the Hawks have cap room (like now).
In 2011, he paid Sidney Rice $8 million APY and Zach Miller almost $7 million. In 2013, he (ill-advisedly) traded for Percy Harvin and paid him $12 million APY while getting Avril and Bennett for just $11.5 million combined. In 2015, Schneider acquired $10 million tight end Jimmy Graham. In 2017, he signed Luke Joeckel for $8 million.
Now, here we are in another odd year with lots of cap space to play with, and Schneider needs to use a chunk of it on some pass rushers.
The big question: Will Frank Clark be one of them?