When the Seahawks first fell in love with TCU defensive end L.J. Collier, they envisioned paring him with Frank Clark.
That was in January, when the Seahawks were blown away with how they saw Collier blow away every opposing offensive lineman at the Senior Bowl.
At that time, as they watched Collier win almost every man-on-man drill, the Seahawks had a plan for keeping Clark. And when they saw Collier, they envisioned a defensive lineman to complement Clark on the other side of the field — someone who could play the same role Michael Bennett had in previous seasons, a role they also once envisioned Malik McDowell might be able to do.
But by the time the Seahawks were finally able to take Collier on Thursday night with the 29th pick of the first round, Clark was gone, off to Kansas City in a trade made Tuesday and finally announced a few hours before the draft.
And in a news conference afterward in which they said hello to Collier, they also said goodbye to Clark.
“The trade with Frank is something that (Seattle head coach) Pete (Carroll) and I feel like, that’s a bittersweet thing,’’ said Seahawks general manager John Schneider after the draft. “We love Frank. So here we go. We have to go on to the next day. Here we go. That’s just how it is in the National Football League.’’
As the two explained it, the team had every intention of keeping Clark for the long term when they placed a franchise tag on him in March, which would have paid him $17.1 million in 2019.
The tag prevented Clark from becoming a free agent while also buying the two sides time to work out a long-term contract, which is what they each said the goal was.
“We had budgeted for Frank,’’ Schneider said.
But then the budget changed.
Specifically, in early April, Dallas signed DeMarcus Lawrence to a five-year contract paying him $21 million a season, making him the third-highest paid defensive player in the NFL.
“We were hoping to do a long-term deal with him,’’ Schneider said. “The deal in Dallas didn’t help things.’’
Clark had similar, if not better, stats than Lawrence and was going to have every right to expect to get the same deal from Seattle, and was likely to play hardball to get it — probably playing the 2019 season on the tag and then asking for the moon, if not also the sun and the stars, after the season.
It all got to be more than the Seahawks figured made sense for them.
“We had every intention of doing a long-term deal with him and thinking that we could,’’ Carroll said. “The market just went crazy and we just couldn’t work it in and we had to make him available at the end of it.’’
Especially once Kansas City came calling with an offer the Seahawks said — and everyone who follows the NFL has agreed — was too good to turn down in a first-rounder this year and a second-rounder next year.
“Quite frankly, Kansas City’s aggressiveness,’’ Schneider said when asked what was the main impetus for trading Clark. “They were extremely aggressive throughout the process. … It just got to the point where we had to help the team and do what was right for the organization.’’
Clark eventually signed a five-year contract with the Chiefs worth up to $104 million, slotted right behind Lawrence.
“Frank had a great opportunity that we were not going to be able to give him here,’’ Carroll said.
And while Seattle’s other concerns — such as the deal they signed with Russell Wilson and knowing they have contract talks with Bobby Wagner and Jarran Reed coming up — factored in, the thought is also that the Seahawks just felt that was more than they wanted to pay Clark. It would have made him the fourth-highest paid defensive player in the NFL, and that also might have been tricky in dealing with Wagner.
The trade means Seattle has a lot more cap space over the next few years — $17.1 million this year, specifically — as well as two high picks.
And having the extra first gleaned from the Clark trade then allowed Seattle to make two more trades on Thursday night with the Packers and Giants that netted the Seahawks four more picks, meaning the team now has nine overall.
Carroll said all those picks have to be factored in now when assessing the Clark trade.
“We were able to get back in this thing (the draft) with the numbers that really can help our roster,’’ Carroll said. “That was part of it (making the Clark trade). The (second first-round pick) was absolutely instrumental. We’ve got nine picks now, you know? I think that is a result of us making this deal.’’
But now the trick is to turn all those picks into players who can give them what they lost in Clark, and more.
Collier can help a defensive line that needs all it can get, but doesn’t project as the pure pass rusher that Clark was.
So expect Seattle to still try to get one or two of those with the eight picks remaining over the final two days — Jaylon Ferguson of Louisiana Tech, who was often mocked to the Seahawks, remains on the board, to name one.
Seattle also needs a receiver and three of the top names — D.K. Metcalf and A.J. Brown of Ole Miss and Parris Campbell of Ohio State — also all slipped out of the first round.
Seattle built its 2013 Super Bowl winners with mid-round picks, then fell into a lull in that area in the post-Super Bowl era before picking it back up again in recent seasons with the likes of Chris Carson, Tre Flowers and Michael Dickson.
So now the challenge is to do it again.
And while Collier will always be linked with Clark, arriving as he was departing, it’s what Seattle does with all those extra picks that will prove to be the truest legacy of the Clark trade.