As the Seahawks prepared to gather for the first time as a team Monday since the end of the 2018 season, uncertainty continued to loom over two of their biggest-name players — quarterback Russell Wilson and defensive lineman Frank Clark.
Wilson set a deadline of Monday a tmidnight to sign a new contract with the Seahawks, and while there were reports over the weekend that the two sides had ramped up negotiations. But as of Monday at noon, it was not clear if anything was imminent, though the two sides were known to be talking — Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported that Wilson’s agent, Mark Rodgers, had been in Seattle all weekend talking with the Seahawks.
And a report late Sunday night from Peter King of NBCSports.com and Pro Football Talk appeared to add some urgency to the situation, stating that if Wilson does not have a new contract with the Seahawks by midnight Monday then he will not negotiate again with the Seahawks, even after the 2020 season.
A common assumption had been that Wilson merely wanted to shut off all negotiations until after the season if a deal is not reached now. But according to what King called “a source close to the talks,” Wilson and Rodgers “don’t plan to negotiate further with the Seahawks, period” if a deal is not reached Monday. King added that “my source says they’ve told (Seahawks) GM John Schneider it has to be done now, or not at all.”
King also provided some insight into what some of the contractual sticking points may be stating that Wilson may want a deal that would “include devices” to adjust future years based on how high the salary cap rises — escalator clauses, essentially — as well as if new revenue streams, such as money from the league’s increasing ties to gambling or new TV deals, add dollars to each team’s coffers.
As King noted, basing any part of the contract on a percentage of the salary cap would set a precedent that the Seahawks may be reluctant to agree to. But Wilson, King wrote, wants to stay in Seattle but also wants to know that the team is equally committed to him.
Wilson, King wrote, “wants to know where he stands with the Seahawks long-term, which is one of the reasons why he is pushing hard for a deal to be done now.”
As for Clark, he has yet to sign his franchise tag for the 2019 season and the Seahawks are known to be exploring all options, including listening to trade offers. Sunday night, Pro Football Talk reported via Twitter there was “some chatter on the league grapevine tonight about a possible Frank Clark trade.’’ But as of early Sunday evening, there were no definitive reports of a trade.
Clark is unlikely to be in attendance Monday when the Seahawks begin their official offseason workout program, sessions that are voluntary.
Wilson, though, will be present, a source confirmed to The Seattle Times, even if he doesn’t have a new contract.
NFL rules allow teams to hold a nine-week workout program beginning with phase one, which is two weeks of activities limited to strength and conditioning and physical rehabilitation. Phases two and three include on-field drills that include Organized Team Activities and then a mandatory minicamp.
Because all but the minicamp is officially voluntary, veterans often skip some of it, and some players in the past have sat out almost all of it, such as former Seahawks Marshawn Lynch and Michael Bennett. Clark did last year, citing several reasons, though among them was that he was entering the final year of his contract and was hoping for an extension.
Clark still doesn’t have one, though the Seahawks prevented him from becoming a free agent by slapping him with the franchise tag, which would pay him a fully guaranteed salary of $17.1 million for the 2019 season.
When Clark was tagged, the assumption was that it assured he would be with the Seahawks in 2019, an assumption coach Pete Carroll seemed to indicate was valid at the NFL meetings last month, when he said the team was negotiating with Clark on a long-term deal.
“This time of year, in his situation, there’s all kinds of speculation,” Carroll said in late March. “We’ll see what happens. Not worried about Frank at all. Frank had a fantastic season, we’re thrilled to have him coming back. We’re going to make the most of it.”
Clark, though, has not signed the tag and there have been reports that he does not intend to sign it and will hold out of camp in hopes of getting a long-term deal.
Teams can negotiate with tagged players until July 15.
After that time, tagged players can play only under the terms of the tag, with no more negotiations allowed until after the season.
Kansas City traded defensive end Dee Ford to the 49ers shortly after tagging him, rather than signing him to a long-term contract, and from almost the minute Clark was tagged there have been rumors other teams would feel out the Seahawks about Clark for as long as his future remained uncertain.
Clark turns 26 on June 14 and is coming off his best NFL season, with 13 sacks in 2018. He has 32 sacks in the last three seasons, 10th-most in the league, and is likely to want a contract similar, if not surpassing, the one signed April 6 by Dallas’ DeMarcus Lawrence, a five-year deal averaging $21 million with $48 million fully guaranteed.
Those terms, which would mean paying Clark roughly $4 million more than the 2019 tag number, would make Clark the highest-paid defensive player on the Seahawks, and second overall only to Wilson.
That might be tough for Seattle to swallow, especially while apparently still working on getting a deal done with Wilson, as well as knowing middle linebacker Bobby Wagner and defensive tackle Jarran Reed are also entering the last seasons of their contracts.
Some observers wondered Sunday night after PFT’s report on Clark if that meant the Seahawks are closer to a deal with Wilson, the idea being they have decided not to re-sign Clark to free up money for Wilson. But Seattle also might just be reluctant to give Clark a contract that realistically would likely have to make him the third-highest paid defensive player in the NFL after only Khalil Mack of the Chicago Bears and Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams.
Seattle has ample cap space in seasons 2020 and beyond. But that’s due in part to not having many of its key players under contract for significant periods of time.
At the moment, Seattle has three players not on standard rookie deals under contract beyond the 2020 season — left tackle Duane Brown, receiver Tyler Lockett and kicker Jason Myers.
Whether the Seahawks have just been saving up to pay the likes of Wilson, Clark, Wagner and Reed — or may be playing it a little more cautiously in the wake of the roster turnover a year ago — remains in question.
Of the few reports that talks between Wilson and the Seahawks were heating up, the most definitive came from Jake Heaps, who was on the Seattle practice squad and offseason roster as a backup to Wilson for parts of two seasons and now helps run Wilson’s youth-quarterback academy.
Heaps tweeted late Saturday afternoon that Wilson’s agent, Rodgers, and Schneider “have been meeting for several hours the past couple days” and, “hopefully there’ll be great news for all Seahawks fans if they can lock up” Wilson.
There were no further reports as of Sunday evening of any progress, however, though there continued to be rumors about his future.
Safety Tyrann Mathieu of the Kansas City Chiefs fueled one late Saturday night by responding to a tweet by Pro Football Talk stating “Russ wants New York. But you ain’t heard that from T..’’
In the story that Mathieu was responding to, PFT stated that “Per a league source, the Seahawks think that Wilson would like to play elsewhere, even if he hasn’t and wouldn’t ever say it. They also believe that this unspoken dynamic will cause Wilson to drive a harder bargain with them than he would with another team.”
Wilson set Monday as a deadline to get a new contract since it is the beginning of the offseason workout program.
But while Wilson set a deadline, the Seahawks don’t necessarily have to abide by it, knowing Wilson is under contract for the 2019 season and they can use the franchise tags in 2020 and 2021 for what would be expensive contracts, but deals it could handle reasonably enough, to keep him in place, if needed.
The Seahawks, though, are likely hoping they can again get a contract done with Wilson just as a deadline is set to run out. Wilson set a similar deadline in 2015 of getting a contract completed by the time training camp started, and the contract was announced on the day camp opened.