The Seahawks entered the offseason thinking they might be paying Frank Clark at least $17.1 million this season to serve again as their primary pass-rusher off the edge.
Sunday, when they open the regular season against the Cincinnati Bengals, they’ll have essentially replaced Clark with Ziggy Ansah and Jadeveon Clowney — and if he’s healthy, first-round pick L.J. Collier — for not a whole lot more than they were once willing to pay Clark.
Ansah’s one-year deal is worth a base of $9 million, including playing-time incentives (with another $4.25 million in other possible performance incentives), while the Seahawks will end up paying Clowney roughly $9 million this season. Houston agreed to pay $7 million of the almost $16 million he will earn on a franchise tag. Collier, meanwhile, has a cap number of $1.9 million this season on the first year of his rookie deal.
And while it took a long time to get to this point, maybe this is how Seahawks general manager John Schneider figured it could happen all along.
During an appearance Tuesday on ESPN 710 Seattle — his first public comments since Seattle’s trade for Clowney on Saturday — Schneider said he first had talks with Houston about possibly trading for the three-time Pro Bowl defensive end “before the (NFL) draft.’’
That dovetails with almost exactly when the Seahawks made the decision to trade Clark to the Kansas City Chiefs, a deal completed two days before the draft on April 23.
Schneider repeated Tuesday what he said at the time of the draft: When the 2018 season ended, the Seahawks had hoped to get a long-term deal done with Clark.
“We went into this thinking Frank Clark was going to be playing here,’’ Schneider said. “We thought we were going to get a long-term deal done, otherwise we wouldn’t have franchised him.’’
But, as Schneider said then and again Tuesday, things were “thrown off-kilter a little bit’’ by a few deals that occurred between Seattle’s decision to franchise Clark in early March and the trade happening.
Most notable was a five-year contract worth $105 million — or $21 million a season — that Dallas gave DeMarcus Lawrence on April 5.
That reset the market not only for Clark but also for Clowney with Houston, because Clowney had been franchised at the same time as Clark.
That deal was signed three weeks prior to the draft, fitting right in the general time line of when Schneider said he first began talking to Houston, a team with which the Seahawks had done a big deal before, acquiring Duane Brown in October 2017.
“Before the draft we had talked to them a little bit,’’ Schneider said. “We had stayed in touch on it. It went away while we were working on Russ (Russell Wilson’s contract, completed April 15) and working on Bobby (Wagner, completed late July) and trying to figure out how we were going to budget ourselves. When things sounded like they were kind of heating up a little bit, we got back in it.”
Schneider said the Seahawks also had been in contact with Ansah for quite a while before he signed on May 10, in part making sure the Seahawks’ medical staff was confident Ansah would be able to play in 2019 after having had shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum that held him to seven games last season with Detroit.
Could Schneider have really known when the decision was made to trade Clark that he might get both Ansah and Clowney?
Well, there was obviously no way he could have known for sure, especially the Clowney end of it.
But it’s certainly worth thinking that he thought there was a chance — and it might have made the decision to trade Clark that much easier, especially once Seattle got what it did from Kansas City, a first-round pick that turned into Collier, as well as a 2020 second-round pick (Seattle also throwing in a 2019 third-round pick).
Obviously, had Houston just wanted to keep Clowney on the tag, then no trade happens. And if Clowney had signed the tag before Houston let it be known it was trying to trade him, he wouldn’t have had the power to basically veto a trade (reports said he was content to sign the tag and play this season on it before he learned the Texans were talking to other teams). Had he not had that veto power, Clowney would almost certainly be playing in Miami right now.
It’s hard to figure Schneider could have envisioned any scenario in April where Houston would end up agreeing to pay almost half of Clowney’s salary, making it possible the Seahawks basically get Clowney and Ansah for this season for what Seattle could have paid Clark.
Schneider might well have just figured at the time the decision was made to trade Clark that maybe some things could break right down the road.
As the Clowney situation has shown, the time to trade a tagged player is in the spring, when other teams can negotiate a long-term deal and the trading team can maximize what it gets in return. So, if Seattle was going to trade Clark — after deciding it didn’t want to pay him $21 million a season, which he basically got from the Chiefs — and take a chance it could ably replace him later, the time to do it was before the draft and then see if the dominoes could fall in line from there.
We still need to see it all come together on the field, of course.
But the way it’s unfolded so far might have even bettered whatever dream scenario Schneider harbored last spring.