Simply put, Frank Clark wanted more than the Seahawks were willing to pay.
When the Kansas City Chiefs then came calling with an offer that surprised some around the league in what it would give Seattle, the decision for the Seahawks was an easy one.
And when the dealing was done Tuesday, Clark was off to Kansas City in in exchange for a package consisting of the Chiefs’ 2019 first-round pick, a 2020 second-rounder and a swap of 2019 third-rounders while Clark was the recipient of a new contract making him the third-highest paid defensive player in the NFL.
The deal means Seattle has pick Nos. 21, 29, 92, 124 and 159 in this weekend’s draft as well as 12 picks in 2020 — its own seven, the second-rounder from the Chiefs (the lower of Kansas City’s two picks in that round), and what are expected to be four compensatory picks for losing free agents this year.
The Seahawks placed a franchise tag on Clark in March that would have paid him $17.1 million for the 2019 season, and prevented him from becoming an unrestricted free agent.
But he wanted a long-term deal and the two sides were not close. With negotiations at a standstill, the Seahawks were resigned to the idea that Clark was going to play the season on the tag, but likely not sign it and report until September with the two sides not able to talk again until after the season, per NFL rules. As the days wore on, that became a less appetizing thought — the Earl Thomas experience of last season still being fresh on everyone’s minds.
And with contract talks stalled — Clark was thought to want a deal that would at least approximate the $21 million per season that Dallas recently gave DeMarcus Lawrence — Seattle had been taking calls for a trade for Clark, and the Chiefs in the last 24 hours had emerged as a legitimate trade partner. The Colts and Jets were also interested, with one report that the Jets were willing to swap first-round picks — giving up the number three pick for Clark and Seattle’s pick at 21.
Getting the third pick might have been tempting, but the Seahawks preferred having two first-round picks instead of just improving its overall positioning with one, especially in what is regarded as a deep corps of defensive linemen, with Seattle now needing to replace Clark. Getting another second-round pick was also key.
The Chiefs, though, not only pulled off the trade but then gave Clark the kind of contract Seattle didn’t want to — a five-year deal worth $105.5 million, just a bit more than Lawrence received, with $63.5 million guaranteed, as reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
That makes Clark more highly paid than any defensive players in the NFL other than the Bears’ Khalil Mack and the Rams’ Aaron Donald.
Clark told ESPN’s Josina Anderson that he wasn’t surprised by the trade because he feels it’s part of Seattle’s recent history to not have players stick around for very long.
“They had other plans,” Clark said via Anderson. “It got to a point where Seattle had used me for everything I had for them already. At the end of the day it’s a business. … Look down the history. … When you’re playing in Seattle it’s not common that they plan to have players around for the long run. It’s obvious. It’s evident … but I’m blessed & thankful to be part of their organization. John (Schneider) and Pete (Carroll) drafted (me) back in 2015. It just sucks that we weren’t able to get something done because they knew how I felt about being in Seattle and how I felt about my future, and I feel like at the end of the day it was all ignored. But it is part of the business … and you have to play your cards right in this game.”
Later Tuesday afternoon, though, Clark sounded a more grateful tone toward Seattle on twitter.
“Anywhere you go in life just remember to always put your name on something,” Clark wrote. “Focus on your energy and stay on pace no matter how many times you may get off track. I thank John Schneider and the rest of the organization for believing me back in 2015. It’s always love. We going up!”
The trade came a day after Schneider, the team’s general manager, had confirmed the team was weighing offers for Clark while also stating it would be “very challenging” to keep Clark as well as Bobby Wagner and Jarran Reed, who also can be free agents at the end of the 2019 season.
“This time (of year), and the trade deadline, there’s some speculation about a lot of players,’’ Schneider said. “We’re involved in a lot of deals. We take a lot of pride in that. 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.”
An ESPN report over the weekend stated the Seahawks would want a package that would include at least a first-round pick. That seemed like a steep price to some around the league, but over the last 24 hours or so reports had emerged that a legitimate trade market was developing for Clark, and Seattle will now add to what had been a league-low four picks heading into the 2019 NFL draft, which begins Thursday.
Clark was Seattle’s first pick in the 2015 draft, taken in the second round at No. 63 overall out of Michigan.
His selection was controversial because Clark had been kicked off the team at Michigan late in his final season there after being investigated in a domestic violence incident. He later pleaded to a lesser charge of disorderly conduct.
The Seahawks expressed confidence at the time that Clark would prove worth the risk, and he paid off on the field, quickly emerging as one of the team’s best overall players with 10 sacks in his second season in 2016.
He then had his best season in 2018 with 13 sacks and had 35 in four seasons with Seattle, 32 in the last three years.
Clark had wanted a new contract heading into the 2018 season, sitting out all of the team’s voluntary workouts and saying prior to training camp that he hoped to stay in Seattle but also knew he might have to go elsewhere to get the big contract he craved.
“At the end of the day, I know if I do my job on the field, whether it’s here or anywhere else, it’s going to happen,” he said last July. “I’ve just got to do my job, and that’s my main focus.’’
Clark, who turns 26 in June, had seemed to answer one big question in 2018 of whether he could still be productive without opposing offenses also having to focus on the likes of Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril.
That he then responded with a career-best season only increased his value, not only around the league but in what Clark wanted.
But if there never appeared to be much momentum in getting a new contract done, Seattle coach Pete Carroll had several times spoken enthusiastically about Clark’s progress and how the team wanted to secure him for the future.
In fact, at the NFL combine in February, Carroll had said, “Frankie will be with us, yeah,’’ adding, “Frankie just turned 25, he’s still a very young football player. Made a huge step this year in terms of leadership, growth and maturity. It was so obvious. I was really proud of seeing that develop for Frank. He played great too. Frank, he’s a very valuable football player and that’s the process we’re in the middle of and all that. I can’t tell you guys how that’s going to turn out, but it’s going to be positive for the Seahawks and for Frank.”
But Seattle also has some other defensive players it will need to pay — notably middle linebacker Bobby Wagner and defensive tackle Jarran Reed — and also just re-signed Russell Wilson to a deal that will pay him $35 million a year from 2020-2023.
Schneider on Monday had called it “very challenging” to try to keep all three of Clark, Wagner and Reed. And the deal offered by the Chiefs turned out to be too enticing.
And while it will be easy for some to simply point to the Wilson deal as a reason the Seahawks couldn’t keep Clark, sources also indicated Seattle was also simply hesitant all along to give Clark the kind of deal that he ultimately got from the Chiefs.
The Chiefs were motivated to add a pass rusher to replace Dee Ford and Justin Houston, who were traded and released, and had some cap space open up when plans to give an extension to receiver Tyreek Hill were delayed when it was learned he is being investigated for battery on a juvenile. Clark essentially replaces Ford,with the Chiefs regarding him as a better overall player — meaning specifically, better against the run. Kansas City is also loading up on defense while it has Patrick Mahomes still on his rookie quarterback contract.
Trading Clark, meanwhile, means Seattle loses its best outside pass rusher, something the Seahawks already seemed to lack. But Seattle is likely confident it can pluck a pass rusher or two from what is regarded as a deep crop of edge rushers available in this week’s draft.
Seattle also can use the added first-round pick to potentially make trades to get a pass rusher, and can also still dip into some of the veteran free agents who remain, such as Ziggy Ansah and Nick Perry.