Frank Clark has no reason for bitterness.
Since being traded by the Seahawks to Kansas City in April 2019, Clark has signed a five-year contract that included $62.3 million guaranteed, won one Super Bowl ring and could get another Sunday for the Chiefs when they play Tampa Bay.
“I look back, it was a good time,’’ Clark said this week when asked about his four years with the Seahawks, who drafted him in the second round in 2015. “They gave me my first shot in this league, so I can be nothing but thankful for that.’’
Clark had hoped to stay in Seattle long-term, and thought he might when the Seahawks made the uncharacteristic-for-them move of placing the franchise tag on him in March 2019, after his initial four-year rookie contract ran out.
Instead, the following month he was traded to the Chiefs for a first-round draft choice in 2019, a second-rounder in 2020 (there also was a swap of third-round picks in 2019. which moved Seattle down from 84 to 92, a pick the Seahawks later traded).
“I have no feelings toward the trade,’’ Clark said this week. “It’s a business, man. The older you get, the more you start to understand this.’’
Indeed, business — specifically salary cap economics — was at the root of the trade, as it is with much of what happens in the NFL.
Clark’s appearance in another Super Bowl, though, raises the question — who got the better of the deal?
Market jump leads to trade
The Seahawks were set to pay Clark $17.1 million for the 2019 season on the franchise tag. But because all of that goes straight to the cap and would create the uncomfortable situation of Clark playing yet another year looking toward free agency, the goal for both parties was to work out a long-term deal, with the use of the tag mostly a delay tactic that gave Seattle more options.
With Clark coming off his best season in 2018 with 13 sacks — still the most for any Seahawk since Patrick Kerney’s 14.5 in 2007 — Seattle seemed willing to keep Clark at a deal that would average right around the tag number.
“We had budgeted to keep Frank,’’ general manager John Schneider said the week after the trade. “We were hoping to do a long-term deal with him.’’
What changed was the market — specifically, Dallas handing DeMarcus Lawrence a five-year deal averaging $21 million per season in early April, which the Seahawks knew would likely become Clark’s new target.
“The deal in Dallas didn’t help things,’’ Schneider said later.
The contract Clark got from Kansas City shortly after the trade ended up being for a not-so-coincidental $1 million less than Lawrence — five years for an initial value of up to $104 million.
That number also would have pushed Clark above the $18 million per season the Seahawks eventually gave Bobby Wagner later that year, which is the most money Seattle has paid anyone other than Russell Wilson.
What Seattle got
Seattle received two things in return for dealing Clark — pretty massive salary cap savings and flexibility and, ultimately, three extra draft choices.
First, the choices.
Seattle got three players directly in return for Clark — defensive end L.J. Collier in 2019 and then, by trading the second-rounder it got from Kansas City in 2020 for two other picks, guard Damien Lewis and end Alton Robinson.
Collier hasn’t yet quite met expectations for a player taken 29th overall, but took a big step forward in 2020. Lewis was Seattle’s best rookie in 2020 as a full-time starter at left guard, while Robinson showed promise.
Still, it’s not quite that simple.
Recall that Seattle went into the week before the draft in 2019 with just four picks, in the first, third, fourth and fifth rounds.
But the Clark trade — which was agreed to two days before the draft — suddenly gave Seattle two first-rounders.
And that made Seattle feel a lot more comfortable to trade its own (the 21st overall), which set in motion a dizzying array of deals in which the Seahawks ultimately acquired six more picks, finishing with 11.
Among the players Seattle got with picks it acquired via trades during the draft were Cody Barton, Marquise Blair, Ugo Amadi, Travis Homer and DK Metcalf, for whom Seattle packaged two picks it had just acquired to move up to 64th in the second round when he was still available.
Would Seattle have been able to pull off the same number of moves without the extra first-rounder it got from the Clark trade? Maybe. But having it certainly made it a lot easier.
As for the cap savings, trading Clark allowed Seattle to make a deal for Jadeveon Clowney heading into the 2019 season, a trade it almost certainly wouldn’t have done had Clark re-signed.
It also made it easier to get the new deals done for Wilson (who agreed to his new $35 million contract the week before Clark was traded) and Wagner (who signed his new $18 million deal three months after Clark was traded).
So who got the better of the deal?
In the regular season, Clark hasn’t matched the production in Kansas City of his last year in Seattle. Clark has 14 sacks in 29 regular-season games (he had 13 in his final year in Seattle) and a combined 29 quarterback hits (he had 27 in his last year in Seattle).
But he’s been a monster in the playoffs, with seven sacks in five postseason games with the Chiefs, including two this year, and has obviously been a powerful force on a team that could become just the ninth in NFL history to win consecutive Super Bowls.
The Chiefs wouldn’t seem to have any regret, though Clark’s cap hits the next three years will be worth watching — $25.8 million, $26.3 million and $27.8 million, big increases from the $6.5 million and $19.3 million of his first two years in Kansas City.
Seattle spent much of the 2019 season and early 2020 chasing a pass rush, and the somewhat mixed results of the Clowney experience might have led to the idea that the Seahawks might have been better off keeping Clark.
But here’s one thing to consider — in terms of just the two most basic raw stats for rushers, sacks and quarterback hits, Seattle got almost the same production this year out of Carlos Dunlap in eight games (five sacks, 14 quarterback hits) as Clark gave Kansas City this year in 15 (six and 15).
And while Metcalf wasn’t a direct result of the Clark trade, the odds Seattle gets him seem a lot less likely without the draft flexibility the Clark trade allowed. Seattle’s choices prior to the Clark trade were 21, 84, 124 and 159. The picks Seattle went to New England to get Metcalf were Nos. 77 and 118, a deal made after the Seahawks already had drafted Collier and Blair.
In an interview with Adam Jude of The Seattle Times earlier this year, Schneider basically said the move up to get Metcalf wouldn’t have happened without the trade of Clark.
“Making that trade and then working off of that and knowing that you don’t necessarily want to draft for need, it ends up happening to a certain extent,” Schneider said of being able to move up quickly to get Metcalf.
And right now, Seattle might not even make a Metcalf-for-Clark trade straight up but probably would do Clark for Metcalf.
Meaning that while it’s hard to say for sure who won the trade, there was no clear loser.