With a growing résumé and an insurance policy in his back pocket, Seattle Seahawks defensive end Frank Clark is willing to wait as he tries to secure a deal that makes him one of the NFL’s highest-paid pass-rushers — even if it means playing on the franchise tag first.
Clark’s agent, Erik Burkhardt, made that clear in an interview with ESPN on Monday. While Burkhardt declined to get into specifics of what Clark is looking for, he shed plenty of light on how their side is approaching what has become the Seahawks’ most pressing contract question, saying Clark isn’t interested in settling for a deal right now.
“I have had several very productive and positive talks with the Seahawks,” Burkhardt said. “Frank loves it there and believes they’ll continue to produce as one of the NFL’s dominant defenses even with the departure of many great players. … Seattle has been very good to him. They’ve believed in him from the beginning and they’ve continued to help develop him.
“But the financial goal for players in every major sport now is to get to free agency. It often baffles me how some of these agents do early deals just for the sake of doing a deal. I know that it’s football and injury risks are very real, but there’s insurance policies to protect players’ downsides and risks, along with other measures that we put in place to protect our guys. Just to do an early deal for the sake of doing an early deal doesn’t excite us, especially for a guy like Frank who’s already a dominant pass-rusher in this league and is just scratching the surface of what he will be.”
Clark, 25, is in the final year of the rookie contract he signed as a second-round pick in 2015. He had the most productive game of his career in Seattle’s victory over the Raiders in Week 6, with a pair of strip sacks – both fumbles were recovered by the Seahawks — and another half-sack while playing only 29 of the team’s 60 defensive snaps because of what the team called an illness.
Clark’s team-high total of 5.5 sacks through six games doesn’t include a strip of Jared Goff in Week 5. That didn’t count as an official sack because the Rams quarterback picked up the loose ball and threw it incomplete.
Since the start of the 2016 season, Clark’s 24.5 sacks are tied with Terrell Suggs for 10th in the NFL, according to ESPN charting. Ahead of them are Chandler Jones (34.5), Von Miller (31), Ryan Kerrigan (27), Aaron Donald (27), Danielle Hunter (27), Calais Campbell (26.5), Khalil Mack (26.5), Cameron Jordan (25.5) and Mario Addison (25).
Among that group, Clark’s 1,601 defensive snaps during that span are the second-fewest. He played behind Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril during his first two-plus seasons before becoming a starter last season after Avril injured his neck.
“I do think Frank Clark is every bit as good of a pass-rusher as Mack, Jadeveon Clowney, DeMarcus Lawrence, Ezekiel Ansah or anybody else at the top, and that’s not taking anything away from those guys,” Burkhardt said. “The metrics and analytics bear that out on a per-snap basis. I’ve spoken to many offensive lineman around the league who will tell you the same thing.”
Mack sits atop the pass-rusher market after signing a deal with the Bears that averages $23.5 million. Lawrence and Ansah are playing on the $17.134 million franchise tag. Clowney, the first overall pick in 2014, is in line for a big payday this offseason while playing on a fifth-year option.
Burkhardt said there would be no point in taking a deal now given that Clark has an insurance policy and that the market for pass-rushers is continuing to rise.
“I don’t care if those guys were high first-round picks,” he said. “I don’t mind being quoted saying I absolutely put Frank in that echelon with those guys, so I’m not going to sit here and do a deal early and then watch in March when those guys get $X million a year and Frank not be in that range. Why would we do that? I feel like I have just as good of a player, and I want to be very clear, that is not a knock on anybody. Frank is on that level and I believe everybody around the league will tell you that as well.”
Burkhardt said he thinks it would be “fair” of the Seahawks to want to see how Clark handles his increased workload and the absences of Bennett and Avril before being willing to make him one of the league’s highest-paid pass-rushers.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported earlier this month that the Seahawks aren’t expected to use the franchise tag this offseason on free safety Earl Thomas, who will also be an unrestricted free agent. That would allow Seattle to use the tag on Clark if the two sides don’t reach a deal before then. Assuming another increase in the NFL’s salary cap for 2019, the cost to use the tag on Clark would be slightly above the 2018 figure for defensive ends of $17.14 million.
“Obviously players want a long-term deal because this game is dangerous and violent and everything else, but I’m going to continue to bet on my guy.” Burkhardt said. “You look at a guy like Kirk Cousins who played out the franchise tag, that’s not all bad either. He did that because he believed in himself and also knows teams can’t usually find top quarterbacks in free agency. The pass-rush market is much the same in that aspect. It’s supply and demand.
“Frank and I are not scared of the franchise tag. That’s going to come in at about $18 million next year for a D-end on a one-year, fully guaranteed deal. It’s what Ansah and Lawrence have done. They get that top-of-the-market value for one year, and 12 months later will get their long-term deal as well. That’s winning.”
In the meantime, Burkhardt said Clark has taken out a loss-of-value insurance policy to protect himself from any injury or illness that would affect his earning power. Burkhardt wouldn’t divulge specifics of the policy other than to say it’s tax-free and based on what Clark’s estimated value would be on the open market.
“So we don’t have to take a [bad] deal just to take the risk off the table,” he said.
After the Raiders game, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll praised the way Clark has been playing as well as the leader he has become now that he’s the longest-tenured of any Seattle defensive lineman. According to Burkhardt, teammates have voted Clark this year’s recipient of the annual Ed Block Courage Award.
Burkhardt said he and Clark have an “incredibly good” working relationship with Carroll and general manager John Schneider, adding that the Seahawks have made it clear to them that they want to keep Clark long term.
“I’m not saying a deal won’t get done. I’m just saying Frank and I don’t feel any panic or urgency to do an early deal just for the sake of doing an early deal,” he said. “Athletes today prepare their whole lives to potentially get one big contract, and Frank has put himself in position to do that. He’s got a young daughter now. It’s not just about Frank. It’s about doing what you have to do to protect yourself and really just get what you’re worth and what you’ve earned.”