Seattle Seahawks

A possible Frank Clark trade? What that report could signal for Seahawks-Russell Wilson talks

Seahawks GM John Schneider talks contracts, prospects, Russell Wilson, more at NFL combine

Seahawks general manager John Schneider talks contracts, prospects, Russell Wilson, Frank Clark and more at the NFL combine in indianapolis.
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Seahawks general manager John Schneider talks contracts, prospects, Russell Wilson, Frank Clark and more at the NFL combine in indianapolis.

They can’t pay everybody.

That’s a first thought that comes to mind about Sunday evening’s report that “there’s some chatter on the league grapevine tonight about a possible Frank Clark trade,” according to NBC Sports’ Pro Football Talk.

The Seahawks are working on extending the contract of franchise quarterback Russell Wilson beyond the 2019 season. Monday is the deadline Wilson reportedly gave the team to get a new deal done or else...or else he will be their quarterback for 2019 again.

Wilson’s deadline is intended to spark progress more than be an ultimatum. It has worked, in that regard. Talks have progressed in the last week. A league source with knowledge of the negotiations confirmed to The News Tribune the key points are the amount guaranteed money and when Wilson would get it in the mammoth new deal.

Peter King of NBC Sports wrote Monday morning in his weekly Football Morning in America column online that Wilson’s camp could be seeking an unprecedented escalator clause that would increase the quarterback’s salary corresponding to an increase in the NFL salary cap each year.

Thing is, the current collective bargaining that defines salary-cap rules ends after the 2020 season. No one—not the Seahawks, not Wilson nor his agent—know exactly what the contract rules will be in the league beyond next year. That further complicates an already complicated situation, and increases the likelihood a new deal may not get done by Monday night in time for Wilson’s artificial deadline.

King also noted his league sources say Wilson remains willing to play out this final year of his contract that is paying him $17 million for 2019, then play out consecutive seasons under a Seahawks franchise tag. That would mean $83.4 million for Wilson from now through 2021 to remain with Seattle.

King talked about the Wilson situation Monday morning after I did on Seattle’s KJR-AM radio. He mentioned the NFL’s new CBA coming up, the league’s new TV contracts that will be coming in a couple years, and a third, new revenue stream, potentially: maybe legal sports gambling with the NFL as a partner.

“The bottom line of this is: You are still going to have this guy for three years,” King said on KJR.

The quarterback was expected to be at team headquarters in Renton Monday for the start of the Seahawks’ official, voluntary offseason workout program of conditioning and weight training. Wilson hasn’t missed a practice let alone a game in his seven seasons as Seattle’s starter.

Meanwhile, the Seahawks have a real, NFL deadline of July 15 to get an extension done with Clark. Last month the team gave its 25-year-old leading pass rusher the franchise tag for this year. Teams have until July 15 to get a long-term deal done with tagged players. After that date the team and tagged player can’t strike a long-term deal until after the season, next January; the only way Clark would play for Seattle minus a long-term deal by July 15 would be on the one-year franchise tag deal that guarantees him $17,128,000 for 2019.

Why would the Seahawks explore trading their most accomplished sack man who had a career-high 13 of them last season, and 32 sacks in his last 48 games?

It could be a sign the Seahawks are intending to nearly break the bank to re-sign Wilson for the highest contract in league history, as in, well above $35 million per year and $100 million guaranteed. That’s the likely cost to keep him.

The Seahawks also have All-Pro Bobby Wagner’s contract ending after this year. Wagner is still very much in his prime at age 28 and is on track to get the richest contract of all NFL middle linebackers.

The Seahawks would rather re-sign Clark to an extension with a more salary-cap friendly charge per year than the $17.1 million the tag would count against their cap this year. Thing is, pass rushers are second only to passers in value and necessity in this throwing league.

And the cost to re-sign Clark just increased.

The negotiation floor for Clark’s agent, Erik Burkhardt, with the Seahawks went up last week when Dallas re-signed its top pass rusher DeMarcus Lawrence. Clarence Hill Jr. of McClatchy’s Fort Worth Star-Telegram confirmed Lawrence got a benchmark $105 million over five years, with $65 million guaranteed from the Cowboys. Those are unprecedented numbers for a position other than quarterback in the passer-and-sack-the-passer NFL.

Lawrence is reportedly receiving $31.1 million in the first year of his new deal. That’s the most cash in hand in year one for a non-quarterback in league history. Lawrence’s cash is $48 million over the first two years, $65 million over three years. His average of $13 million guaranteed over the five years of his whopping new deal is the highest such figure for a non-quarterback in NFL history.

No wonder Clark did a double dance on social media after Lawrence’s deal April 5.

Contract negotiations in the NFL, in all pro sports, are about making comparable arguments. Agents begin their talks with teams with portfolios of like players who are the same age, or older, as their client, then make side-by-side comparisons of production and value to their teams.

It’s the same process the Seahawks and Wilson’s agent, Mark Rodgers, are going through right now. Rodgers is comparing Wilson’s age and accomplishments to those of Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, the league’s highest-paid player (for now) at $33.5 million per year with $98.2 million guaranteed. Aaron Rodgers is five years older with as many Super Bowl rings as Wilson. Wilson’s agent is also making comps of his client with Atlanta’s Matt Ryan. Ryan got $100 million guaranteed within a year of re-signing last spring from the Falcons. He’s three years older than Wilson, with zero Super Bowl titles.

Here are Clark’s comps with the newly minted Lawrence. They have for the last nine days been the re-set starting points for Clark’s agent in talking to the Seahawks:

Lawrence is 13 1/2 months older than Clark; Lawrence turns 27 this month. He has 26 sacks in his last three seasons with Dallas, including 10 1/2 last season. His production has spiked and dipped with his fortunes over his career: he had zero sacks his rookie season of 2014, then eight, then one sack in 2016. His ‘16 season began with a four-game suspension by the NFL for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.

Clark is 25 years old. He has 32 sacks in his last three seasons with Seattle. That includes his career high of 13 last season, plus another in the Seahawks’ playoff loss at Lawrence’s Cowboys in January. He said he got those 14 sacks last season while playing the 17 games with torn elbow ligaments.

He said after the 2017 season in which he had nine sacks he played through broken bones in his hands that year.

“I was given the option of surgery but I would’ve been out for 8-10 weeks,” he wrote on Twitter about the ‘17 season. “At the time we were struggling with more terminal injuries to our defense and I knew I could fight through mines.”

Clark said the night of that playoff loss at Dallas Jan. 5 he thought he was going to remain with the Seahawks.

“I think they are going to take care of it,” he told me in the locker room in Arlington, Texas, after Seattle’s last game.

And coach Pete Carroll has said multiple times in recent months that Clark is remaining with the team that took a chance on making him its top draft choice in 2015.

“Frankie, he’s a Seahawk,” Carroll said in December. “And we’ve got to figure it out somehow.”

This month that task got far more difficult.

With Wilson poised to re-sign for the richest deal in football, once the two sides figure out the guaranteed money and when Wilson would get it, the Seahawks may be more receptive about an attractive trade offer for Clark than they were two weeks ago.

Gregg Bell is the Seahawks and NFL writer for The News Tribune. In January 2019 he was named the Washington state sportswriter of the year by the National Sports Media Association. He started covering the NFL in 2002 as the Oakland Raiders beat writer for The Sacramento Bee. The Ohio native began covering the Seahawks in their first Super Bowl season of 2005. In a prior life he graduated from West Point and served as a tactical intelligence officer in the U.S. Army, so he may ask you to drop and give him 10.