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Who to keep long-term: Frank Clark or Sheldon Richardson?

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A looming choice for GM John Schneider

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks
The DLegion of DLoom
Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

If we’re going to have a debate about which defensive stud deserves a rich extension, there should be some #facts established first.

Team Facts

In 2018, the Seattle Seahawks have salary cap outlays of:

  • Defense: $88.3 million
  • Offense: $51.7 million
  • Specialists: $3.2 million

To go with cap space of approimately $31.0 million. (Overthecap is the source for all figures in this post.)

The Seahawks have typically spent more on their defense than their offense. But a $36.7 million gap between the two is enormous. You’ll perhaps remember the visualization ESPN created last season to ram the point home.

The discrepancy between Seattle’s expenditures on offense and defense could make John Schneider reluctant to hand out another pricey defensive contract. Let alone two. You need playmakers on both sides of the ball. Then, you need to pay playmakers on both sides of the ball. Theoretically.

Which makes the upcoming decision on who receives extensions all the more juicy. Let’s say the Seahawks can only afford one more extension on the defensive side. After all, there are four notable offensive players who might take up considerable cap space with an extension:

  • Jimmy Graham (ends after 2017)
  • Luke Joeckel (ends after 2017)
  • Tyler Lockett (eligible for re-negotiation after 2017)
  • Paul Richardson (ends after 2017)

(Plus secondary consideration for Thomas Rawls and Luke Willson, in case you want some continuity in skill players.)

Complicating things, there are additional choices to be made regarding four key defenders whose contracts run out after 2018:

  • Cliff Avril
  • Richard Sherman
  • Earl Thomas
  • K.J. Wright

While the money might well be there for Clark and Sheldon Richardson both, depending on where the team gets its bargains, it appears far more likely Schneider can only keep one.

Player Facts

Age? Richardson turns 27 in-season, Clark is 24. It’s a two-and-a-half year age gap in a profession with a compressed career.

Stats? Richardson’s 18.5 career sacks are buoyed by 13 in 2014-15 but just one and a half since. Clark provided 10 sacks last year as the third pass rusher and has 2.5 this season. Both men force fumbles with regularity (Richardson 5, Clark 4).

Contract status? Richardson is on the fifth-year option of his rookie deal, paying him $8.069 million. Clark will be eligible for negotiations to redo his rookie deal this upcoming offseason, making "only" $774,000.

Similiar player contracts? Now we’re talking serious cash. The top five 4-3 DT contracts run from $14.3 to 19.1 million. The next five, between $9.3 and $13.6 million. Panthers DT Kawann Short is a great comp for Richardson. He provides interior pass rush and run defense at an elite level and just signed with Carolina for 5/80.5 with 35 million guaranteed. He’s a year older than Richardson.

Clark, as mentioned, is young. All five of the top-paid edge rushers in the NFL (Von Miller, Olivier Vernon, Justin Houston, Chandler Jones and Melvin Ingram) make $16 million or more annually, but all are 27, 28 or 29 years old. Clark will be 25 in June. It’s his greatest negotiating tool. Well, that and the

Another detail: The 6th-highest and 15th-highest 4-3 DE are already in Seattle — Michael Bennett and the aforementioned Avril, respectively. Which might make Avril’s health the biggest wild card in our whole debate.

Richardson has positional flexibility. Maybe the Jets yanked him around a little much and mismanaged his skills, but the net result is he can ball anywhere.

Clark doesn’t have a motor, he has a jet engine. Maybe two.

Richardson has that valuable versatility and such soft hands to complement his athleticism.

Clark has years in the Pete Carroll system.

Richardson has the savvy that comes with greater experience. You guys, that’s Cam Newton he’s chasing down.

The point-counterpoint continues as long as you want it to, but there’s one more wild card ...

Both player backgrounds are spotty

Note: This is not an invitation to rehash the Clark case, his guilt or innocence, the actions of the prosecutor, the eyewitness testimony, and the very real emotions that accompany any discussion of domestic violence.

But regardless of what happened in that hotel room, the public-relations truth is, Clark is one domestic incident away from being persona non grata in Seattle. And Richardson has stepped in trouble not once, but twice. He was suspended in 2015 for four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy; in 2016 he was found guilty of reckless driving and resisting arrest after a street racing incident. That earned him another one-game suspension.

How much weight should a general manager put on the real possibility that suspensions or mistakes or tempers or poor choices can sabotage either career? That’s why they pay Schneider instead of you and me.

Closing argument, though:

Poll

Who would you extend for 2018 and beyond, for top 10 money, or approx. $10-$16 million annually?

This poll is closed

  • 33%
    Frank Clark
    (922 votes)
  • 5%
    Sheldon Richardson
    (151 votes)
  • 2%
    Neither guy is worth it
    (77 votes)
  • 17%
    Do them both, pay for it with continued aggressive savings on the offensive side
    (495 votes)
  • 40%
    Do them both, pay for it by letting a big defensive name go
    (1137 votes)
2782 votes total Vote Now