In the next few weeks Seattle Seahawks defensive end Frank Clark will become a very wealthy young man, either after being franchised tagged, after signing a large contract extension with the Hawks or signing with another team in free agency. Regardless of which of those three options comes to pass, Clark is set to receive a substantial raise from either the Seahawks or another team in the coming weeks.
One party that should be watching the Clark negotiations is the Russell Wilson camp. Obviously there has been substantial among observers and on social media regarding a contract extension for Wilson, and the potential cap ramifications of such an extension at current market rates for quarterbacks. While the connection between the Wilson talks and the Clark talks may not seem readily apparent at first, they could prove to be deeply intertwined through the machinations of the collective bargaining agreement.
The key piece regarding this is that a team may only franchise tag a single player each season, and thus the issue is that the Seattle front office could find itself in a situation where a tag applied to Clark this season could result in aiding his departure from Seattle after the 2019 season. In short, at this point, Clark and his agent hold all the leverage with the Seahawks.
Specifically, let’s assume the Hawks will use the franchise tag on Clark for 2019, which they presumably will do because of the simple fact that at this point their options are to pay through the nose on a massive contract or to use the franchise tag. Once the franchise tag is applied to Clark, that is when Article 10, Section (2)(k) becomes relevant, which reads:
Any Club designating a Franchise Player shall have until 4:00 p.m., New York time, on July 15 of the League Year (or, if July 15 falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the first Monday thereafter) for which the designation takes effect to sign the player to a multiyear contract or extension. After that date, the player may sign only a one-year Player Contract with his Prior Club for that season, and such Player Contract may not be extended until after the Club’s last regular season game of that League Year.
What that means for Clark and the Hawks is that if Clark does not agree to a long term contract with the team prior to 4:00 pm New York time on July 15, the team is prohibited from signing him to a contract extension until after the conclusion of the 2019 regular season. As we saw with the Clark contract discussions this past year, if they do not have a long term agreement in place, then it makes little sense for Clark to agree to any kind of long term extension since all he has to do is play out the season and then either get a 20% raise from the franchise tag or a mega deal in free agency.
And that is where the conundrum begins for the Seahawks. Assuming Clark is willing to play out the 2019 season on a franchise tag and then attempt to hit free agency again next offseason, that creates a situation in which both Clark and Wilson could potentially be looking at massive paydays. For Clark, there is no reason to believe he and his agent would do things differently in 2019 than they did in 2018, so that pushes the focus to Wilson.
Say Clark is tagged and doesn’t sign a long term agreement prior to the July 15 deadline. All of a sudden Russell Wilson is in a situation where he can begin to dictate terms to Seattle. The franchise tag is the big piece of leverage that NFL teams have in contract negotiations, and if both Clark and Wilson are not secured through 2019 by the start of training camp, it creates a very interesting prisoner’s dilemma whereby Wilson and Clark could team up to ensure at least one of them reaches free agency in 2020.
Assuming Clark does not sign a long term extension, and we’ve seen no indication from his agent that that they will change course from the path of action taken in 2018, then things turn to Russell. And for Russell, all he has to do is play out the remaining season on his current contract and stay healthy while refusing to sign an extension, and all of a sudden the team is looking at a situation where the 2019 season is in the books and both Clark and Wilson are pending free agents.
At that point Wilson and Clark have the team over a barrel. The team can only franchise a single player, and with two big name players slated to be free agents, it would be forced to choose between the two. In addition, it would then force the team to overpay one of those two players if it wanted to have a chance to avoid them actually hitting free agency, and the agents for both of those players recognize that.
Thus, the question becomes not just how much Clark and Wilson will make when they receive their next big contract, but how much will their representation work together in helping both maximize their future earnings.