The first day on which NFL teams may use the franchise tag and apply it to an impending free agent has come and gone with no reports yet of the Seattle Seahawks having applied the tag to soon to be free agent defensive end Frank Clark. Obviously there’s plenty of time left between now and the March 5 deadline to apply the tag, but an interesting question was asked on Twitter regarding Clark and how much he is slated to make.
Specifically, whether Frank Clark is worth the kind of money that Khalil Mack signed with the Chicago Bears.
Do you think Frank should be paid Khalil Mack money? I see a pretty big gap there. I obviously would love to keep him but I’d also rather have Trent Brown— Matthew Wagner (@Vogner1019) February 20, 2019
I’ve authored multiple pieces about how Clark’s production through the early part of his career, including back in January when I looked at his sack production through his first four seasons in the NFL. That was a follow up to an article last spring that looked at his sack production through the first three years of his career, and it’s no stretch to say that the numbers he has posted thus far in his career are very impressive.
Let’s get back to the Mack comparison for a moment, though, and start looking at some production numbers through their first four seasons. Just to give a hint as to where this is going, here’s a quick snippet of one interesting tidbit.
Khalil Mack had 40.5 sacks on 3,873 in his first 4 seasons (98.7 snaps/sack).— tropical storm john (@SeahawksMachine) February 20, 2019
Frank Clark has 35 sacks on 2,473 snaps in his first 4 seasons (70.7 snaps per sack).
And Clark entered the NFL a year younger than Mack.
Either Seattle pays him Mack money or someone else does. https://t.co/KAW1d54MiO
Here’s a decent rundown of of the statistical comparison between the two in several different categories.
Frank Clark and Khalil Mack statistical comparison
Those numbers show just how impressive Clark’s production to this point in his career has been, but it’s obviously important to keep in mind the fact that Clark was buried behind Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril for much of the early years he spent with the Seahawks. In contrast, Khalil Mack played significantly more because he was a member of an absolutely atrocious Oakland Raiders defense that was consistently at or near the bottom of the league.
To account for this, let’s adjust those counting stats to rate stats and take a look at the two.
Frank Clark versus Khalil Mack rate stat comparison
From those numbers Clark has actually somewhat more productive than Mack when it comes to rushing the passer on an efficiency basis, while Mack has been more involved in stopping the run. That is not a surprise at all, as Mack is a linebacker who would more often be tasked with plugging a hole, while Clark is a defensive end who would more often be asked to set the edge while allowing tackling machines Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright to make the actual tackle.
With Clark and Mack in the same ballpark in terms of production, let’s take a look at Mack’s contract and see how what things actually look like. The reason I say that is because while Mack’s contract was widely reported to be a six year, $141 million dollar contract, giving him a $23.5M APY. That was certainly true for the new money on the contract, however, those numbers failed to take into consideration the fact that that money came after the 2018 season for which Mack was already under contract.
The Raiders had exercised Mack’s fifth year option, which gave him a one year contract for $13.846M for 2018, so his contract, in total, between the fifth year option and the six year extension was actually a seven year, $154.846M deal. That means when the deal is looked at in total, the Bears were looking at a $22.12M APY over the entire seven years for which Mack is under contract. In addition, as noted in the piece on the basics of the salary cap and signing bonus proration from Tuesday, the maximum number of years over which a signing bonus may be amortized is five.
So, looking at Mack’s contract in terms of cap hits for the entire seven year duration, it looks like this.
Khalil Mack contract cap hits by season
The final guarantees that Mack has in the contract are injury guarantees for the 2021 season. Thus with the signing bonus spread out over the first five seasons of the deal, the Bears can cut Mack prior to the sixth year of the contract (the fifth year of the extension) with zero dead money. Taking a look then at only the first five years of the Mack contract, meaning the fifth year option of 2018 and the first four years of the six year extension, Mack stands to have combined cap hits of $108.696M. That is an APY of $21.739 for those five seasons, with the team effectively holding options for $22.9M and $23.25M for 2023 and 2024 respectively.
In Clark’s case, if he is to play the 2019 season on the franchise tag because he and the team cannot reach a long term deal, he stands to make an estimated $18.653M based on the projections of OverTheCap.com. If he were to be franchise tagged a second time in 2020, that would require a twenty percent raise over that projected tag amount of $18.653. Thus, the 2020 tag would be $22.383M, and that puts Clark looking at what is effectively a two year, $41.036M deal with a $20.518M APY. And with that, the gap between Clark and Mack has narrowed to barely little more than a million dollars. Add in the fact that Clark is two years younger than Mack, and that’s another block thrown on the scale in his favor.
In short, when faced with the question of whether Clark is worth Mack money, his production numbers show that he is. Whether or not the Seahawks will pay him that way is an entirely different question.
But if Seattle is not willing to pay Mack money, there are 31 other teams in the league, and it’s likely that at least one of them is willing to.