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The case for trading Frank Clark

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Minnesota Vikings v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

There’s been a lot of talk and speculation as far as what the Seattle Seahawks should be willing to pay to keep Frank Clark for the next 3+ years, but not as much as what the Seahawks should do if what they’re willing to pay and what Clark is willing to accept has not been discussed as often. This is me quickly doing that.

The Kansas City Chiefs traded franchise-tagged linebacker Dee Ford to the San Francisco 49ers for a 2020 second round pick. Many wondered more about the contract Ford signed (five years, $87.5 million) and less about the return that the Chiefs got when comparing the Clark situation to the Ford one. I, for one, think that Clark is immensely more valuable than Ford.

Clark is more than two years younger than Ford. He’s a hand-on-the-ground defensive end who should fit on a lot more defenses than the 3-4 OLB Ford. Clark has 32 sacks over the last three seasons compared to 25 for Ford, and Clark spent 1.5 of those seasons as a backup. Clark also has 66 QB hits, 31 TFL, seven forced fumbles in that time. Ford has 53 QB hits, 29 TFL, and nine FF. Ford did miss 10 games in 2017, but Ford did miss 10 games in 2017. Clark does not have an injury record.

Clark has off-field concerns in his backstory, but has remained a mostly model citizen and teammate over the last four years. That almost certainly has to be enough for a team to be willing to pay Clark as if he had no concerns at all, whether you morally agree or disagree with their decision to operate in that manner. All that being said, I think Clark is worth more than Ford, as well as being worth more than Trey Flowers, who signed a five-year, $90 million deal, with $50 million in guarantees.

Flowers has 21 sacks and 59 QB hits in the last three years.

Instead of asking, “What is Frank Clark worth to the Seahawks?” what if we asked, “What is the money they don’t spend on Frank Clark worth to the team?”? Especially if we’re adding in draft picks and/or players?

In my recent write-ups on free agency I’ve made note that when signing a player to a mega-deal, you are almost certainly signing him based on his peak, not on his average or reasonable expectation. Clark’s value may never be higher than it is right now. As I just said, he’s better right now than Ford and Flowers and both of those players are now making $17 and $18 million per season. Clark’s agent has to be arguing for him to make more than Flowers, the highest-paid 4-3 defensive end in history on a multi-year contract. Clark would likely be looking to make $18.5 million per season, as are DeMarcus Lawrence, also on the tag, and Jadeveon Clowney, another edge rusher (this at the linebacker position for now) who has been franchised.

Each player is waiting out the other two, but maybe the best course of action for those teams — as Kansas City opted with Ford — is to get out while those other contracts have yet to be signed. To sell high and hope for the best, feeling that you can make as much or more with the cap space and the draft picks than just the player alone. Even if Clark could have five Pro Bowl seasons ahead. But if Clark does have five Pro Bowl seasons ahead from the pass rushing position, the team is definitely giving up a commodity that is rare and valuable.

$100 million worth of value? That is the question that teams will be weighing and as you saw with the 49ers, the $100 million question also cuts the trade return in half, at least. All things being equal, the Chiefs should get at least a first round pick for Ford, but the contract makes that less than a consideration. It wasn’t long ago that this was reasonable (Darrelle Revis for a top-15 pick only happened six years ago) but not today. The difference between a return on Ford and a return on Clark may legitimately be a 2019 second round pick instead of a 2020.

Is the $17 million of relief in 2019, the simplifying of other financial decisions (Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner) when it comes to the cap in 2020 and beyond, and the potential selling high of the most valuable trade chip on the roster (a move that the Bill Belichick has pulled over and over again) worth a second round pick? Well, Frank Clark was once a late second round pick. To get that type of value with a second round pick again is unlikely, but everyone would agree that if the Seahawks did hit a jackpot again, in a year when they don’t have a second round pick, it would be an incredibly savvy and beneficial move to the team.

There are many arguments against trading Clark, none bigger than pass rush is immensely important and no other edge rusher on the roster comes close to what they have in Clark. They could also play out the franchise tag like the Cowboys did with Lawrence and then check in again next year, but it could also be the opposite of a double-edged sword. (A sword with no edges?)

If Clark repeats, his contract figures go up even though he’s now one year closer to being past his prime. If Clark doesn’t play that well or gets injured, then paying him that much money in 2019 was not worth it. Also, that would mean that his trade value is now all but gone and since he was on the tag, you can’t trade him at all.

The time to trade Clark would be now, I think. Before this draft. If they don’t, that’s fine too. But if they do, it might make more sense than it would first seem.

Some FG writer thoughts:

John Gilbert: “I mean, if they were able to sign Houston and Ansah (or some such combo) for less than what Clark is asking, id consider it for quality draft capital.”

John Fraley: “Clark’s value may never be higher than at this moment, right? If you’re of the mind to not root for him, why not a first rounder in return — why not a tiny bit more, even? I’d love a first and some low 2020 pick. Has to be a mid-first though. He’s so young, and his best days are likely ahead of him. He’s as close to a sure thing as they come.

If you see him blossoming into a leader who’s stayed out of legal trouble, then no return is likely high enough. Keep him. Great pass rush is so hard to find.”

Mookie Alexander: “If they were to have other good pass rushers on the team, I’d consider trading Clark for more elite offensive talent.”