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Seahawks gamble for Frank Clark has paid off on the field

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NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Seattle Seahawks
a common sight
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Talking about Frank Clark on the football field is easy.

He starred at Michigan.

His first two years in a Seattle Seahawks uniform, he learned his position and fought through setbacks, spending plenty of time third on the depth chart behind two pillars of the defense. He flashed brilliance, sans consistency.

Pro years three and four saw Clark ascend to the upper echelon of NFL pass rushers. He’s very good, and he’s very good at a position of perpetual need in his chosen sport. He has 22 sacks and 48 quarterback hits since the start of 2017. He wrecks offenses. He’s indispensable to the Seahawks.

He’s only 25. Clark’s performance on the field will make him a wealthy man, probably sooner rather than later. He’ll be paid more money next year ($17.1 million on the franchise tag, or a massive signing bonus) than you’ll likely earn in your entire life.*

*please drop me a line privately if you’ll be making $500k annually until retirement, and we will meet for drinks soon; you can pay

Drafting Clark at 2.63 four years ago is a coup. John Schneider should be lauded for getting top 10 value out of a pick nowhere near the top 10. Pete Carroll and his staff should be commended for developing Clark into a premier defensive end.

Deep breath.

Talking about Clark off the field is... much less easy. The police report from one messy night in the fall of 2014 will follow him wherever he goes, whether fair or not. I mention it in this story because without the incident, Clark’s getting picked in the first round. It’s relevant to how he landed in Seattle; besides, public relations help dictate how successful an athlete’s career can truly be. The domestic violence investigation, and the ensuing plea deal that saw him punished with jail time already served plus a fine, will remain a reason many fans will never fully embrace him — a fate he deserves, or doesn’t.

By now, we know the story. As it was reported, at least. Here’s a link to the police report, which you shouldn’t read if you don’t want your heart broken by the kids’ statements on the final pages. We don’t know exactly what happened in that Ohio hotel room four and a half years ago, but we know there was violence because of the bruises and the blood, we know alcohol use was alleged, we know Clark pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, we know the Seahawks looked into the details of the arrest to one degree or another, and we know people have strong feelings about how everything has played out since. Do we ever.

What we also know, and can more easily pass credible judgment on, is the public story of Clark since November 15, 2014. There has been professional growth, without a whiff of legal trouble. We have witnessed the definite emergence of a star, one who has slow-burned all the way from risky draft pick to core Seahawks football player, and team leader to boot.

Pete Carroll, via seahawks.com, on Clark:

Made a huge step this year in terms of leadership, growth and maturity. It was so obvious. I was really proud of seeing that develop for Frank.

Just yesterday, Clark was building bridges with the other Seahawk awaiting a gigantic payday:

Safety Bradley McDougald speaks highly of Clark:

You talkin’ about Frank the Freak? He’s coming out and proving that he’s worth every dollar he’s going to receive in the future.

One more citation, just for the impactful headline: “Frank Clark Says Seahawks Are His Team; Richard Sherman Era Is Over.” Read the story, if you’d like, but remember the headline.

On-field production, and vocal leadership to match, have made Clark one of the main faces of the current Seahawks roster. It’s not necessary to like this development, to dislike it, to wish it away, or celebrate it — it just is. It’s true whether you and I want it to be. You do what you want with the new reality in which we live. We’re here because Clark, to his credit, hasn’t screwed up a second chance (some might say a third).

We’re here, spectators in the Frank Clark Show, because the title character has blossomed in Seattle, hasn’t run afoul of the law, and has either matured quickly or changed for the better. Or... maybe he never needed to change as much as some believed, because perhaps he never broke the law in the first place. The evidence indicates otherwise, strongly. But things are not always as they appear. Police reports are not divinely inspired words. They’re fallible and misleading sometimes. Weird, huh?

The Seahawks gambled on Clark four years ago, and that all he’s done since then is make them look like smart evaluators for placing that bet. As for the rest, we’re free to believe as each of us sees fit. I won’t ever be able to unread the kids’ testimony, but I also am willing to allow that people (all of us!) can get help, get well, and get wiser. Why not Clark? He wouldn’t be the first, nor will he be the last, prominent athlete to mess up royally and learn from the experience. Isn’t that what we want people to do, anyway?

We can designate any number of winners and losers in the Frank Clark saga, depending on how we choose to frame it, and which parts we choose to believe or deny. Nobody will stop you from thinking justice was served or mocked; you’re free to use him as an example of how domestic violence victims are not taken seriously by authorities, or lift him up as an example of redemption. Or whatever. What’s not up for debate is that because of one man’s hard work and talent, the Seahawks are a better football team. He’s a playmaker who has made them more likely to win, and for that he will be compensated by Seattle, at or near market value, in the millions upon millions of dollars. His bank account is a winner, the defense of the team we love is a winner, and everything else is up for debate.

I’ll draw my conclusions and you draw yours. America. Thing is, though — while we dabble in condemnation and conjecture, opposing quarterbacks and their coordinators are watching film on Clark, trying to figure out how to stop one of the best young pass rushers in the league. They didn’t have a lot of answers in 2018, and I bet they still won’t in 2019.

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