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Seahawks using the franchise tag on Frank Clark impacts far more than just Clark

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Seattle Seahawks Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Monday, as many observers had long anticipated, the Seattle Seahawks placed the franchise tag on defensive end Frank Clark, which almost all but assures Clark will return to the team for the 2019 season. It was, across the league, a franchise tag extravaganza among defensive linemen, with multiple teams using the tag to retain the services of their star players.

The names tagged include Demarcus Lawrence of the Dallas Cowboys, Jadeveon Clowney of the Houston Texans, Dee Ford of the Kansas City Chiefs and Grady Jarrett of the Atlanta Falcons. The biggest ramification of these players having the tag placed upon them is that what once appeared to be a free agent market that could be rich in edge rushers is now down to just a handful of names.

However, the ramifications for the Seahawks themselves are even greater, as the move increased the leverage of the players with whom the Hawks are set to negotiate to prevent them becoming free agents after the 2019 season. Obviously, the tag will likely mean Clark is a member of the team for this next season, it puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the team to reach long term extensions with multiple key players. Beyond just Clark, the names on that list include

  • Quarterback Russell Wilson,
  • Linebacker Bobby Wagner,
  • Defensive tackle Jarran Reed and
  • Right tackle Germain Ifedi.

That’s five key starters who combined for play 4,484 snaps for the Seahawks last season, which represents nearly 20% of all snaps played by members of the team last season. That is so important because the team obviously can only tag one of those players. I looked at some of the dynamics that would be created through this leverage back in February, but with the tag having actually been applied, the situation is now elevated ever more so.

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Now, in the pass happy NFL of today, passing is king, and that means that quarterback is by far the most important position. However, with only one franchise tag, obviously Wilson is the player that the team would be most likely to tag, and that translates into four starters potentially hitting free agency without the possibility of being encumbered by the franchise tag.

Another important piece to note is that because 2020 will be the last year of the current CBA, the 2020 offseason will feature a unique quirk. While teams are typically afforded the use of only one franchise tag or one transition tag in a normal season, during the last year of a CBA, teams are allowed to use both a franchise tag and a transition tag.

That means that during the offseason next spring, the Seahawks could franchise tag Wilson and use a transition tag on one of the other four players, but that still leaves three players on the verge of hitting free agency paydays. Thus, as the team works to extend the contracts of each of these players, the players enjoy increased negotiating power as the tools available to the team to prevent these players from hitting free agency are extremely limited.

The team certainly has the ability to pit the players against one another, dangling large amounts of guaranteed money in front of the players, but as long as these players have competent representation this should be an ineffective method of negotiation. The team is effectively forced to negotiate a monster deal with Wilson based on the fact that no agent is going to buy the argument of the team using the franchise tag on anyone other than Wilson until such a time as Wilson has signed a new long term deal. That alone is a massive stick of dynamite that Wilson and his agent bring to the table in negotiations this time around, and represents just another way in which the negotiations are far different this time around.

That means the agents for Wagner, Reed, Clark and Ifedi know that there is no rush to sign any contract as long as Wilson remains unsigned, and even the transition tag would not be a big deal for these players. Since the transition tag does nothing more than allow the original team a right to match any offer sheet, a player able to negotiate freely with all 31 other clubs still retains the full ability to realize the desired effect of hitting free agency, which is nothing more than securing the maximum amount of money available.

This all comes together to create a giant maze of contracts which the Hawks front office must attempt to navigate in an effort to both continue to build the roster, while also retaining key talent. The likely first step in the process is to buy an extra year with Ifedi by exercising his fifth year option, which reduces the number of players on the team slated to hit unrestricted free agency in 2020 to four.

From there it becomes a matter of then working through the contract situations of the remaining four players, likely beginning with Wilson first. The instant the Wilson negotiations are finished, the team can likely take care of Wagner, just like it did in 2015. Once the team had announced Wilson’s July 2015 contract extension less than 48 hours passed before Wagner’s extension was announced, and with the top of the inside linebacker market remaining largely unchanged from when Wagner’s current contract was signed, it seems likely this is a deal which would not be difficult to hammer out. Add in that Wagner continues to play brilliantly while missing just two games over the last four seasons, it seems like this is an easy one for both sides.

At that point, it leaves just Clark and Reed left unsigned, and between the franchise tag and the transition, the Hawks would be in position to retain both players. Obviously using either tag on Clark would require a 20% raise over the $17.128M he is slated to earn in 2019, which would be $20.55M, but if Clark and his agent remain unafraid of the use of the tag, then it’s likely not an issue for the team either. In addition, the transition tag would then be available for use on Reed, which would ensure that at a minimum the team retains a right of first refusal on any deal he would sign.

So, that’s the back of the envelope road map for the team to retain those five key players moving forward, however, it all starts and ends with reaching a long term agreement with Russell Wilson. And if I know that, and you now know that, then in all probability Wilson and his agent know that.

And that puts the Seahawks over a barrel in negotiations with Wilson. So, while many fans may not find the idea of paying Wilson $35M or $37M or possibly $40M on his next contract, that’s where the market is, and that’s reality. Add in that there are any number of quarterbacks slated for free agency in 2020 who could reset the quarterback market even higher in the coming months, including Ben Roethlisberger, Dak Prescott, Jameis Winston, Phillip Rivers, Tom Brady, Carson Wentz or Jared Goff, and all of a sudden Wilson not only holds all the leverage, there could be urgency in getting a deal done since delay could result in the market being reset higher before anything is finalized.

So, we’ll likely get to discuss all of this in far more detail in the months ahead, to make a long story short, when Wilson signs his contract extension this summer, the sheer massiveness should come as no surprise to anyone. Even though the sheer size of the contract that is likely coming has been out there since last offseason, people are just now starting to come to grips with what experts have been predicting for nearly a year.

No kidding, Dave. No kidding.

Welcome to the reality of what Joel Corry has been saying since before the 2018 season.

And what some fans have been expecting since the moment Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons signed a contract for $30M per year last May.