BY Art Thiel 06:30AM 04/22/2019

Thiel: Clark trade is toughest Seahawks’ choice

Salary-cap pressure, and a premier draft class of pass rushers, may force a trade of Frank Clark. The Seahawks also need to find a successor to Doug Baldwin.

This year’s draft class might have the replacement for DE Frank Clark. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

The first round is hardly everything. But it is the single biggest thing in the NFL draft. And it’s one thing the Seahawks haven’t done very well during the otherwise highly successful tenures of coach Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider.

The Seahawks are scheduled to pick 21st in the first round Thursday. Even the shyest snow leopard at the Woodland Park Zoo is aware that Seattle wants to trade down to acquire more picks, because at the moment they have four, fewest in the NFL and in club history. It’s a result of borrowing against the future, a draft principle Schneider was loathe to violate, but did so anyway.

In the hours ahead of the draft, they may decide to trade sackmaster DE Frank Clark. The aspiration is obtaining a first-round pick, according to a Saturday tweet from Adam Schefter of ESPN.com.

Finding another team to go along with the idea of giving up a No. 1, which then must pay top dollar for the young veteran, seems unlikely, especially since edge rusher is said to be the deepest position in football’s prom night.

However, discerning Seahawks fans are just fine with Schneider trading down for more picks, knowing he’s a fiend when it comes to the remainders table. Mismatched shoes, a sun-faded shirt, corduroy pants — doesn’t matter. Schneider will make second-hand into a GQ cover.

But keep him away from the Gucci store. The man from small-town Wisconsin is uncomfortable among the fashionistas.

Here’s a glance at the first picks in each of the Carroll/Schneider drafts. The 10 aren’t all first-round picks, because four times the Seahawks traded back into the second round to pick up additional choices.

Year/position/name/overall selection/Seahawks games, starts:

2018: RB Rashaad Penny, 27th: 14 games, 0 starts

2017: DT Malik McDowell, 35th; 0 games, 0 starts

2016: RT Germain Ifedi, 31st; 44 games, 44 starts

2015: DE Frank Clark, 63rd; 62 games, 33 starts

2014: WR Paul Richardson, 45th; 47 games, 19 starts

2013: RB Christine Michael, 62nd; 26 games, 9 starts

2012: DE Bruce Irvin, 15th; 58 games, 37 starts

2011: RT James Carpenter, 25th; 45 games, 39 starts

2010: LT Russell Okung, 6th; 72 games, 72 starts

2010: FS Earl Thomas, 14th; 125 games, 125 starts

A quick and somewhat unfair conclusion: One Hall of Famer, five more solid starters, three guys and a whiff.

The unfair part is Penny has had only a year as a backup, and the trades out of the first round have created more picks that sometimes turned into serviceable players. That includes the McDowell injury saga.

The Seahawks traded down from 26th to 35th and added four picks that became safeties Tedric Thompson and Delano Hill, CB Mike Tyson and RB Chris Carson. Three of those were solid choices, especially Carson. But the next player chosen after McDowell was Huskies star safety Budda Baker, who was first team All-Pro in his rookie year for Arizona.

Ah, well. For second-guessers, the NFL draft is like no other sports paradise.

Perhaps the most startling observation is that of the 10 first-round picks (two in the first year of 2010), only three remain on the roster — Penny, Ifedi and Clark. That accounting doesn’t include the 2013 first-rounder (25th overall) surrendered in the Percy Harvin trade (as well as the 214th pick that year and the 96th pick in 2014).

Of the seven top choices who reached eligibility for a second contract as a Seahawk, only Okung and Thomas were offered and accepted. Clark, now on the franchise tag but seeking a long-term extension, remains unresolved.

Three — Carpenter, Irvin and Richardson — weren’t offered, and left in free agency. Michael was the only top choice traded for anything, a seventh-round pick from the Cowboys in 2015.

The worst draft of the regime was 2013, a year after the 2012 draft yielded Russell Wilson and LB Bobby Wagner. That draft across the NFL has been deemed one of the worst ever, but perhaps no one was more zeroed out than the Seahawks:

Only fifth-round TE Luke Willson became a consistent contributor.

As draftniks know, all teams have had similar outcomes and major first-round busts. The Seahawks are hardly the worst, and the first four top choices — Okung, Thomas, Carpenter and Irvin — had big roles with the Super Bowl champions.

But because of the salary cap, success can make things harder for evaluating draft classes in terms of service to the drafting team. The best teams annually have to make decisions to let go a few average to good players in order to accommodate the core players who have become stars and thus more expensive.

That is the dilemma facing the Seahawks this week.

Clark is vulnerable to a trade because in addition to accommodating the ginormous contract of Wilson last week, the Seahawks want to extend the contracts of proven vets Wagner and DT Jarran Reed. None of this was unanticipated.

What did make news was the expensive market for Clark created by the Cowboys signing of DeMarcus Lawrence (five years, $105 million) and the iffy health of WR Doug Baldwin, who is coming off four surgeries and turns 31 in September.

The Seahawks’ biggest off-season need was another quality pass-rusher to pair with Clark. In their mostly Boom-less year, they gave up 240 yards passing, a mediocre 17th in the NFL. But now they may have a more urgent need to find a successor to Baldwin, even if he eventually returns.

A trade of Clark might yield a first, or more likely second, to address a need for immediate impact, and would be a better return than the big zeroes they received for Thomas and CB Richard Sherman.

The cost is the defense’s sack leader and second-best player (after Thomas’s season-ending broken leg). Keeping Clark and complicating the cap structure, then trading out of the first round, runs the risk of missing out on players who can seriously help in 2019.

It may be several years before the draft yields as many top-end pass rush candidates. If something good has to be given to balance a team worthy of the game’s highest-paid player, Clark is the logical sacrifice — even if the first round has had more than its share of bad Seahawks juju.


YourThoughts

  • coug73

    Hindsight is worthless, however the Seahawks miss played Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas and the secondary has become a work in progress, the weak link in the Hawk D.

    Not likely rookie DE will produce like Clark, rookie another work in progress most likely. A PC challenge for sure on trade or pay. Can’t imagine how the back field will play without pass rush. My 2 cents, sign Wagner and Reed and play Clark on the franchise tag.

    • art thiel

      Not sure how they misplayed Sherman when he was close to, if not completely insubordinate. Thomas also talked his way out of town.

      The Seahawks may end up doing what you described, because signing Clark to a new deal AND giving up a high pick is steep.

      • coug73

        Well, gone and no return? Did the Hawks get compensation?

        • art thiel

          Not for Sherman and Thomas.

  • Kevin Lynch

    “Even the shyest snow leopard…” Amazing how word gets around in the NFL. But it also must be like a strong poker table. False tells. Signals that are deliberately inaccurate. Seems really complex.

    • art thiel

      It is much like poker: Bluffs, tells, high-risk bets. The Seahawks may be using the broken-wing trick, suggesting they can’t afford to pay everybody on the roster, then seeing which team is desperate enough to do something dumb.

      • 1coolguy

        Hey – whenever you think no one can do something considered REALLY STUPID, just remember the Harvin trade. A suckers born every minute, right?

        • phil2bin

          I blame Urban Meyer

          • art thiel

            Harvin had many enablers, including Carroll.

      • antirepug3

        Rope-a-dope it is!

  • tor5

    Does Clark’s refusal to sign the franchise tag have any bearing on anything? Seems like he’s got it in his head to be difficult until he gets his big contract. That’s his right, but also must affect his current value to the team. That is, unhappy players are a distraction, and especially antithetical to Pete Carroll’s team philosophy. Still, Clark has that knack for the pass-rush that ain’t so easy to come by.

    • art thiel

      All leverage from the franchise tag belongs to the club. But as you suggest, sometimes disgruntled players become toxic, so that’s the one risk for the Seahawks.

    • Kevin Lynch

      Seems you and John and Pete are all on the same page. ‘Distractions’ are not needed.

  • jafabian

    What’s really sad about the 2013 draft is that Spencer Ware has become a good RB, rushing for over 900 yards in 2016 but has been stuck behind Jamal Charles and Kareem Hunt in recent years. He could have been the best player in that draft were he kept.

    Since initially after Frank was franchised he had nothing but positive comments about the move and expressed his thanks to the Seahawks for giving him a chance

    • art thiel

      There’s no reason for Clark to say or do anything prior to the Wednesday ahead of the season opener. They can’t fine him because he’s not their guy, so he’ll sit out camp and preseason and draw game checks for his $17M franchise-tag fee, then become a free agent.

  • Alan Harrison

    Human nature is fun, isn’t it? I see that the teams most closely connected to a potential trade are the Chiefs, Jets, and Colts, according to people on the TV who probably are guessing right along with anyone else. The Chiefs gave up Dee Ford because of salary but would take on Frank Clark’s higher salary? The Jets have some decent cap space, but use all of it when they can draft a (well, an albeit unknown) stud in the first round? Even if the Hawks throw in #21 to get the Jets’ #3 and 68 (doubtful), is Quinnen Williams or Josh Allen a cheaper replacement for Clark, plus how do they gain additional picks without a first or second rounder? The Colts have a ton of cap space and a need on defense and #26 would be a nice additional pick in the first round with which to trade down. Plus, can’t the Hawks get a 3rd round compensatory for Clark if he leaves after this tagged year? My guess is that nothing gets done on this front at all – the Hawks waited with Earl Thomas (although that was a 3rd contract).

  • rosetta_stoned

    Frank Clark is now a KC Chief.