BY Art Thiel 01:24PM 01/28/2020

Thiel: Clark trade looking good — for the Chiefs

The trade of DE Frank Clark to KC looked good at the time. But as Clark trash-talks his way through Super Bowl week, Seahawks never came close to making up for him.

DE Frank Clark, doing what he did best as a Seahawk. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Given that the Seahawks were standing nearly naked in the 2019 draft, few fans likely regret the trade with Kansas City that helped clothe the Seahawks with players who contributed to an 11-win regular season and two playoff games. But having to spend this week watching DE Frank Clark’s big grin from Miami at the Super Bowl, chagrin is an acceptable feeling too.

The twinge comes from the failed effort to replace Clark’s pass-rushing prowess, the single largest weakness in the Seahawks’ otherwise fairly remarkable season, tying for 29th in NFL with 28 sacks.

On “opening night” of the the annual media over-indulgence Monday, Clark’s podium turn produced an unabashed reminder of what the Seahawks were missing.

“I don’t put myself in the category of no other guy,” he said. “I don’t compare myself to no other defensive end in the league. I feel like my skill set is unique, especially, you talk about Frank Clark when I’m healthy, I don’t feel like there are a lot of defensive ends who can compete with me or play football at the level I play at.

“I play at an extremely high and aggressive level, where I don’t tolerate a lot of stuff that offensive players try to do. I’m sure (49ers celebrated TE George Kittle) is going to block and do all those good things and make catches and stuff. But at the end of the day, Frank Clark is going to be on the field and they have to see me.”

And hear him too.

He was particularly effusive after the Chiefs’ 35-24 win over Tennessee in the AFC Championship, when he followed up his controversial pre-game brag, in which he claimed essentially that RB Derrick Henry was a big guy but not necessarily a big deal, with action.

After three consecutive games rushing for a total of 588 yards, Henry was held to 69 yards and 19 carries. After jumping out to a 17-7 lead in the second quarter, the Titans scored seven points the rest of the way, and Henry had seven yards in the second half.

In his post-game TV interview, Clark, who had four tackles and a sack, suggested that the Chiefs defense, a middling outfit most of the season, was now “best in the world.”

In the week prior to the game, Clark told NFL Network he was not fazed by Henry.

“He’s not hard to hit,” he said. “He’s just a big guy — 240, 245, 250 — honestly he should be running harder at his weight and at his size. I don’t see no difficulty in tackling him . . .  He’s just easy, to me, up front because I don’t look at any running back like they can’t be tackled. He’s not one of the best guys at breaking tackles to me, honestly.”

Clark was showing that swagger in 2018, when he led the Seahawks in sacks with a career-high 13. But he was also going to be expensive to keep, even though he wasn’t among the top 20 pass rushers, as graded by Pro Football Focus. And if someone were later to claim that the Seahawks were worried about what might become of Clark after a long-term deal with big money, I would not swoon with shock.

The Seahawks prepared to hold onto him for a year with a franchise tag at $17.1 million, but heading into the draft with only four picks, they needed to bust a move for inventory. The Chiefs, having lost the AFC Championship, but with a brilliant quarterback in Patrick Mahomes on a rookie contract, and starting with a new defensive coordinator advocating change to a 4-3, were eager for Clark while they were a Super Bowl-caliber team.

Coach Andy Reid was happy to part with first- and second-round picks, plus a swap of places in the third round. The Chiefs immediately signed the 6-3, 265-pound Clark to a whopper deal of five years and up to $105 million, with $63.5 million guaranteed.

The Seahawks turned the picks into DE L.J. Collier (first round, 29th overall), WR DK Metcalf (second, 64th) and LB Cody Barton (third, 88th). With Clark’s franchise tag off the books, they signed in May free agent DE Ziggy Ansah to a one-year deal for up to $9 million. They still had money left over to accommodate in September the trade acquisition of DE Jadeveon Clowney.

The Chiefs appeared then to have been a little foolish, and the Seahawks looked set to have a potentially above-average defense.

Didn’t work out.

Ansah never fully recovered from off-season shoulder surgery. He played only nine games, with 26 tackles, 16 QB hits and 6.5 sacks. Collier was worse. After spraining an ankle in training camp, he played sparingly in 11 games, accumulating three tackles. Fellow rookie Barton barely played until LB Mychal Kendricks was injured late in the season, then was forced into three starts, including both playoff games, for which he was not ready.

In the final game in the cold and dark of Green Bay, neither Ansah nor Collier played, and   Barton was credited with three assisted tackles.

Clowney did contribute — seven tackles, two QB hits, one tackle for loss — but when it came time for third-down stops late in the game, Clowney, troubled for the second half of the season with a core injury that would require post-season surgery, couldn’t apply pressure.

He had some splendid moments and games in 2019, but never was the consistent force the Seahawks had hoped.

Like Ansah, he’ll be a free agent in March. As a condition of the trade, the Seahawks relinquished the right to the franchise tag. It seems as if Clowney, depending on health, of course, looks to be among the best in class and thus subject to a bidding war.

For all the nice words Clowney, 26, has said about his single year in Seattle, he’ll likely end up with the highest bidder, which could mean earning as much or more than the Chiefs wound up paying Clark, also 26. It’s hard to say whether the Seahawks, with about $60 million in cap space, want to buy in at that level with so many other needs.

Since Ansah is unlikely to be asked to return, if Clowney leaves, the Seahawks D-line is degraded, particularly if DT Jarran Reed, who regressed from his impressive 2018 season, doesn’t bounce back. If Collier doesn’t get full traction in 2020, the Seahawks’ grade at the top of the draft will take another take another Wile E. Coyote plunge to the canyon floor.

The Chiefs defense,  meanwhile, has given up an average of 15.7 points in its past seven games, including second-half shutdowns in the playoff games against the Titans and Texans.

As Clark mentioned with all the swagger he learned as a Seahawks defender, the 49ers, and the sports world, will have to see him.


YourThoughts

  • coug73

    It will be fun, fun, fun, watching Sherman and Clark.

    • Archangelo Spumoni

      I am very bad at predictions and would be flat broke if I lived anywhere near Vegas, so this game might come down to which has the better game–Clark or Sherman?
      In a perfect Archangelo Spumoni world, Clark has 3 sacks, one especially pivotal, and Sherman gives up the winning TD pass to whatever receiver has raw speed.
      I still like Sherman but don’t want to listen to him all off-season.
      Plus I am hoping for the Super Bowl hangover a la Atlanta, the Rams, et al of late.

      • art thiel

        Tyreek Hill blows past Sherman for the game-winner? You’re a better bettor than you think.

      • jafabian

        I like Sherm more than I like Clark but just can’t root for the Niners. Predicting Mahomes will be the game MVP and Garoppolo doesn’t crack 100 yards.

        • art thiel

          Mahomes is usually the MVP starting at breakfast. But it wouldn’t surprise me to see Shanahan script 10 passes in the first 15 plays, because he’s a sharp playcaller with a design that makes average players succeed (e.g., Mostert).

      • eYeROQ

        Hey you weren’t off by a lot. Clark had a pivotal sack of JimmyG on 4th down that sealed the victory for the Chiefs. And Sherman did give up two key passes, one to Sammy Watkins to put Mahomes on the SF 10 on the go ahead drive, before giving up the touchdown 3 plays later to Damien Williams on a five yard pass he was just able to extend into the end zone while getting tackled by Sherm.

    • art thiel

      Glad you’re taking the high road.

  • jafabian

    Lots of potential to either sink or swim this offseason for the Hawks. John Schneider seems to always find a way to make things work though. I don’t think they can afford to lose Clowney, especially if they let Ansah go and Collier turns into the new Malik McDowell.

    • art thiel

      They do want to keep Clowney, but it will cost a third superstar salary. Doable, but lots of money needed to upgrade a fading O-line.

  • wabubba67

    Essentially, we traded Clark for Clowney plus draft picks. That’s a deal you make every day. Clowney is equal to Clark in pass rush and superior to Clark v. the run. Also if Clowney leaves, the Seahawks will be rewarded with another 3rd round pick.

    My hunch is that Seattle will sign Clowney for about $21 m/year, and should look to spend about another $15-20 m/year for another quality free agent DE.

    • art thiel

      The key is whether the Seahawks get more than a year from Clowney. It doesn’t work if he’s one-and-done.

      • Kevin Lynch

        Paying $20 mill a year for someone who is not a sack king and has a history of injuries is paving your way back to an 8-8 season. I can’t believe John will pay out an extraordinary amount of guaranteed dollars to sign Javeon. He is not Deacon Jones.

        • art thiel

          Yet his upside at an important position is rare. He’s also valuable at stopping the run. The injury history is the mysterious part, details of which the club will never share.

  • tor5

    True, we haven’t been able to replace Clark, and 2020 is looking tenuous. But aren’t you saying that we got Metcalf as part of the Clark trade? I wouldn’t be so quick to conclude that we “lost” in the deal. Time will tell.

  • eYeROQ

    “Since Ansah is unlikely to be asked to return, if Clowney leaves, the Seahawks D-line is degraded, particularly if DT Jarran Reed, who regressed from his impressive 2018 season, doesn’t bounce back.”

    But Reed’s contract is up too. From this sentence it sounds like you expect Reed back. Yes he can be franchised but that would guarantee his salary at an average of the top 5 at his position. Would Schneider really pay him one year at 17 mil franchise tag salary after such a subpar season? I don’t see why he would.

    • art thiel

      You’re right, Reed can be a free agent. I think Carroll believes the 2019 downturn was because of the six games lost to suspension. Replacing him would be expensive too. My guess is they bring him back on an extension heavy with performance incentives, and he takes because he lost leverage.

      • eYeROQ

        Judging from his tweets it doesn’t sound like he would even consider an incentive laden deal, at least not before testing the market first where someone inevitably will overpay. When a fan tweeted asking him to accept ten mil he said he found the figure “insulting”. I think Reed’s as good as gone since I don’t think JS will pay more than that. Nor do I think he’s worth more unless he can show he can replicate his 2018 production.

        • art thiel

          Digital talk is especially cheap, so I’d say he’s already negotiating in public. But it’s impossible to draw conclusions about JS’s floors and ceilings from year to year because roster needs change annually, as do players’ health and attitudes, as well as the marketplace. If Carroll declares the D-line is a crisis in mid-March, then resources go there first in free agency. Reed may benefit, or the bosses may see too many flaws to go to $10M/yr.

  • Kirkland

    I miss Frank Clark the player. I don’t miss Frank Clark the person, particularly for his off-the-field history and issues. To me, watching him was like watching Jerramy Stevens; good player, but it doesn’t mean you have to like him between plays or games.

    As for the return for Clark, I think the Seahawks fell victim to the injury bug. If Anash, Collier and Clowney are healthy through the season, the defense definitely finishes in the upper half of the league and the Seahawks probably win the division. As it is, it usually takes a couple of years of player development and transactions to replace a top player. Schneider and Carroll certainly have earned the benefit of the doubt in doing that.

    • art thiel

      The Seahawks probably would agree privately about your apprehensions about Clark.

      Regarding injuries, that “if” can be applied for all teams and all players, but regarding Ansah, the Seahawks knew they were getting damaged goods, thought he would heal and guessed wrong.

      Your point is taken regarding development time; however, Carroll’s always compete mantra means they need quality production from all vets nearly all the time to stay a playoff team. They didn’t miss by much this year.