Seahawks franchise tag defensive end Clark

The Seahawks placed the franchise tag on defensive end Frank Clark on Monday, ensuring that Seattle’s top pass-rusher will now stay put through at least the 2019 season.

The Seahawks’ announcement that they’ve tagged Clark specifies that it’s the non-exclusive tag, as expected. It means Clark is free to negotiate with other teams. If he were to sign an offer sheet that the Seahawks declined to match, Seattle would be entitled to two first-round picks from the other team. However, such a steep price would almost certainly preclude another team from signing Clark, especially in a draft that’s considered rich with edge rushers.

The Seahawks had until Tuesday to tag Clark and thereby keep him from hitting free agency, where he would have been one of the most coveted available players after the best season of his four-year career.

The one-year franchise tag is worth $17.128 million for defensive ends. That’s a slight decrease from the $17.143 million tag number for the position in 2018 but still a massive raise from the $944,000 that Clark made in base salary last season, which was the final year of the rookie contract he signed as a second-round pick in 2015. The Seahawks and Clark still have until the July 15 deadline to work out a multiyear deal that would replace the franchise tag. If not, an extension would have to wait until after Seattle’s final regular-season game.

Coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider reiterated at the NFL scouting combine that the Seahawks planned on having Clark back in 2019, which were more indications that they would use the franchise tag if needed. Free safety Earl Thomas and linebacker K.J. Wright are two of 14 Seattle players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents, though teams can use the franchise tag only once per season and the Seahawks weren’t expected to tag either.

“Frank will be with us, yeah,” Carroll said Thursday in Indianapolis.

Clark, who turns 26 in June, led the Seahawks with 13 sacks and also had four forced fumbles and an interception last season. He added another sack in a wild-card loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

When asked if getting a long-term deal done with Clark is important, Carroll answered in the affirmative. “It is, ultimately, yeah,” he told reporters. “Frank just turned, he’s 25, he’s still a very young football player. He made a huge step this year in terms of his leadership and just growth and his maturity is so obvious. I was really proud of seeing that develop from Frank. He played great, too. Frank, he’s a very valuable football player. That’s a process that we’re in the middle of and all that of course, as you guys know and all that. I can’t tell you how it’s going to turn out, but it’s going to be positive for the Seahawks and for Frank.”

Clark’s agent, Erik Burkhardt, told ESPN in October that Clark is willing to wait for the right deal, even if it means playing on the franchise tag. Both Burkhardt and Carroll said the two sides had been negotiating in earnest for a while.

Clark’s 32 sacks since the start of the 2016 season are ninth-most in the NFL in that span, behind Chandler Jones (41), Aaron Donald (39.5), Von Miller (38), Ryan Kerrigan (37), Khalil Mack (34), Danielle Hunter (34), Calais Campbell (33) and Cameron Jordan (32.5).

Among that group, Clark’s 2,045 defensive snaps in that same span are the fewest, according to ESPN charting. He played behind Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril during his first two-plus seasons before becoming a starter in 2017 after Avril injured his neck.

Mack sits atop the pass-rusher pay scale after signing a deal last year that averages $23.5 million. DeMarcus Lawrence (26 sacks since 2016) and Ezekiel Ansah (18 sacks) played on the $17.143 million franchise tag in 2018. Jadeveon Clowney (24.5 sacks), the first overall pick in 2014, is in line for a big payday this offseason after playing on a fifth-year option.

During his October conversation with ESPN, Burkhardt described his past talks with the Seahawks as “positive and productive,” but he said there would be no point in signing a deal early given that Clark took out a loss-of-value insurance policy and that the market for pass-rushers is continuing to rise.

“Obviously players want a long-term deal because this game is dangerous and violent and everything else, but I’m going to continue to bet on my guy.” Burkhardt said. “You look at a guy like Kirk Cousins who played out the franchise tag, that’s not all bad, either. He did that because he believed in himself and also knows teams can’t usually find top quarterbacks in free agency. The pass-rush market is much the same in that aspect. It’s supply and demand.

“Frank and I are not scared of the franchise tag. That’s going to come in at about $18 million next year for a D-end on a one-year, fully guaranteed deal. It’s what Ansah and Lawrence have done. They get that top-of-the-market value for one year, and 12 months later will get their long-term deal as well. That’s winning.”

Kicker Olindo Mare was the most recent Seahawks player to get the franchise tag, in 2010 — the first season in Seattle for Carroll and Schneider.

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