Def coor Ken Norton Jr. talks about Seahawks’ pass rush, and why Frank Clark has been “special”
This is Frank Clark’s best season, in his contract year. And Seattle is where he wants to stay
By Gregg Bell
October 24, 2018 04:10 PM
Frank Clark is playing the best football of his career.
Of his winding, eventful, about-to-be-fulfilled life.
Without departed Pro Bowl ends Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, Clark alone is making Seattle’s pass rush an unexpected asset instead of an expected liability so far this season.
The 25-year-old is on the cusp of a raise from $900,000 this season, the final one of his rookie contract, to perhaps $16 million per year or more for 2019 and beyond. That’s how much NFL teams value his primary skill of sacking the quarterback in this passer-and-rush-the-passer league.
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And Clark wants all to know he has absolutely zero intention of leaving Seattle.
He said Wednesday he wants to stay with the Seahawks for as long as the rain falls here, for all long as Mount Rainier is tall.
“Hell, yeah. Hell, yeah. Hell, yeah,” Clark said at his locker before practice for Sunday’s game at Detroit.
He was repeating to eliminate any doubt.
“Of course. Of course. There is no place I’d rather be than Seattle,” he said. “Like I’ve said, like I’ve been saying, my family loves it here. My daughter was born here, in Bellevue, two years ago.
“There’s no other place I’m sure anyone would rather be or anyone would rather visit than Seattle.”
Coach Pete Carroll said Wednesday the Seahawks and Clark’s representatives have been discussing a new contract, and that those talks are “ongoing.”
“We’re always working… We always have kind of a process to it,” Carroll said.
That’s a reference to the Seahawks’ and general manager John Schneider’s precedent of getting second contracts with core players done before the original deal ends. It’s usually earlier than this, before the final season of such a deal. But the Seahawks had some other, pressing contract situations going on this spring and summer — namely Earl Thomas’ holdout and demand for a new, third contract or trade.
Now Thomas is out for the season, on injured reserve with a broken leg. The All-Pro safety, four years older than Clark, is destined to seek his own deal with another team in free agency in March.
That moves Clark and his extension up to the top of the Seahawks’ contract priorities. All signs are a new deal to keep Clark in Seattle isn’t a matter of if, but when.
“John has been working on it, throughout,” Carroll said. “It’s ongoing.”
Clark’s agent, Erik Burkhardt, told ESPN this week Clark isn’t interested in settling for a deal right now.
His stock — and future price — have never been higher. He is coming off his best game of his four-year career: 2 1/2 sacks with two fumbles he forced Raiders quarterback Derek Carr to make deep in Oakland territory. Seattle turned Clark’s plays into 10 points in a 27-3 rout in London two weeks ago, before the Seahawks’ bye.
He did that while still stick from a nasty food poisoning the week before.
“He’s been really focused,” Seahawks defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said.
Defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. on Seahawks’ pass rush, and specifically why defensive end Frank Clark has been “special.”
Clark has 12 sacks in his past 15 games dating to week eight of last season. He’s played through what he says were broken hands last year, then wrist surgery this offseason. He has 24 1/2 sacks in his past 36 games. He’s averaged a sack for every 65 defensive snaps, more or less a game’s worth, playing mostly part time behind Bennett and Avril most of his career.
Nobody in the NFL has more sacks per snaps played since 2016.
This month in the loss to the Los Angeles Rams Clark had an interception, two tackles, one for a loss, plus a hit and forced fumble on quarterback Jared Goff. That was less than two days after he was hospitalized with a three-day fight with food poisoning.
Imagine what may happen when he’s fully healthy.
No need to tell Clark’s agent the price is rising to sign his client, by the game.
The NFL has 11 defensive ends playing in 4-3 schemes, as Clark does, earning $10 million this season, as Clark is more than about to make next year. The top paid are Detroit’s Ezekiel Ansah and Dallas’ Demarcus Lawrence at $17,143,000. Both are playing under franchise tags for 2018.
That tag number is likely to be at least $18 million for 2019, and the franchise tag is an option for the Seahawks to put on Clark— and Clark for gladly to take — if the two sides can’t reach an agreement before March.
NFL 4-3 DEs who make $10M+/year, per https://t.co/3u3rBNiodt. Frank Clark is about to join this list-and at the top of it. (top 2 are franchise tags for 2018)#Seahawks have from now until free agency in March to keep him. And they will. If not another team will pay bigly 4 him pic.twitter.com/NN4MM1IvNK
— Gregg Bell (@gbellseattle) October 19, 2018
“Just to do an early deal for the sake of doing an early deal doesn’t excite us, especially for a guy like Frank who’s already a dominant pass-rusher in this league and is just scratching the surface of what he will be,” Burkhardt told ESPN.
The agent told ESPN’s Brady Henderson he and Clark took out an insurance policy to guard against potential injury and reduced earning potential this year.
Clark had a great — and self-assured — quote on that policy.
“Yeah, it’s cool, you know what I’m sayin?” Clark said.
“At the end of the day, it’s just an insurance policy. I know an insurance policy ain’t nothing to what I know I can be worth, though.
“At the end of the day, I’m just going to keep on going. My head’s down. And I ain’t looking up until the marathon is finished. And when the marathon is finished, like I always say man, the sprinters get tired, got to keep on sprinting and keep on going.
“That’s how I feel, man. It’s a long, long season. It’s a lot to think about. Just got to keep on going, though.”
Clark indeed has a lot to think about.
He was born 25 years plus four months ago to Teneka Clark in the section of south Los Angeles near Crenshaw some call “The Jungle,” Baldwin Village. Those are the crime-filled and often shuttered streets, places Carroll’s been when he coached and recruited at nearby USC and then started his philanthropic “A Better L.A.” organization.
Baldwin Park is where Clark and his mother roamed when he was 10 and 11, homeless, broke and hungry.
“It’s very rocky. It’s amazing,” Clark said in 2015 talking about his upbringing.
“… At the age of 11 I was homeless. And at the age of 21 I’m a second-round draft pick to the Seattle Seahawks. If it doesn’t get (any) more rocky than that, I don’t know what to tell you.
“My whole life in California me and my mother struggled. I had two older brothers that were sent away at young ages, they were in to gangs and things of that nature and I saw my mother see me go down those same paths. My mother not working a job and not being able to provide for us financially led us to being homeless. We didn’t have nothing. Every day, whether it was practice or me just finding a meal, was a struggle. I remember days I was walking looking for a meal, I remember nights walking and we didn’t have anywhere to stay.
“All that inspired me to be the man I am today.”
Yes, he has thought again about how far he’s come. Every day.
“The main thing that I think about is the journey. It’s just a journey, man,” Clark said Wednesday. “I got a great group I’m proud to be around, a great defense and great teammates. We just keep having fun, man.”
Clark eventually moved from Los Angeles to Cleveland, to be with family members and go to high school there, to get a new start. He turned that break into another one, a football scholarship to the University of Michigan.
During his final season at Michigan, he was arrested and briefly jailed in northwest Ohio for domestic violence against a woman who was his girlfriend at a hotel in Sandusky. Michigan kicked Clark out of its program with a couple months left in the season.
A police report on the Clark’s incident in November 2014 in Ohio seemed to depict he struck the woman. The prosecuting attorney in Sandusky determined Clark did not. The prosecutor agreed to reduce the charge through a plea bargain to disorderly conduct, a fourth-degree misdemeanor.
He entered the NFL draft a few months later. The Seahawks made him their top choice in that 2015 draft, in the second round. They took heat locally and nationally for choosing to bring the NFL’s issue with domestic violence into their locker room.
Clark stayed mostly trouble-free in his first two NFL seasons, with splashing with 10 sacks in 2016. Yet he still needed to grow up after his spring and summer of 2017.
The Seahawks had to issue statements that they were “disappointed” in Clark in May 2017 when he posted on his social-media account a female reporter who had written about his domestic-violence case could have a job “cleaning my fish tank.” Three months later Clark sucker-punched teammate Germain Ifedi in a training camp fight.
In February, Clark lost his father and three other family members in a house fire in Cleveland. Since then, he’s had a noticeably wider-world view of his job and his life.
He said this month: “I can go through anything in life, and it’s not going to challenge me like that challenged me.”
Now, he wants to show how he’s changed.
“Man, I started that (process) four, five years ago now,” Clark said. “It’s an everyday thing. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about things that I’ve been through in my life, and how they’ve affected me. Everything I went through up until that point and then to get drafted second round shows you where I could have been.
“At the end of the day, I feel like everything happens for a reason. It happened. I feel like that I am a better guy than I was four or five years ago. And that I can just keep on going up.”
That’s what Clark consistently preaches on his Instagram page online, keep on going up.
“The meaning of that is, to just keep on getting better in life. All around.”
That makes Sunday’s game at Detroit ultra important to him. It’s the first time he’s played in the state since Michigan dropped him in the fall of 2014. The Lions’ Ford Field is 45 miles east of Michigan Stadium, where he played for the Wolverines.
“Yeah, it’s very important,” he said. “I want to ball out there. I don’t like how it ended there for me.
“Last time, you know, I was suspended from the (Michigan) team basically to end my career there. At the end of the day one thing I want to do is come back and give those people something to watch, and let those people know what the Seahawks are all about.
“I’m going to have a lot of people there. A lot. I’m going to try to turn them out. Trying to turn the stadium out. That’s the goal.”
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