Throughout the course of this offseason, coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider have maintained quarterback Russell Wilson and defensive end Frank Clark would remain Seahawks for the long haul.
Since Carroll and Schneider arrived back in 2010, they’ve typically had no issues retaining high-profile stars, often agreeing to extensions with players like Wilson, linebacker Bobby Wagner, and most recently tackle Duane Brown during the late summer prior to the start of training camp.
But the Seahawks’ brain trust has never faced a situation like the one they find themselves immersed in right now. Not with their quarterback seeking to become the NFL’s highest-paid player and a rising star pass rusher wants to cash in as one of the league’s highest-paid defenders at the exact same time.
As Wilson’s imposed April 15 negotiation deadline looms tomorrow, the Seahawks have been working throughout the weekend with his representatives trying to reach an agreement with their star signal caller. To this point, it remains unclear if both sides will be able to strike a deal approaching the eleventh hour.
Without a deal in hand, Wilson still intends to report for the start of Seattle’s offseason program on Monday and reportedly will cut off negotiations to play out the final year of his current contract. The organization will still hold plenty of leverage when it comes to his future, with the franchise tag at their disposal for at least one season should they use it.
By making such a decision, however, the Seahawks will be forfeiting leverage with Clark, who will immediately become an unrestricted free agent next March. And given the current stalemate with his contractual demands, that’s where this whole process becomes tricky.
Clark, who originally indicated he’d play for more than $17 million guaranteed on the franchise tag, has already altered his original plans after Seattle applied the non-exclusive tag to him last month. Per reports, he doesn’t intend to show up for offseason workouts and training camp without a new deal, which has led to rampant trade speculation on the heels of this month’s upcoming draft.
While trade rumors revolving around Wilson appear to be unfounded, typical offseason filler, the idea Seattle would shop Clark to other potential suitors shouldn’t be dismissed. Though this regime hasn’t traded star players in the past, they’ve also never had to invest more than 30 percent of their salary cap into two players, which could be a very real consequence of re-signing both Wilson and Clark to lucrative extensions.
Even with the cap rising around $10 million per year and new revenue coming into the league in coming seasons, Wilson and his reps are pushing for $34 million annually or more to surpass Aaron Rodgers and establish a new market for premier quarterbacks. On his own, Wilson could approach nearly 20 percent of the team’s cap room.
As for Clark, after watching Cowboys defensive end Demarcus Lawrence sign a new five-year deal worth $21 million per year, he’ll likely be demanding at least $21.5 million on his new deal. Under those terms, he’d become the third-highest paid defender in football behind Rams star defensive tackle Aaron Donald and Bears edge rusher Khalil Mack.
With only a handful of players on the books past 2019, Seattle would be able to absorb both of those contracts in the future. It’s not an impossible task. But with far less financial flexibility to construct a quality roster, would it be worth it
Coming off a surprising 10-win season culminating in a return to postseason play, Seattle wants to take the next step forward towards re-emerging as a title contender. Losing either Wilson or Clark, who would each be deemed foundational players for this next era of Seahawks football, would certainly cripple those efforts.
In a perfect world, Seattle’s savvy cap experts will find a way to lock up both Wilson and Clark without jeopardizing the team’s ability to field a competitive roster around them. There's still a possibility this could happen, especially if Wilson strikes a deal before tomorrow's deadline.
But if they truly have to pick their poison and cannot justify re-signing both players, Schneider and his front office shouldn’t lose sleep over this decision.
As valuable as Clark is, he’s not a franchise quarterback in the middle of his prime. With pass rushers more valuable than ever, the Seahawks should aim to get as much value for him as they can prior to the NFL Draft.