RENTON -- Ahead of the start of the NFL Draft this Thursday, the most pressing topic for the Seattle Seahawks is the status of defensive end Frank Clark.
Clark, who turns 26 in June, is coming off a 13.0 sack season that led the Seahawks last season. Seattle used the franchise tag on Clark to keep him from becoming an unrestricted free agent and a penciled in salary of $17.1 million for the 2019 season. However, various reports in recent weeks have signaled that Clark is the subject of trade talks ahead of the draft.
With Russell Wilson becoming the league's highest-paid player after signing his new deal with Seattle last week, the Seahawks now have Clark, defensive tackle Jarran Reed and linebacker Bobby Wagner all set to enter the final year of their current contracts with the team. Clark technically isn't under contract with the team until he signs his franchise tender, which is unlikely to happen until training camp.
The challenge for the Seahawks is they may not be able to keep all three defensive stars together and give them the new contracts they are all seeking.
"Feasible, very challenging," General Manager John Schneider said Monday in discussing the viability of keeping all three players together moving forward.
The Seahawks will only be able to use the franchise tag on one of the three players next spring should all three remain unsigned to deals beyond the 2019 season. That is one of the reasons why Clark is being floated about in trade discussions currently. And even though this draft class is thought to be heavy on defensive line talent, Clark is a proven option compared to a bunch of prospects.
"It's been a critical position forever," head coach Pete Carroll said. "The hardest, most unique player to find -- big, fast, agile, athletic as he can be, to rush the passer. It's why people reach so far to find those guys. They're so rare. I don't think it's changed. You always need somebody to come off the edge and cause problems for the passing game. Nothing new."
Schneider would not comment on the nature of any discussion about Clark outside of saying they intend to discuss every possibility available to them.
"We're involved in a lot of deals," Schneider said. "We take a lot of pride in that. We wouldn't be doing our jobs if we weren't listening to everybody. I get it, people need to speculate this time of year. ... We take a lot of pride in having relationships through the league and understanding what's going on as much as we possibly can."
What is unclear is whether the Seahawks will get offered enough in return to decide moving Clark is the right plan of action. Beyond Clark, Seattle's pass rush group is thin. Rasheem Green and Jacob Martin will enter their second seasons this fall. Cassius Marsh and Nate Orchard were added through free agency to pair with Quinton Jefferson and Nazair Jones as well. However, Marsh's 5.5 sacks last year with the San Francisco 49ers are the most posted by any member of that group in a given season. Seattle could elect to keep Clark through the 2019 season with the understanding he'd likely leave as a free agent next spring, which would potentially yield a compensatory draft pick in return for the 2021 NFL Draft.
Another possible reason for a deal would be that the Seahawks currently have only four selections in this year's draft. Under Schneider and Carroll, they've never made fewer than eight selections.
"Well, it's not fun," Schneider said with a laugh in discussing only have four picks. "But we build our team all the way through the year. And that's just part of the process. Not having the six and the seven stems from having a backup quarterback (Brett Hundley) and a core special-teams player (Shalom Luani), and obviously the second-round pick is a Pro Bowl left tackle (Duane Brown). It's just part of the process."
Seattle has the No. 21 overall pick in the first round, No. 84 in the third round, No. 124 in the fourth round and No. 159 in the fifth-round. Adding to that allotment would seem to be a priority for Schneider and the Seahawks. The two best ways of accomplishing that task is to trade a player, such as Clark, or to trade down from the No. 21 overall pick. Trading down is a tool Seattle has utilized frequently and could do again on Thursday night.
Regardless of how many picks they can add to their stable, Schneider said undrafted free agency will have an even greater importance than usual for Seattle this year.
"It’s going to be a huge focus for us," he said. "We’re going to have a lot of people looking at us right away. I’m sure a lot of these players, their representatives are going to be looking at us as a very attractive place."
Photo Credit: SEATTLE, WA - DECEMBER 20: Defensive lineman Frank Clark #55 of the Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner #54 of the Seattle Seahawks hit quarterback Johnny Manziel #2 of the Seattle Seahawks during the first half of play at CenturyLink Field on December 20, 2015 in Seattle, Washington. The Seahawks won the game 30-13. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)