RENTON, Wash. -- The press conference held by Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider to announce the selection of former Michigan defensive end Frank Clark with the 63rd overall pick in the 2015 draft was unlike any other the two men had held since they took the team over in 2010. Carroll usually bounces into the media room to talk about draft picks, eager to share motivational bon mots and tell us just how special his new Seahawks are. Schneider's draft pressers are generally highly entertaining combinations of wisecracks and scout-speak. This time, both men looked nervous. Schneider appeared far more intense than usual, and Carroll seemed lost in thought.
Which made sense, because the Clark selection itself was unlike any other the two men had made. The Seahawks under Carroll and Schneider have taken several calculated risks through their tenure, and while they all haven't worked out—the trade of a first-round pick to the Vikings for receiver Percy Harvin in 2013 serves as the primary example—the Seattle brain trust had built up more than enough equity over the last five years by building a Super Bowl-level team from nothing. They were able to take whatever hits they were going to take for any risks they undertook.
But the Frank Clark pick was different for a number of reasons, and the team's explanation of the pick was just as unusual. Clark, who was kicked off the Michigan team last November after he was charged with misdemeanor domestic violence and assault at a hotel in Ohio. According to the police report, Clark punched his girlfriend in the face, slammed her to the ground, pushed her against a wall and pinned her down on a bed. Clark's alleged victim reportedly fought back, leaving Clark with a bloody nose after his alleged victim bit it. The police report indicated that Clark was intoxicated at the time of the incident.
"I didn't do [expletive] to her," Clark was quoted as saying in the police report. "I didn't touch that woman, she is a woman. I don't know what they do, what they go through, I don't know what she is going through, I know she is going through some crazy fits, and she may be pregnant."
After he was kicked off the team, Clark spent his time between the Barwis Methods training facility in Plymouth, Mich. and the EXOS facility in California. There, he tried to maintain the physical abilities that allowed him to amass 11 sacks and 35 tackles for loss over four seasons for the Wolverines. He also continued to undergo counseling, which he had been doing before the incident. Clark's first real media encounter after he was charged (the case was settled in April when he pled to the lesser charge of disorderly conduct) came at the scouting combine in February. There, Clark attempted to explain his side of the story, but it didn't come out well.
"The detail I did get into I did with NFL teams ... when we were in the room, the person involved let something get out of hand and took something further than what it was planned," Clark said in late February. "You look at a phone, and nowadays, these phones get a lot of people in trouble. I’m not saying I’m a womanizer or anything of that nature. I’m just saying it was a confrontation between me and one of my friends and the woman involved took it to another level that it shouldn’t have been taken to. That’s fine. I’m not throwing her under the bus. I’m not saying she did anything wrong. I’m just saying that a lot of things that happened in that room that night could have been avoided."
Especially in the wake of the Ray Rice, Greg Hardy and Adrian Peterson incidents, Clark was seen to be victim-blaming with that quote, whether that was what he was doing or not. A player with second- to third-round talent on the field might have been seen as undraftable under those circumstances, but Carroll and Schneider saw it differently.
The Seahawks knew that they were treading on new ground—at a press conference with Seattle media a few years ago, Schneider said specifically and explicitly that any player who had put his hands on a woman in a violent sense would have trouble finding his way onto Seattle's roster. And after Schneider opened the Friday presser with a prepared statement, I asked him if that deal-breaker was still in place.
“Yeah, it still is," he said. "I can’t get into the specifics of Frank’s case, but that is still a deal-breaker for us, and it will continue to be as we move forward.”
Over the next 20 minutes, Carroll and Schneider were asked several hard questions by a media group that had generally regarded them favorably over the years. Carroll said it was crucial for the team to do extra background work on Clark—"All of the meetings, all of the interviews, questions asked to get to the point where we knew what was going on—that we understood the situation and could go ahead to give him a chance to do this. With all of the elevated awareness that made us more tuned in with what we needed to do to take care of business. John made his trips, we visited with the kid numerous times, we flew him in here—we have taken every opportunity and every chance to figure out what we needed to figure out. We did it, and we are going to hold him to a very [high] standard of expectation like we do, and we think he is going to be very successful.”
I asked both men what made Clark worth all this effort—and all this potential backlash.
“Holy cow, this is a 272-pound man who is extremely explosive," Schneider said. "He still has an upside, he’s an interior rusher, edge rusher, can play SAM [strong-side linebacker], set the edge—they did a lot with him at the school.”
“His mentality in the way he plays the game -- he is such a competitive kid, and it’s so important to him to play his best," Carroll added. "He plays so tough and chases the football—he is physical in the way the players play. He just has the kind of nature that really fits in with those players. He has a ton of upside, as John said, and he is going to improve a lot. We think he is going to be a really exciting addition to the club.”
Later in the press conference, Schneider talked about there being two sides to every story, but stopped everyone short when he said that the team had not spoken to the alleged victim. Just as Bears owner George McCaskey was pilloried when he signed former 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald when he talked to just about everyone but the alleged victim in that case, Carroll and Schneider were seen by some to want the answers that would lead them to the player they wanted. And if the story went another way? Well, that was a minor inconvenience.
In truth, situations like these are far more complicated than that. The NFL was rightfully castigated for the way its representatives spoke with Janay Rice with Ray Rice and members of the Ravens' organization in the room, and no victim of domestic violence wants to deal with subsequent harassment from any part of the NFL. Carroll and Schneider did say that they spoke with the counselors who were involved in the Clark case, and Carroll said that the alleged victim "collaborated to the way the case was handled at the end in a supportive fashion."
Of course, collaboration and corroboration are two different things.
In a Friday conference call, Clark seemed happy and relieved—you could almost hear him beaming over the phone. Not only did he beat the perception that he would be a third-day pick or undrafted free agent, he landed an opportunity to contribute to one of the NFL's best defenses.
“We had a lot of contact," Clark said of the pre-draft courting. "I talked to a lot of coaches on the staff—a lot of the scouts, with a couple of the head scouts we had a lot of contact in the last couple of weeks, last couple of months. There’s always been an attraction between us—my agent had always told me, ‘I think the Seahawks have a man-crush on you.’ And I was like, ‘Man, I am the one with the man-crush on the Seahawks.’ Especially since Shaun Alexander played, it’s been one of my favorite teams, it just looked fun to play in [CenturyLink Field]—it’s a dream come true.”
As for the inevitable backlash, Clark said that he was ready to prove that he was not the person perception has made him out to be.
“Like I tell everybody, [when] you get to know me, Frank’s not an angry guy, the only time he’s angry is on the field. All the fans, I just want everyone to have faith in me. Give me a couple of years and believe in me, and I promise you—I’m saying it right now—I promise they won’t be upset.”
Angry on the field is fine. As for everything else, the Seahawks have taken a very calculated risk, and it'll be on them if it doesn't work out. For better or worse, Frank Clark will have already proven himself.