Why 2020 Will Be Frank Clark's Most Important Season Yet

After an injury-plagued regular season in 2019, Kansas City Chiefs pass-rusher Frank Clark proved his worth in the Chiefs' Super Bowl run. But can he keep it up in 2020?
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Frank Clark had an active year, to put it mildly, in 2019. Prior to the 2019 NFL Draft, Clark was still a member of the Seattle Seahawks after receiving a franchise tag from the team. Then on April 23, the Seahawks traded Clark and a third-round draft pick to the Kansas City Chiefs for a first, second and third-round draft pick. After the trade, the Chiefs signed Clark to one of the largest contracts in the NFL for a defensive player. So how did Clark get to this point without being one of the biggest names in football?

Clark played four seasons for the Michigan Wolverines from 2011-14. Clark was named second-team All-Big 10 in 2013 as a junior after racking up 42 tackles, 12.5 tackles for a loss, five sacks and two fumble recoveries. In Clark’s senior season at Michigan, Pro Football Focus graded him as the No. 1 NCAA edge defender (92.1), edging out other future NFL stars Joey Bosa, Myles Garrett and Trey Flowers. However, his season was cut short after an arrest for domestic violence led to him being dismissed from the program. This was his second incident at Michigan; the first of which was felony second-degree home invasion and alleged theft of a MacBook Air between his freshman and sophomore seasons.

Clark put in a good performance at the Combine, getting a Relative Athletic Score of what is now 8.12 (which was higher previously because it is based on other players at their position) with an elite agility grade and great explosion grade. Clark was then taken 63rd overall in the 2014 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks were coming off of their second consecutive Super Bowl appearance with Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril leading them off the edge, which meant Clark would have to take a backup role.

During his second season, Clark remained a backup until an opening came up. Bennett was injured and was out from Week 8 to Week 12. During these five games, Clark had 20 pressures and three sacks. Clark finished the regular season with 54 pressures and 11 sacks, and he added an additional 11 pressures and two sacks in two postseason games. This remains his career-best for pressure rate in a postseason (21.6%), including his 2019 postseason with the Chiefs (15.7%). Clark also had what remains his career-best run defense grade for PFF (82.7). Clark showed that he was going to make an impact in the NFL for years to come.

The third season of Clark’s career was his first that he would make at least $1 million and it was looked at as a potential breakout season. After Week 3, Clark became a definitive starter next to Bennett after Avril suffered a neck injury that ended his season. Avril has not played another game since the injury. Clark finished that third season with 56 pressures, 10 sacks and a 79.3 pass-rushing grade for PFF, which remains his career-best. This was proof that Clark wasn’t just a one-hit-wonder.

Clark’s fourth and final season with the Seahawks was at that point the most important of his career because it would determine the kind of second contract he would receive. He could have earned that deal from the Seahawks or another team, or, if the Seahawks would decide to place the franchise tag on him, he would earn more than $17 million in 2019. This time, Clark was the main pass-rushing focus in Seattle. Avril had been released by the Seahawks in May after failing a physical designation and Bennett was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles in March.

In 2018, Clark put up the best all-around season of his career. He hit career-highs in pressures (64 in the regular season, 69 including the postseason), sacks (13 in the regular season, 14 including the postseason) and PFF grade (77.4). His PFF Pass-Rushing Productivity rating of 8.9 put him fourth among edge defenders with 200+ pass-rushing snaps, trailing only Jerry Hughes, Cameron Wake and Khalil Mack. He reached the heights that the Seahawks wanted him to attain, and he would get rewarded for it. The Seahawks placed the franchise tag on him on March 9, and then he was traded to the Chiefs just two days before the 2019 NFL Draft. Clark got his payday with a massive five-year, $105.5 million contract. As a member of the Seahawks, Clark made fewer than $4 million in total. According to Over The Cap, the only defenders with larger contracts for total value are Khalil Mack ($141 million), Aaron Donald ($135 million) and Von Miller ($114.5 million). As good as Clark had been, was he that good? It was time for him to prove it.

In 2019, Clark would remain relatively cheap for the Chiefs, counting for $6.5 million against the cap. Clark came into the 2019 season injured and started off slow as a result with just one pressure through Week 2 and just one sack through Week 6. However, the healthier Clark got, the more productive his play became. He had six pressures and two sacks in Week 7 vs. the Denver Broncos, seven pressures in Week 11 vs. the Los Angeles Chargers and seven pressures in Week 17 vs. the Chargers. Despite these big performances, Clark’s regular-season numbers still fell short of his seasons with the Seahawks. In the regular season, Clark had the lowest total pressures (47), sacks (eight) and PFF grade (63.0) of his career, besides his rookie season.

To make this deal worth it, Clark would need to start putting up some big performances sooner rather than later, and there would be no better time than the sudden-death postseason. Clark’s postseason was one for the history books for Chiefs defenders. His 17 total pressures — including 10 against the Texans — was the second-most of the playoffs, trailing Nick Bosa’s 22, and his five sacks — three of which also came against the Texans — made him one of six players since sacks have been recorded in 1982 to have at least five sacks in a single postseason. Clark became one of the biggest factors, alongside quarterback Patrick Mahomes, tight end Travis Kelce, defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, right tackle Mitchell Schwartz and several others, in the Chiefs reaching their ultimate goal: bringing the Lombardi Trophy back to Kansas City for the first time in 50 years.

So now that Clark had the postseason he had this past winter, how can he build on that? Can he continue playing the way he did? Considering the money Clark is about to make, the Chiefs will need him to be. According to Over The Cap, the most Clark has made to this point in his career is the $6.5 million he made in 2019, which was more than he had made in all four of his seasons with the Seahawks combined. However, he will make $19.3 million in 2020, $25.8 million in 2021, $26.3 million in 2022 and $27.8 million in 2023. That $27.8 million is more than any season in Khalil Mack’s or Von Miller’s contracts. That is a lot of money for someone who doesn’t play one of the sport’s three most important roles of quarterback, receiver or defensive back.

If Clark wants to show he can be worth that kind of money, he will need to continue putting up huge postseason numbers, but it will need to continue into the regular season more consistently. Clark has shown in his past that he can be a true elite edge defender, but it has been mere flashes of brilliance rather than streaks of it.

The referenced Pro Football Focus stats are a part of PFF Premium Stats, which comes with a PFF Elite subscription. Go to join.pff.com for more.