By getting his 2022 cap hit down to $13.7 million, the Kansas City Chiefs were able to hang on to defensive end Frank Clark for another year despite the overwhelming majority of the population expecting him to be cut. That fate will ultimately be delayed by 12 months, as Clark's $30M-plus cap hit next offseason comes with a dead cap hit of just over $9M.
Clark's time in Kansas City is almost surely coming to an end following the 2022 campaign, and for good reason. When the Chiefs traded for him in the 2019 offseason, they inked him to a five-year deal worth a whopping $104M and expected elite or near-elite production. While Clark has made the Pro Bowl in each of his seasons with the team, it's easy to see that he hasn't played up to expectations.
In each of the past three seasons, Clark has seen his sack totals drop from eight to six, then to four-and-a-half. After recording 48 pressures in 2018 (per Pro-Football-Reference), his highest total with the Chiefs is 29. He hasn't missed a ton of games, but health has also been a nagging issue for him. Clark is far from the player he was when he came to Kansas City, and his legend from the club's 2019-20 playoff run is quickly growing old in a "what have you done for me lately?" league.
With all of that said, don't be surprised to see Clark piece together a quietly productive 2022 season.
First and foremost, this is quite literally (barring a miracle) a contract year for Clark. He's 28 years old as of the publishing of this article and will turn 29 in June, so age isn't an issue just yet. He's still at the point of his career that should coincide with his athletic prime as a pass-rusher.
With one year left on his current team, he's playing for perhaps his final multi-year contract this season. Even if he fails to secure a long-term pact and is just a one-year floater after the season, he can still maximize his earnings by having a good 2022. He has every incentive to play at least somewhat well in a pivotal stage of his football life.
The injury bug has bitten Clark hard in the past. Early in his Chiefs tenure, he had a serious illness that caused him to lose weight and, thus, his power. Once that strength and explosiveness were recovered, a hamstring injury led to him missing the start of last season and being slightly hampered thereafter. Per Aaron Wilson of Pro Football Network, a shoulder injury has also held Clark back some. Assuming health — which is never a guarantee in the NFL — that's a reason to expect natural improvement as well.
How much will Clark improve if he's healthy and motivated? Is a 2019-like performance possible? There's a case to be made for it. Without off-field distractions and injuries, as well as an external motivator (this being the end of the line for the Chiefs) working in his favor, the stars are aligning for Clark to have a mini-bounceback of sorts in 2022. The Chiefs would certainly sign up for anything better than what he gave them in 2020 and 2021. It remains to be seen whether 'The Shark' is capable of capitalizing, but there's plenty of blood in the water this season.
For an extended conversation about Clark, as well as the questions we answered from a weekly mailbag, check out Thursday's episode of the Roughing the Kicker podcast with Conner Christopherson of Arrowhead Report.
For more Kansas City Chiefs coverage and analysis, be sure to subscribe to the 'Roughing the Kicker' podcast. RTK is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever else you listen to your favorite programs.