The 2020-2021 NFL season is finally over as the Chiefs fell to the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay in Super Bowl LV 31-9. One of the big storylines throughout the Chiefs season and during the playoffs was if star defensive end Frank Clark was ever going to break through. For many weeks fans told us to "just wait for playoff Frank Clark" and that "Clark is worth his contract as long as he shows out in the playoffs" but that never quite happened. Playoff Frank Clark consisted of 9 combined tackles and 3 sacks and if you really want to count the second sack at the end of the Buffalo game in garbage time where Josh Allen basically just ran out of bounds, cool. Whatever. However, Clark had zero pressures against Cleveland and did fine against Buffalo. Oh yeah, and let's not forget Frank Clark got neutralized against the Browns' 3rd-string left tackle who was on the Jets practice squad earlier this year. Against Tampa Bay, Clark had the sack on a gang tackle and a tackle on a sweep in the first quarter but after that he didn't do anything and Tom Brady was only pressured 4 times all game meanwhile Patrick Mahomes was pressured 38 times which is asinine. If that was the playoff Frank Clark we waited all year for then I personally am done with him. Playoff Clark did not make up for regular season Clark like last year. With all of that being said the Chiefs wouldn't be doing their jobs this offseason if they didn't explore the market for a Frank Clark trade.
Before we get into the specific reasons as to why the Chiefs should trade Frank Clark, let's just look at his contract. In 2021, Clark made $19,000,000 which doesn't sound too bad to some but remember his contract is back-loaded so he's making much more over the next few years. Next year he's slotted to make $25.8 million, $26.3 million in 2022, and $27.8 million in 2023. When you consider Clark's play since he's gotten to Kansas City those numbers don't sound too good for the future. The Clark contract ultimately wouldn't matter as long as the Chiefs kept on winning the Super Bowl but the Chiefs lost the Super Bowl and now an argument can be made that his pay is part of the reason the Chiefs aren't able to improve drastically enough going forward.
In 2019 Frank Clark had just 27 tackles, 8 sacks, 12 tackles for a loss, 3 forced fumbles, and 14 quarterback hits which was underwhelming but he supposedly made up for it in the playoffs with yet a relatively low win rate that postseason and 3 of his 5 sacks coming late in the 4th quarter when the Chiefs were up by more than two touchdowns. I don't mean to totally discredit Clark's playoff performance but just thought it was worth pointing out. In 2020, Clark recorded 21 solo tackles, 6 sacks, 8 tackles for a loss, and 15 quarterback hits. An even worse season. Last year Clark battled injuries and illness so you could maybe attribute some of his poor performances to that, but what about this year? What's the excuse? You would be a fool to say Clark lived up to his contract in 2020 because that's just simply false. He didn't rank in the top five in sacks, tackles, or pressures among defensive ends in the NFL in 2020 yet he's the highest-paid player on the Chiefs defense. Some have pointed out the fact that Clark led the team in sacks this year, but you now what I say to that? It's not impressive to lead the 21st-ranked pass rush in the league with two $20 million per year players on the defensive line.
In fact let's talk about Chris Jones for a second. A lot of fans have seemed to turn on him recently for "not making an impact". This is not true. First, try to remember Chris Jones is a defensive tackle and that it is way harder for Chris Jones to get sacks from the interior. Secondly, Chris Jones still had a 24.5% pressure rate this year which ranked 2nd behind Aaron Donald. To put this into perspective, Frank Clark had a 9.8% pressure rate this season which ranked 53rd at his position. The fact of the matter is that the Chiefs have such a lack of an edge presence that offenses can focus all of their attention on Chris Jones and yet he's still making an impact. Frank Clark is bottom-third in the league in double-team rate and double-team win rate. Meanwhile, Chris Jones has wreaked havoc all year.
It's no secret that Clark has been a massive disappointment as a pass rusher and he has shown no creativity in his pass rush attack. His only move seems to be to try and run around the tackle which unsurprisingly doesn't work. God forbid fans expect a better pass rush when the Chiefs poured in so much money into the position group, but many will still hold onto the fact he's a good run defender. However, Frank Clark's run defense has taken a dip this year as well. He got absolutely destroyed in the run game in the second Denver game, the Jets game, and several others and while PFF isn't gospel, they had Clark's run defense for the year at a 55.7 overall grade which ranked 98th at the position. So, what really is Clark doing? Let's just assume Frank Clark is a good run defender, though. Does "just a good run defender" deserve to be paid $105 million? I would hope not. The poor run defense from the team as a whole shouldn't be placed solely on Clark, but if you aren't actually improving the team's overall run defense that ranked in the 20's as well then what are you really doing? I mean seriously, how do you justify Frank Clark getting paid the same as Khalil Mack, Aaron Donald, and Myles Garrett? He's just not on their level. And don't even tell me that Clark has been a vocal leader and brings a "dawg mentality" because that's worn out by now. Also, when the Chiefs traded for Clark it was because they wanted a better scheme fit and run defense and yet the pass rush has become sub-par and the run defense has stayed largely the same as the Chiefs struggle constantly. A lot of that can be put on the linebackers but maybe the Chiefs could have spent on a better linebacking core had they better managed their assets if you see what I'm saying here.
One of the saddest parts about Frank Clark's performance is that he's been outperformed by some of his former Chief counterparts such as Emmanuel Ogbah who had double-digit sacks this year (let's not forget that Ogbah was the Chiefs' sack leader last year before going down with an injury) and Justin Houston. In fact, Mike Renner from PFF tweeted out the other day that it was comical that the Chiefs gave up a ton of assets for Clark and cut Justin Houston only for Houston to be better than Clark over the past couple years.
Here are the numbers:
Frank Clark last two seasons: 6 PD's, 3 FF, 21 sacks, 66 tackles, 20 tackles for a loss, 29 QB hits
55.7 run defense grade in 2020
Justin Houston last two seasons: 3 FF, 19.5 sacks, 69 tackles, 21 tackles for a loss, 30 QB hits,
60.5 run defense grade in 2020
So, Clark and Houston have been pretty similar but would you rather have Clark at $100 million or Justin Houston at $24 million? Pretty easy answer. The money spent on Clark just isn't worth it especially when you look at the other weaknesses on the team like offensive line which we obviously saw in the Super Bowl. What if that money was split up to go to go to Emmanuel Ogbah and Justin Houston and maybe some other veteran pickups instead of Clark? The Chiefs pass rush would certainly be better. What about those two draft picks that Kansas City traded to get Clark as well? Seattle ended up using those to get L.J. Collier and Damien Lewis. While Collier was disappointing as a rookie he came on in 2020 and Damien Lewis was one of the best rookie interior lineman in football. So, in theory the Chiefs could have Justin Houston, Emmanuel Ogbah, L.J. Collier, and Damien Lewis and cap space to work with instead of Frank Clark. That sounds like pretty bad asset management when the Chiefs need more cheap labor especially considering they've whiffed on a lot of picks recently like Breeland Speaks, Dorian O'Daniel, Mecole Hardman etc.
The fact we have to have this conversation is disappointing and Clark isn't necessarily a bad player and I don't want you to think I'm trying to convince you that, but he just is not worth his contract. The Chiefs should do their due-diligence in looking for a trade partner this offseason just to see what's out there but unfortunately Clark's contract is an albatross and he may have little to no trade value. That shouldn't stop the Chiefs from trying, though.
Ideally, the Chiefs should look for a team that is looking to compete in a few years to take on Clark's contract. A team looking to win now probably doesn't have the space to take on Clark's money especially with cap space likely going down after a Covid year and Clark just isn't a hot commodity on the trade market. The perfect trade partner would be a team that isn't contending right now, but feels like they may be close near the end of Clark's contract. Someone like the Houston Texans. A J.J. Watt for Frank Clark swap would make a lot of sense and the relationship between Houston and Watt is sour. Clark could always restructure wherever he lands to make things easier as well and even if Clark isn't traded and Kansas City keeps him he should do the team a favor and restructure.
It's honestly unlikely that Clark gets traded for reasons already stated but the Chiefs should at least throw out their line and see if they get any bites. Clark isn't getting the job done and his performance doesn't justify his cap hit.