Imagine a magic genie came to visit you one day—only, it’s a slightly unusual genie. Instead of three unencumbered wishes, you get to pick one thing to change about the K.C. Chiefs. Just one thing. Sounds like a weird genie, right? Anyway, what would you pick?
If I had to pick one thing, something somewhat reasonable—not, say, turning the salary cap off and signing Jalen Ramsey and Myles Garrett—I think I would pick the Frank Clark contract, to go back in time to undo it. For starters, I think that Clark is a decent edge rusher. He has value, he really does, but he’s not the fifth-best edge rusher in the NFL. He’s probably not a top 15 edge rusher.
Where Clark has been a divisive topic over the last couple years, it seems that now many, if not most Chiefs fans agree that Clark’s contract (5 year/$104 million, $62.3M guaranteed), with expected cap hits of $25.8, $26.3 and $27.8 across the next three years, is holding this team back.
The mammoth amount owed to Frank Clark is the one thing to change about the Chiefs.
The Chiefs defense is weak almost across the board, with their pass rush, linebacking core, and secondary all having a rough 2021 so far. Each of these positional groups could benefit from some more talent, be it at the starting spot or in terms of depth. And the fact is, the Chiefs are playing blue-chip money to a player who has not performed consistently, nor has been consistently available.
Clark had a 9.8% pressure rate in 2020, 53rd among defensive lineman in the NFL. He ranked 37th in QB knockdowns in 2020, 53rd in hurries.His 6 sacks last year were good for 44th in the league among all defensive players. Clark missed Week 3 with a hamstring injury, too, so that will be something else to monitor moving forward.
Don’t get me wrong, though. I don’t want to put all the defensive woes on the Clark contract, or Clark. A front office will always have avenues to improve a team, be it the draft or cost-effective free agents. It’s just, the contract is certainly a big part of the problem. The constricted cap simply constrains the amount of, and quality of free agents the Chiefs can bring. If there’s any solid takeaway about the 2021 Chiefs, it’s that the defense is a liability, and at the very least probably won’t ever be the reason the Chiefs win games.
I don’t want to play internet GM here, because it’s reductive. But here is a group of free agents from the 2021 class that collectively would have cost about as much, if not less, than the Chiefs are paying Clark.
- Yannick Ngakoue, DE: 2 year/ $26 mil (Cap hit: 2021: 13 mil) *The Raiders are structuring his deal a little differently, but 13 mil would be the average cap hit*
- Jayon Brown, LB: 1 year/$5.3 mil (Cap hit 2021: 2.6 mil)
- Tyus Bowser, DE: 4 year/ $22 million (Cap Hit: 2021: 3 mil, 2022: 5 mil, 2023: 6.5 mil)
- Quenton Dunbar, CB: 1 year/ $1.1 mil
For a defense that is in need of a few upgrades at key spots, and more depth across the board, it would be nice to see the Chiefs invest substantially at different spots, and the Clark deal makes that hard. The frustrating thing, too, is this Chiefs team truly only needs to be average defensively. They just need to be a little better, at least assuming the offense regains it’s usual form in the coming weeks.
More cap flexibility means that more signings are possible, and with more players, more shots at the dartboard, that goal can be realized. The money from the Clark contract could be allocated more effectively, probably even enough money to make substantial changes across the board. That’s what I’d tell the genie.