What should KC Chiefs expect from Frank Clark in 2022?

Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark (55) Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark (55) Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports /

Ever since the Kansas City Chiefs acquired Frank Clark from the Seattle Seahawks in April of 2019, his tenure has been a controversial one in terms of on-field play. It hasn’t helped that he immediately signed a $105 million contract, which made him one of the highest-paid players at his position at the time.

Since becoming a Chief in 2019, Clark has 26.5 career sacks in 52 games, both in the regular season and playoffs. Pro Football Reference also has him at 56 QB hits during that same time frame. His Pro Football Focus overall grades have been 63.3, 54.3, and 54.9 (with 60.0 considered “average”) in 2019, 2020, and 2021, respectively. His pass-rush grades were 64.3, 56.3, and 64.0 over that same stretch, good for tied-57th, 101st, and tied-63rd, respectively, among all EDGE rushers (with at least 150 pass-rush snaps) during those 3 seasons.

Even though it’s fair to say that his production in Kansas City has been underwhelming, he did have 5 sacks during the successful super bowl run in 2019-20, leading the NFL in sacks that postseason. Yes, the sack production speaks for itself, but the analytics were not as impressed with Clark’s 2019 run as the sack numbers would indicate. His PFF pass-rush grade for those 3 games was an average of 59.9, ranking16th among all EDGE rushers with at least 20 pass-rush snaps.

Frank Clark is entering a key year in his Chiefs tenure. With underwhelming recent production, his 2022 season will determine his Chiefs fate in the future.

I tend to agree with the PFF grade since I can think of at least two sacks that he recorded that were “coverage sacks” (and not sacks in which Clark just flat-out beat the offensive tackle). Oe one sack, Deshaun Watson held the ball for about 30 years before Clark got him down. On the game-ending play against the Titans, Ryan Tannehill held the ball for a while and did his tackle a disservice by not stepping up in the pocket when he had the chance, which gave Clark a “free-pass” at the Tennessee QB.

Moving on to the present, Clark’s contract was restructured in March, in which his 2022 cap hit was reduced to $13.7 million, down from an originally scheduled $26.3 million, thus saving around $12.6 million for 2022. For 2023, according to Over The Cap, Clark is scheduled to have a $28.675 million cap hit. If the Chiefs were to release or trade Clark after this upcoming season, they could be stuck with $9.075 million in dead money, which would save $19.6 million overall. The Chiefs are projected to have around $16 million in cap space for 2023, with 42 roster spots filled, after Joshua Williams signs his rookie contract.

If the Chiefs were to release Clark next March, that would get them to about $35.6 million in cap space for 2023 with 41 roster spots filled. The Chiefs also have Chris Jones and Orlando Brown Jr.’s next contracts to worry about for next year along with what to do with Frank Clark.

Over $9 million in dead cap space is never fun for an NFL team but unless Clark is willing to sign a very team-friendly contract extension to erase much of the ~$29 million cap charge, like this offseason, a release or trade may be the Chiefs’ only option to get some breathing room for free agency.

It should also be noted that the current edge rushers behind Frank Clark for 2023, like 2022, are George Karlaftis, Mike Danna, and Joshua Kaindoh. If the young players play like young players and no one steps up and if his production greatly increases, it can be argued that Clark’s camp will have a ton of leverage for a potential negotiation for a new contract, which could make a release more likely.

I don’t have a ton of hope for a Clark resurgence this season. If he can play at even a top-30 edge rusher level, which he arguably hasn’t been at since 2018, that would be critical for a Chiefs defense that’s facing a ton of questions this season, especially since they are loaded with young talent, both experienced and inexperienced. If he can get back to the level he played at with Seattle in 2018, which wasn’t amazing either, then the Chiefs have a glimmer of hope to have a decent defense in 2022. But if he plays at the same level he did in 2021, then the Chiefs will likely have the same pass rush problem they had last year.

Due to the Chiefs not having a ton of established pass rush talent, Clark’s 2022 production may be one of the factors that could be the difference between a second place finish in the AFC West and a potential second Super Bowl victory in the last four years.

How do you think Frank Clark will play this season? Do you think he is still on the Chiefs come the 2023 season? Let me know in the comment section, or on Twitter (@StrozinskyLucas).

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