ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Big news out of Centura Health Training Center: Frank Clark is going to be a Denver Bronco.
Clark, a 29-year-old edge rusher, ranks third all-time in playoff sacks. His 13.5 sacks in 17 postseason games are the most of any active player in the NFL. Clark won two Super Bowls with the Kansas City Chiefs, earning three Pro Bowl nods in four seasons.
Here’s what you need to know:
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Clark will earn $5.5 million in base salary in 2023, the only season on his one-year deal. His entire base salary will be guaranteed. Clark will also be able to earn up to $2 million in incentives, which means his 2023 compensation could reach $7.5 million in total money.
The Broncos entered Thursday with just under $8 million in salary cap space, according to the NFLPA. Teams typically enter a new season with nearly $10 million cap space to maintain flexibility, so another move could be on the way. Significant changes aren’t needed, but don’t be surprised if a big-money player like Justin Simmons takes his 2023 salary in a one-time signing bonus, pushing some of his cap hit into the future.
Schefter also reported Thursday that the Broncos have been interested in Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook “for weeks.” The Vikings are expected to release Cook tomorrow. The 27-year-old is unlikely to find the $10 million in salary that he was due for 2023 on the open market, but the Broncos will need some fancy accounting if they want to make a push for the four-time Pro Bowler.
Clark has earned more than $81 million during his eight-year NFL career. He played his first four seasons in Seattle after the Seahawks selected him in the second round of the 2015 draft. Clark then signed a five-year, $104 million contract with the Chiefs after they traded a first-round pick for him, but the deal was later renegotiated to reduce his salary for the 2022 and 2023 seasons. Kansas City released Clark this offseason to avoid his $20 million salary.
Clark aligned as a defensive end in the Chiefs’ 4-3 defense. He hasn’t played in a 3-4 defense, like the one the Broncos run, since he entered the NFL. The transition will be interesting, and reminiscent of Randy Gregory’s transition in 2022.
Clark will almost certainly align as an outside linebacker in Denver. At 6-3 and 274 pounds, Clark is slightly larger than the prototype for the position, but he’s similar in size to Gregory and Bradley Chubb.
Clark’s ability to cover will be the subject of plenty of debate, considering Clark only dropped into coverage 20 times last season, a typical number for his career. That’s 1.3 cover snaps per game. But that number probably won’t change significanty in Denver. The Broncos asked Gregory to drop in coverage 2.5 times per game, and Chubb played 5.1 cover snaps per game, easily the most of his career. Simply put, questions about Clark’s cover ability will probably be overblown, since he’ll only cover on a handful of snaps per game, at most.
The bulk of Clark’s duties, of course, will be rushing the passer. The Broncos’ 2022 pass rush finished in the bottom 10 of the league, with 36 sacks. Clark’s job is to pump that sack number up.
As noted above, Clark is one of the NFL’s great playoff pass rushers, with 13.5 sacks per game in 17 games played. He only needs 2.5 more playoff sacks to tie Willie McGinest for the most in NFL history.
But the regular season has been another beast.
While Clark provided .875 sacks per playoff game in Kansas City, he only provided .405 sacks per game in the regular season. That mark was good for six regular-season sacks per season, while largely staying healthy. It was also good for three Pro Bowl appearances, with 2022 being the only season he didn’t earn the honor while playing for the Chiefs.
In Seattle, Clark rotated in sparingly as a rookie but posted 32 sacks in his final three seasons.
Clakr is clearly capable of posting a double-digit sack season, but about six sacks is probably a much better bet. That’s why he was still available in June, and why he’ll earn somewhere betwen $5.5 and $7.5 million. Clark will turn 30 next week, but he should still have plenty of juice in the tank. Spotrac estimated Clark’s market value at $25 million over two years, likely because of his upside.
Clark will be a core pass-rusher in a lineup that should feature DJ Jones, Zach Allen and Randy Gregory alongside him in the front four in sub packages. Other rushers—like Baron Browning, Nik Bonitto, Drew Sanders and Jonathon Cooper—will have opportunities to earn spots in the rotation.
News of Clark’s signing broke minutes before Mike Klis of 9News reported that Browning recently underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair a partially-torn meniscus. The Broncos hope the 24-year-old will return during training camp, but his status for the start of the season is up in the air.
Browning was the expected starter across from Gregory before the Broncos signed Clark. He’s a versatile option at outside linebacker, with plenty of cover ability. When Browning returns, Clark will almost certainly hold down the top spot in the rotation at edge rusher in sub packages, but Browning could hold onto his role in the base defense because of his versatility. Regardless, both players will have plenty of opportunities to see the field. For what it’s worth, Clark played less than 70% of his team’s defensive snaps last season, for the first time since 2017.
It’s worth noting that Clark played with Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson during all four seasons he played in Seattle.
The Off-Field Troubles
Clark’s age and mediocre regular-season numbers are part of the reason why he was still on the open market in June, nearly three months after free agency began. The other likely factor is his extensive legal history, which began more than a decade ago.
In 2012, during his second season at Michigan, Clark was arrested on felony home-invasion charges.
In 2014, Clark was kicked off the team after he was arrested for domestic violence against his girlfriend in an Ohio hotel room. He pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct but the assault charges were dropped. He served a three-day jail sentence.
In 2021, Clark was twice arrested on gun charges. Police found an uzi submachine gun in a bag in his car during a traffic stop. He pled no contest and is currently serving one year of probation.