On Wednesday, Sports Illustrated MMQB columnist Andrew Brandt hosted sports agent Erik Burkhardt on his The Business of Sports podcast.
They spent most of the hour-long program talking about Burkhardt’s client Kyler Murray, who was selected by the Arizona Cardinals with the first overall pick of the NFL draft two weeks ago.
But Burkhardt also represents new Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark, whom the Chiefs acquired through a trade with the Seattle Seahawks just days before the draft — giving up their 2019 first-round pick and one of their 2020 second-round picks to get the rights to the four-year veteran, and signing him to a five-year deal worth more than $105 million.
Brandt asked his guest to go behind the scenes of the deal, and Burkhardt said their first move had been to avoid signing the franchise tag the Seahawks had applied to his client.
”I knew the minute you sign the tag, they can trade you,” he explained. “Obviously nobody is going to give up gigantic compensation — top 50 or 100 picks — without getting a long-term deal done, but at the same time, I always wanted to make sure that Frank and I controlled it. Because if [Seahawks general manager] John Schneider called us and said, ‘We’ve sent you to Team X,’ and we don’t think it’s a good fit and we don’t want to play for Team X — regardless of what that contract looked like — we could control that by not signing the tag.”
Burkhardt said that there was a lot of interest in Clark, who racked up 13 sacks, 27 quarterback hits, 10 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, two recovered fumbles, an interception and two passes defensed in 2018.
“I was talking to several teams dating all the way back to when he was franchised — when I was allowed to talk to other teams on his behalf,” he said. “Frank has a lot of fans out there — let’s put it that way — in terms of what he’s put on tape and what he’s capable of doing.”
But Burkhardt said interested teams wanted to get some idea of what kind of contract Clark would want before getting into substantive negotiations with the Seahawks over compensation.
“I was working closely with John — communicating with him and all of the other teams to see what that would look like; what the parameters of a potential deal would be. They wanted to know before they spent 100 hours knife-fighting John on a potential trade that they could get something done with me. So it truly was a three-party deal that made my job infinitely more difficult than, say... the DeMarcus Lawrence deal where you’re just literally negotiating with one team.”
Ultimately it boiled down to only a few teams.
”I had some really really good conversations with three or four teams that were very interested. I believe they all made pretty strong offers to Seattle. I know John and Pete Carroll didn’t want him to get away, because they know what he is, how good he’s been and how good he will be. He’s just scratching the surface; he’s 25 years old. But then it got to the point they were getting a first- and second-round return back.”
But Burkhardt said that it wasn’t only about what the Chiefs were willing to give for Clark.
“Those guys think the world of Frank,” he said. “They traded away Dee Ford, and I saw that as an opportunity — and a place that Frank really wanted to be. There were two other teams that were very serious, too. But I think Kansas City with Patrick Mahomes there and that young team they’ve got — I know [Frank] knows the Honey Badger [newly-acquired Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu] a little bit — they really kind of rose to the top.”
Given that the Chiefs — a team that cut running back Kareem Hunt last season after video surfaced of Hunt being involved in an altercation with a woman outside his Cleveland apartment, and is currently waiting out the investigation of an alleged battery incident in wide receiver Tyreek Hill’s home — would legitimately have concerns about Clark, who was kicked off the Michigan Wolverines team during his senior year after he was charged in a alleged incident of domestic violence, Brandt asked Burkhardt to address concerns about Clark’s character.
”I think that’s a fair question,” he replied. “I just think that every circumstance in this league is very different. I know how far Frank has come. Look, I didn’t actively recruit Frank Clark coming out of college. I read some of the stuff that everybody else read — police reports and everything else.”
Burkhardt said that he didn’t talk to Clark until he was asked to do so by one of LeBron James’ representatives — whom he said he knows and trusts implicitly.
“LeBron’s guy called me and said, ‘I’ve got a young man here. He was kicked off the team at Michigan. We don’t believe this is who he is from a character perspective. Here are the facts.’ I flew in and sat down with him — this was before his draft. And I said, ‘I don’t recruit a lot of guys, but tell me where you’re at — what happened.’ And he kind of went through it.”
After that conversation, Burkhardt said he did his own research.
“I spoke to everybody through that process — including his girlfriend at the time. I talked to his head coach at Michigan — who absolutely loved him. I [spoke to] a coach on the Michigan staff who absolutely loved him — said he was the hardest-working player on that team. Brady Hoke was the head coach, and [he] said, ‘Dude, my administration essentially made me kick him off.’”
So Burkhardt went back to Clark and made him an offer.
“I told Frank, ‘If you do everything I tell you to do, I’ll take you on as a client.’ Frank and I still laugh about it now. Frank has done everything possible to overcome whatever that situation was. It’s tricky, because the NFL is judge, jury and executioner, and they’re trying to step into the middle of a lot of these things — and that’s just a really really difficult place for them to be. I understand why, but every scenario is different.”
Burkhardt said that you shouldn’t just take his word for it, though. Even before the 2015 draft — in which Clark was taken in the second round with the 63rd pick — multiple NFL teams had done their own homework and come to the same conclusion.
”I know five other teams that really liked Frank and would have taken him in that second round range,” Burkhardt told Brandt. “[They] fully vetted the deal, too. And I mean by going up there and talking to his counselor at Michigan... talking to coaches and teammates and everybody involved in the alleged incident. I think we all did our homework, and I think that before the Chiefs made this deal, they did theirs, too — they talked to everybody under the sun as well.”
Burkhardt was reluctant to get into much detail about his conversations on the subject with the Chiefs, but confirmed that concerns about Clark’s character came up.
”Everything came up. And I think Frank is going to make those guys look really good and really smart. They’re very comfortable with who he is as a person and obviously as a player — as was Seattle. Seattle offered us a gigantic contract. All year long, we’ve been going back and forth. Multiple other teams were involved in the trade and signing. This wasn’t just a one-off thing with Kansas City. Everyone was comfortable with that side of it.”
From Burkhardt’s perspective, though, the proof of Clark’s character is in what he has done since he’s entered the NFL.
“You’re never going to be successful at anything — much less in the NFL — if you don’t have a good head on your shoulders, and you don’t treat people the right way,” he said. “I’m just really proud of Frank. He got involved in the community in Seattle — really involved in a homeless shelter there. He won their Ed Block Courage Award — voted on by his teammates — in Seattle this year. That’s how far he’s come.”