One of the highest priorities for the Kansas City Chiefs this offseason was addressing the defensive end position.
First, they cut defensive end Frank Clark and let defensive end Carlos Dunlap test free agency. With those two departures, the Chiefs would need to address the room. They brought former San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Charles Omenihu in free agency on a two-year deal. Omenihu brings a blend of inside-out versatility that the Chiefs' defense hasn't had since Steve Spagnuolo has been defensive coordinator.
The Chiefs also decided to address defensive end in the draft. With their first-round pick, they selected Kansas State's Felix Anuduke-Uzomah, pairing him with defensive end George Karlaftis as the long-term pairing at defensive end. Even after selecting Anudike-Uzomah, the Chiefs decided to double-dip at the position by choosing Stephen F. Austin's B.J. Thompson in the fifth round.
Even after all these moves, there have been discussions about whether the Chiefs should add another defensive end. The most popular candidate is Clark, a stalwart of this era of Chiefs football. Clark hasn't received much free agent interest, but that hasn't stopped defensive tackle Chris Jones from clamoring for Clark's return.
Bring the Shark back.... Will post everyday until it's done!— Chris Jones (@StoneColdJones) May 10, 2023
Bringing Clark back would require some salary cap moves, which would be manageable depending on a potential extension for Jones. However, with the Chiefs adding three defensive ends this offseason, does it still make sense to have Clark on the team? The Chiefs are limited in potential cap space, so should they eat into that for another defensive end?
Let's discuss the pros and cons of a possible Clark reunion:
I'd argue 2022 was his best year as a Chief.
Clark finished with 45 pressures and six sacks in 2022, which was in line with how he's performed in Kansas City, but anecdotally, I felt there was more consistency to Clark's game. Clark has dealt with various injuries and illnesses that have hurt his ability to keep consistent weight and explosiveness throughout the season. Clark would go on long stretches of a season where he was laboring every week, but that didn't appear to be as big of an issue in 2022. If Clark's play and health remain stable, he would still be a positive player.
You can never have enough pass rushers, especially in the playoffs. Clark is third in playoff sacks all-time with 13.5. He's been able to turn up his level of play in the playoffs, especially in clutch moments. With the amount of youth in the defensive line room, having a player with proven playoff production would be incredibly valuable.
Another benefit of Clark being back would be what he provides as a run defender. Right now, the Chiefs are limited on run defenders. Omenihu, Thompson and Anudike-Uzomah have some concerns with run defense. Clark's inclusion back into the defense gives another option as a run defender that can limit how much the Chiefs need to use Omenihu or Anudike-Uzomah as run defenders.
Besides his play, Clark brings value.
Clark is a beloved teammate who is a terrific leader. Karlaftis credited a lot of his development to training sessions with Clark. Jones waxes poetic about Clark consistently, being one of his best friends on the team. His experience and toughness for a young team were incredibly important last year, which wouldn't change this year.
The main issue with bringing back Clark is that he could stunt the growth of Anudike-Uzomah and Karlaftis — and particularly Anudike-Uzomah. Clark's play is good enough to where he can still shoulder a large load of snaps, but the Chiefs have banked their future on Anudike-Uzomah and Karlaftis developing into high-end pass rushers. Giving them as many high-leverage reps as possible is critical, but if Clark is on the team, he could eat into their opportunities to grow.
Another issue with Clark's return is his salary. Clark is already being paid $7.6 million by the Chiefs, but depending on his potential 2023 salary, that could limit the Chiefs' ability to make other moves. If they want to make a move at the trade deadline or acquire a player later in the season, they would be stretched to fit that player under the cap. Considering the Chiefs already have four playable defensive ends but other needs, adding another defensive end as your last move could hurt if injuries occur.
The bottom line
Overall, I think I'd be cool with Clark returning, but on one condition; the Chiefs scale his role back. It's not to say Clark can't shoulder a significant role, but if Clark is to return, I want his best play to be in the playoffs. He's been able to consistently turn up his play in the playoffs, but I would want Clark to be as fresh as possible going into the playoffs. The Chiefs don't have much playoff experience in their defensive line room, so adding a player like Clark would be huge in those big moments.
Luckily for the Chiefs, they have many options at defensive end. Adding three defensive ends this offseason to go along with Danna and Karlaftis means they don't need Clark to play as many snaps in the regular season. Suppose Clark's okay with a role similar to what Carlos Dunlap provided the team; that will reduce his snaps by around 300-400. He can still help the Chiefs in the regular season in that role but not stunt the growth of the other defensive ends in the room. That would also help keep his legs fresh for the playoffs.
Clark's been critical for the Chiefs these past four years, and I still think he has a lot in the tank. If the contract and role work out for the Chiefs, I hope we see him back next year.
Do you want to see the Chiefs bring Frank Clark back for 2023?
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