If Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Poles decides a fortifying veteran presence is needed for his defensive end room before the start of 2023 training camp, he may have a Pro Bowl-caliber connection to explore from his Kansas City days.
Veteran defensive end Frank Clark, a two-time Super Bowl champion and three-time Pro Bowler, has gone unsigned since the Chiefs made him a cap casualty on March 7, and Heavy NFL insider Matt Lombardo believes the Bears could be one of the best fits for him based on how the pieces have fallen after the 2023 NFL draft last month.
The Bears, of course, did not add a single edge rusher during the draft and are now on track to field a position group led by two returning contributors (Trevis Gipson and Dominique Robinson) and two newcomers (DeMarcus Walker and Rasheem Green). With an improved interior pass rusher, success on the edges could be easier to find in 2023 than it was in 2022 — when the Bears finished with a league-low 20 sacks — but adding a proven talent like Clark would only boost their chances of improvement.
“Clark has two Super Bowl rings on his fingers, has appeared in three Pro Bowls, and at age 29 still has plenty of tread left on the tires,” Lombardo wrote on May 4. “Last season, Clark produced 6.0 sacks and 45 total pressures, as a key contributor along Kansas City’s front-seven. Clark seems to still be the type of player who can elevate a contending defense to new heights, perhaps as a missing piece of a rotation.”
Frank Clark is Gifted, But Does He Fit Bears’ Plan?
There is no doubt that Clark played a pivotal role in the Chiefs’ defensive success over the past four seasons. His play was deemed to be Pro Bowl quality in three consecutive years from 2019 to 2021 and he never finished a season for the Chiefs with fewer than 4.5 sacks and 44 total pressures. He was also a playoff warrior for them who racked up 10.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss over his 12 playoff appearances. With his 2.5 sacks in the Chiefs’ 2022 playoff run, he has moved into third place all-time for most postseason sacks in the NFL with 13.5 sacks total — counting three from his years in Seattle.
Does Clark fit Poles’ vision for constructing the Bears’ 2023 roster, though?
On a scheme level, Clark does seem to check the right boxes. He operated in a hybrid 4-3 defense during all four of his seasons in Kansas City and wouldn’t appear to have much trouble transitioning into Matt Eberflus’ similar 4-3 scheme. He is also going to be turning 30 in about a month and has missed eight combined games due to injuries over his four seasons with the Chiefs. Maybe an incentive-laden contract could help with availability concerns, but it would still be a gamble.
More importantly, Poles likely already knows whether Clark is the type of player who would embrace the culture he has been building in Chicago for the past 15 months. Before taking the job with the Bears in January 2021, he spent three years as a key player-personnel executive with the Chiefs, during which time he would have had ample opportunity to size up the intangibles that Clark brings to the team and locker room.
That’s not to say that Poles has been avoiding Clark for any specific reason; only that he is going to be well-informed about the type of player he would be getting.
Bears Have Cap Flexibility to Add Multiple Veterans
Clark wouldn’t be an inexpensive investment for the Bears if they decided they were a fit for his veteran talents. He earned roughly $71.3 million over his four seasons with the Chiefs and carried cap hits of $19.3 million, $25.8 million and $13.28, respectively, over the past three seasons. Even if they wanted him on a one-year contract, Spotrac projects his market value to be about $12.4 million for the 2023 season.
Fortunately, if the Bears want one of the still-available edge rushers badly enough, they have the financial means to take on at least one more high-cost cap number.
According to Over the Cap, the Bears still have the most cap space in the NFL with about $30.9 million in effective space (which accounts for unsigned 2023 draft picks). Some of the money will be used to pay for their practice squad and more of it could potentially be used to extend current players who are currently playing on rookie deals, but there will still be plenty left over to make a sizable veteran investment if they want.
If Clark isn’t the play, the Bears could also explore signing either Yannick Ngakoue or Jadeveon Clowney — the latter of whom was one of Lombardo’s other fits for Chicago — to add another veteran edge rusher to their roster. A veteran offensive tackle to operate as a swing guy behind Braxton Jones and first-round rookie Darnell Wright wouldn’t be the worst use of resources, either. The Bears do not currently have an offensive tackle on their roster with more than two years of NFL playing experience.