Entering year three of the five-year, $104 million contract extension signed in April 2019, Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark now accounts for the largest non-quarterback salary cap hit — and seventh-largest individual cap hit — across the league.
As in any job, big paychecks come with big responsibilities in the NFL. For the Chiefs’ seventh-year pass rusher in 2021, that’ll include improving upon his statistical output from a year ago. Counted on as Kansas City’s most consistent and only true pressure-generating presence on the edge in 2020, Clark managed his fewest sacks (6.0) since his 2015 rookie campaign (3.0).
Looking to get the most out of its priciest defensive asset, general manager Brett Veach and company have made some key personnel changes this offseason, most notably the addition of Clark’s former Seattle Seahawks teammate, defensive tackle Jarran Reed.
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Clark Chasing Aaron Donald in ‘Defensive MVP Talks’
Clark, fresh off celebrating his 28th birthday on Monday, spoke to the media following the first day of Chiefs mandatory minicamp on Tuesday, June 15. Asked about his goals for 2021, Clark made his aspirations clear.
“It’s always to get 10-plus [sacks]. That’s always my goal,” Clark told reporters. “You get 15, that’s even better. You get 20, you’re in a whole different league — you talking defensive MVP talks. My goals, I always set them high. If I’m not looking at myself and competing with these quarterbacks in the NFL and chasing MVP numbers and competing with Aaron Donald as a reigning defensive MVP, I’d be a fool.
“I’ve got to set my standards high, so that if I do fall short, I’m not disappointed. I feel like that’s my ultimate goal.”
No. 55 has posted double-digit sack totals in two of his six seasons to date, including a career-high and team-leading 13.0 quarterback takedowns alongside Reed in Seattle in 2018. Since being traded to Kansas City, Clark has finished second on the team to Chris Jones in sacks and quarterback hits in each of the past two seasons.
Clark, who admitted to falling short of some of his goals last season, appears to be set up for greater success in 2021 with an improved frontline to play off of. More than any financial implications or outside distractions, it’s those teammates who continue to drive the former second-rounder to a higher level.
“I’ve got teammates who got my back. I’ve got a coaching staff who got my back, so I think that’s what matters the most,” Clark said. “Everything is in-house. I don’t really look at everything outside of my team and what’s going on in the NFL and stuff like that. I just, honestly, show up to work and do the best that I can every day.”
Chris Jones’ New Role Will Further Benefit Clark
While Reed’s presence and past experience alone stand to benefit Clark’s production this season, his arrival will also allow for more positional flexibility with Jones. Although head coach Andy Reid alluded to the intriguing development during his May 27 press conference, NFL insider Jay Glazer confirmed the plans on Tuesday.
“Chiefs are planning to use DT Chris Jones as an edge rusher at times this season. That’s going to be a legitimate problem for tackles,” Glazer tweeted.
The FOX Sports analyst is hardly the first to mention the possibility, as ESPN’s Louis Riddick suggested Jones’ role could be changing shortly after the Reed signing in late March.
The Pro Bowl defensive tackle shifting to the edge more often in 2021 would ideally take some of the pressure off of Kansas City’s relatively inexperienced defensive end group. Aside from former Dallas Cowboys first-rounder Taco Charlton, who is returning from a season-ending ankle injury, the Chiefs are primarily relying on third-year reserve Tim Ward, 2020 fifth-rounder Mike Danna and this year’s fourth-round selection Joshua Kaindoh for production and depth at the position.
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Chris Licata is an NFL contributor covering the Kansas City Chiefs from enemy territory in Denver, Colorado. Follow him on Twitter @Chris__Licata or join the Heavy on Chiefs Facebook community for the latest out of Chiefs Kingdom!