The NFL and the NBA have both been going through a similar evolution lately. With the new television deals and increased salary cap, athletes have been getting paid more and more each offseason. In the NFL, once a player becomes the highest paid in the league or their position, the next person in line immediately sets out to earn more.
For example, when Aaron Donald signed his record-breaking contract of 6 year $135 million contract he became the highest-paid defensive player of all time, for less than one day.
Aaron Donald signed his contract on August 31, 2018, and on September 1st Khalil Mack signed a 6 year $141 million contract.
Anytime a player signs a large contract, it has implications on other teams and what they have to pay their upcoming free agents. Falcons defensive tackle, Grady Jarrett just signed a 4 year $68 million contract this offseason right before the franchise tag deadline. He is a young defensive tackle who just finished his rookie contract. The Packers are facing a similar situation with Kenny Clark after this season. He is a young, talented defensive tackle who is in his last year of his rookie contract, so how will Grady Jarrett’s contract affect Clark’s payday?
Before we can guess what Kenny Clark will make after Jarrett’s contract, we need to look at the stats and how they impact their team. The Packers and the Falcons both struggled on the defensive end last season, but Clark and Jarrett were both bright spots on relatively dim defenses.
The Packers and Falcons ranked 18th and 28th respectively on yards allowed per game last year. The teams both have elite quarterbacks leading talent-filled offensives, but the defensive side of the ball didn’t provide much support. They also struggled with their turnover differential, the Falcons were tied for 15th last season with a +1 differential while the Packers were tied for 19th with a 0.
Even though the defenses themselves were not strong, the blame cannot be put on Jarrett or Clark. They were two of only four interior defensive linemen to rate higher than a 90 overall and above 85 for pass rush and run defense according to ProFootballFocus. The other two interior defensive linemen to do so were Aaron Donald and Fletcher Cox. We already saw Donald’s contract of 6 years $135 million, so for the Falcons to sign Jarrett to only 4 years $68 million could potentially become a bargain contract.
The ProFootballFocus rating isn’t the only similarity between the two defensive linemen. Grady Jarrett came into the NFL as the Falcons 5th round draft pick in 2015. He started his career off on a quiet note, only recording one sack and 24 tackles. Jarrett has increased productivity every season since his rookie season. Since his rookie season, he has recorded three, four, and most recently six sacks during the regular season. He didn’t just increase his sack numbers, he also increased his quarterback hits every season starting with two hits his rookie season and recording 16 in the 2018-2019 season. Kenny Clark’s numbers look very similar. He entered the league as a 1st round pick in 2016 and did not record a single sack his rookie season. Clark, just like Jarrett, has increased his sack number every season since from 4.5 his sophomore season to 6 sacks in just 13 games this past season. He has improved in almost every area of the game, recording a career-high nine tackles for losses this past season.
Both Clark and Jarrett have shown that they are willing to put the work in to improve every season, and Clark is entering his most important season yet. Clark is hoping to continue his success this upcoming season and push his stock even higher during the last year of his rookie contract. He is looking to follow Mike Daniels who had a strong final year in 2016 and signed an expensive, long term extension with the Green Bay Packers.
Clark had great success as the Packers main weapon this past season, and is looking to have even more success this season with a revamped defensive line. The Packers have added Preston Smith, Za’Darius Smith, Rashan Gary, and Kingsley Keke, this offseason which will make it hard for offenses to double team Clark. Clark is going to be able to work in a variety of packages, and under a second year with Defensive Coordinator Mike Pettine, he will be even more comfortable in the defensive scheme.
As his ProFootballFocus shows, Kenny Clark isn’t just a pass rusher or a run stopper, he is truly an all-around great defensive tackle. Just as Khalil Mack set out to sign a larger contract than Aaron Donald, look for Kenny Clark to sign for more than Grady Jarrett. If Kenny Clark continues his rise to defensive stardom, he is going to be in for a large payday this coming offseason. Look for the Packers to let Mike Daniels walk after his contract year, and use that money to sign Kenny Clark to a 4 year $76 million contract. The contract will be steep when first signed, but as the salary cap increases, his cap hit will become more tolerable. He isn’t going to make Donald or Mack money, but he will be paid like a top-five defensive linemen next offseason.