Packers lock up services of nose tackle Kenny Clark with four-year, $70 million extension
GREEN BAY – Even in the midst of a pandemic that could wipe out the 2020 season, the Green Bay Packers felt so strongly about retaining nose tackle Kenny Clark that they signed him to a four-year contract extension a source confirmed was worth $70 million and includes a $25 million signing bonus.
First reported by ESPN, Clark’s deal pays him the highest signing bonus of any non-quarterback in Packers history, topping the $20.5 million Clay Matthews received in 2013 and Za’Darius Smith received last year.
According to the source, Clark will earn $54 million over the first three new years of the deal or $18 million per year. Many agents and negotiators judge the quality of a deal on that criteria since it’s unlikely the team would cut Clark before then.
At just 24 years old, Clark will get another bite at the apple after the 2024 season when this deal ends. He should still be in the prime of his career.
“I don’t even know what to say,” Clark said. “I’m just excited to be a Packer for the long haul and just everything worked out fine.”
Clark was scheduled to become a free agent in March and was set to earn $7.6 million this year, However, the Packers made it clear all along that it was a priority to get him signed before he became a free agent.
The Packers and Clark’s agent, Doug Hendrickson, had been talking for months and took note of recent deals for other free-agent defensive linemen such as the Los Angeles Chargers’ Joey Bosa, Cleveland’s Myles Garrett, Kansas City’s Chris Jones and San Francisco’s Arik Armstead.
Clark is the only nose tackle among that bunch, but his improvement as a nickel pass rusher would have made him one of the top free agents on the market next spring. The Packers didn’t want it to get that far and the two sides used the first practice of the year as an artificial deadline to get something done.
“I went to sleep at like 8 (Friday night),” Clark said. “My mom and my agents were blowing up my phone. I was like, ‘Man.’ I woke up at like 12 and called them back. They were like, ‘Man, we’ve got to get this deal done.’ I was like, ‘I was asleep.’”
It didn’t take long for Clark to wake up and decide.
He admitted the upfront money made a big difference given the uncertainty of the season due to COVID-19, knowing if he held off for a shot at free agency he would risk not getting paid anything this year. Now, he has $25 million in his pocket, which is something for a guy who came from modest beginnings in San Bernadino, California.
Clark was able to celebrate via telephone with his mother, but his father, Kenny Sr., is serving 55 years in prison for second-degree murder, a crime he swears he didn’t commit. Clark has maintained a close relationship with his father, so he was disappointed when he found out due to COVID-19, inmates at the San Luis Obispo prison where Kenny Sr. resides,were prohibited from using the phones.
“I’m pretty sure like one of the officers told him or, you know, I’m pretty sure they’ve seen it on the TVs or something,” Clark said. “I know that he’s probably crying and all that kind of stuff. It’s kind of messed (up), he’s not able to talk me, but I know he’s feeling it right now and he’s so excited.”
Doing the contract now allows the Packers to get a bit of a discount since they had Clark under contract this year. But the $17.5 million average is the highest salary for any true nose tackle in the NFL and puts him fourth in average salary among all defensive linemen.
Some teams have avoided paying big signing bonuses knowing that the season could be postponed or shortened. If the season is canceled, Clark does not have to give back any of the $25 million signing bonus.
The benefit is that the Packers will be able to spread the $25 million signing bonus over five years for the sake of salary-cap calculations. So, it’s conceivable Clark's cap number remained the same or dropped a little, allowing the Packers to stay at around $13 million under the cap.
The Chiefs, for example, signed Jones to a four-year, $80 million contract extension, but it included no signing bonus. Instead, Kansas City guaranteed $37.626 million of the future salaries.
The benefit for Clark is that he gets the money right away and can start earning interest. Also, if the season is canceled or shortened, Jones will have to wait to receive his guaranteed money whereas Clark won’t.
“We were willing to do whatever but, ultimately, just came down to did I want the money now or did I want to play, did I want to keep asking for more,” he said.
The Packers were willing to pay Clark big money because he has established himself as one of the top all-around nose tackles in the NFL. Not only is he difficult to block in the run game, but his pass-rush skills have improved immensely.
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Last year, he had a career-high 89 tackles and tied career highs in sacks (six) and tackles for loss (11). Most importantly, he had a career high 26 quarterback pressures, which means he played a lot more on passing downs and was around the quarterback a lot.
One NFC scout said late in the year last season that they had Clark No. 1 on their board at the nose tackle position.
The Packers apparently agreed, and Clark signed the deal before heading out to practice, where defensive coordinator Mike Pettine announced to the defense that their nose tackle would be around for another five years.
“Kenny is the epitome of what we’re all about here,” coach Matt LaFleur said. “He works hard on a daily basis. He is becoming more of a vocal leader for us and (I’m) just really happy for him. “
Next on the priority list is left tackle David Bakhtiari, who is one of the best in the league at his position and should wind up with the richest deal for a left tackle when all is said and done.
Among the others set to be free agents are center Corey Linsley, running backs Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams and cornerback Kevin King.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who are key members to our team whose contracts are coming up,” LaFleur said. “So it definitely lets us kind of move on to the next guy.”