Chiefs sending Brown, Clark into free agency

Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark attempts to get past Eagles offensive tackle Lane Johnson during last month's Super Bowl in Glendale, Ariz. (Associated Press)
Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark attempts to get past Eagles offensive tackle Lane Johnson during last month's Super Bowl in Glendale, Ariz. (Associated Press)

KANSAS CITY -- The Kansas City Chiefs are about to have two big holes to fill, along with plenty of salary cap space to do it, as they enter free agency and begin putting together a roster for the defense of their Super Bowl title.

The Chiefs plan to decline using the franchise tag for the second time on left tackle Orlando Brown Jr., and they will release pass rusher Frank Clark, a person familiar with the decisions said Tuesday.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because neither of the moves has been officially made.

The Chiefs and Brown’s representatives spent all last season working on a long-term deal for him, but the two sides never could reach an agreement and he wound up earning about $16.6 million on the franchise tag. Brown would have made more under second-year franchise tag rules and the Chiefs were unwilling to go there with his salary.

The deadline for teams to use the franchise tag was late Tuesday. 

And the Chiefs and Browns could still agree to a long-term deal by Monday, at which point he can begin negotiating with other teams.

“As always, it’s more beneficial for us to get something done long term,” Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said last week at the scouting combine. “Unlike last year, I think we have at least a runway to work with. We’ve gotten to know his team a little bit better. We’re excited to get that process started.”

The Chiefs, who also could lose right tackle Andrew Wylie to free agency, sent a package of draft picks to the Ravens to acquire Brown ahead of the 2021 season. He went on to start every game but one during two seasons in Kansas City, earning Pro Bowl nods each year and helping the Chiefs beat the Eagles in the Super Bowl last month.

What the 27-year-old Brown could demand on the open market is somewhat polarizing, though. He ranked in the top third of offensive tackles in metrics such as pass-block win rate but has been inconsistent at times.

As for Clark, the Chiefs were hoping to restructure a contract that would have been prohibitive for next season -- the pass rusher would have counted nearly $29 million against the salary cap. They were able to do that last season and keep Clark in the fold, but they were unable to come to a similar agreement during the past two weeks.

The 29-year-old Clark had five sacks this past regular season before adding 2½ more in the playoffs, moving him into third in postseason sacks since the NFL made them an official statistic in 1982. The victory against the Eagles also gave Clark his second Super Bowl ring in four years in Kansas City.

“I actually talked to him at the (Super Bowl victory) parade,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said last week. “He had to do some stuff for the actual exit physical, but I had a good talk with him. I love Frank Clark. It’s just, you know, Veach has got to juggle all these different things going on. But Frank, he’s a top-notch guy. I love him. Love him to death.”

Much like Brown, the Chiefs would be keen to reach an agreement with Clark once he hits free agency. He became a locker-room leader this past season, and rookie George Karlaftis praised Clark for helping him adapt to the NFL.

For now, parting with Brown and Clark leave the Chiefs with gaping holes on each side of the ball. But the moves also free up more than $40 million to use in free agency, and the Chiefs are expected to have 12 selections -- once compensatory picks are awarded -- to further fill holes when Kansas City hosts the NFL Draft next month for the first time.

“You’ve just got to be buttoned up on your free agency plan,” Veach acknowledged. “You have to just have a plan, stick to it and knock it out of the park. And if the plan doesn’t work, you have to move on quickly.”

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