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Amid Safety Glut, Chuck Clark Rumors Swirl

Chuck Clark Out to Lunch
original photo: Shawn Hubbard/Baltimore Ravens
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Roster building in the NFL is an exceptionally difficult task. Most of the time, it becomes an exercise in balancing the roster’s talent with the affordability of contracts, and it necessitates a give-and-take to try to get the best players at a bargain. The most common problem that this creates is usually a vulnerability with depth at a certain position, but, occasionally, it presents the opposite: having too much of a good thing.

That is the position I fear the Ravens may be in with Chuck Clark.

It’s no secret that the Ravens are coming off of a season in which they were decimated by injury, forcing the remaining healthy players to handle added responsibility. Clark was no exception as the loss of CBs Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey placed that much more of a burden on the safeties to try to patrol the secondary. Clark responded by registering 80 tackles (2nd on the team behind LB Patrick Queen), 12 passes defended, and the first multi-interception season of his career.

Despite Clark’s valiant effort, the season ended with a losing slide for the Ravens that saw them drop out of the postseason picture. Clark voiced the message from Baltimore’s locker room: we’ll be back with a vengeance.

Between Clark’s vocal leadership and a strong season last year, there was no version of events that I could foresee that wouldn’t include #36 returning.

What a difference a few months of the offseason can make.

Safety wasn’t the highest priority entering the offseason, but speculation swirled about DeShon Elliott’s future with the team. In a surprising move, the Ravens landed a big fish in free agency by inking safety Marcus Williams to a lucrative 5-year contract.

I can’t pretend that I know how Clark responded to the Williams signing itself, but, if I had to guess, he didn’t take issue with a new high-profile running mate bringing a little more stability to the secondary. However, The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec reported early last week that there were indications Clark was unhappy about his contract situation…likely due to the price tag of the newcomer.

Then, of course, the first evening of the Draft saw premier safety Kyle Hamilton fall into Baltimore’s lap, and, all of the sudden, Clark started being viewed as a third wheel. For the record, that isn’t my personal opinion: ESPN lists Clark behind Hamilton on the Ravens’ depth chart at strong safety, and a PFF graphic touting Baltimore’s formidable secondary showed Peters, Humphrey, Hamilton, and Williams… while Clark was noticeably absent.

These reports were followed shortly thereafter with everyone’s favorite: the Twitter blackout, as Clark unfollowed the Ravens and removed his profile picture and banner. To make matters worse, it looks like even Tyler Linderbaum is getting involved with the safety grouping!

I’m obviously joking about that last one (I’m glad Jeff was a good sport about his clerical error). Jeff did give us a nice follow-up piece about where things stand between Clark and the team, among other updates.

Placing myself in Clark’s shoes for a moment, I can understand some of his frustration. Following one of the best seasons of his career, he’s now watching a highly-touted rookie and a free agent, both newcomers, crowd him on a depth chart where he’s the elder statesman at safety. I can’t imagine that seeing Hamilton receive the green dot at rookie mini-camp is doing anything to dissuade his apprehensions, though, as Jeff pointed out, someone has to wear the signal-calling headset.

For my part, I really hope he stays with the team because, like Kevin Oestreicher, I keep imagining what Mike Macdonald could with three-safety looks involving those guys.

When asked about Clark, Coach Harbaugh seemed to be optimistic that Clark would still play a prominent role in the defense this coming season.

Planning around Clark’s presence would certainly seem to suggest that, at least for now, there are no plans to trade him. Still, as Hollywood Brown’s recent departure suggests, an absence of trade rumors doesn’t mean that potential trade conversations aren’t happening.

Fingers crossed that this is the bounce-back year that Chuck Clark envisioned, and, when it is, I sincerely hope he’s a part of it.

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