ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- From where Frank Clark has been sitting, running or sacking quarterbacks over the last four years, the Denver Broncos have some work to do before they challenge the Kansas City Chiefs or anyone else in the AFC West.
Which is why he says he’s here.
Clark, who arrived to the Broncos in early June on a one-year deal that includes a guaranteed $5.5 million base salary, is coming off a four-year run with the Chiefs that included four AFC West titles, three AFC championships and two Super Bowl wins. The Broncos haven’t been to the playoffs in seven seasons or beaten the Chiefs since Patrick Mahomes became the starter at quarterback -- a streak that stands at 15 consecutive Kansas City wins.
“In a rivalry, it's competitive, true or false?’’ Clark said after Saturday’s practice when asked about signing with a Chiefs division rival. “ … Until we become competitive enough, we have to beat the team, we have to win our division.’’
It was a relatively late marriage for Clark and the Broncos, at least in terms of a veteran free agent’s usual calendar. The Broncos didn’t sign Clark until June 4, just after outside linebacker Baron Browning underwent arthroscopic knee surgery. Clark was then excused from the team's last set of OTAs as well as minicamp, so this last week's training camp practices were the first time the Broncos coaches had seen him on the field in their defense.
Clark, 30, could not come to terms on a renegotiated deal with the Chiefs earlier this year and was released just before the start of free agency. He joined a team in the midst of yet another rebuild -- Sean Payton is the fifth head coach since the team’s Super Bowl 50 win to close out the 2015 season.
“There’s always something to prove,’’ Clark said. “ … I’ve always harped at being the hardest worker on the field, no matter where I’m at, it’s proven you can pull up film, you can watch whatever, that‘s what wins rings … It’s being the hardest worker on the field [and] off the field.''
Payton has called pass rushers like Clark “pressure players,’’ those who influence how and what opposing quarterbacks are able to do in the plays that matter most. And the Broncos do still have some questions to answer among their edge rushers in the weeks to come.
Browning will not return to the field until later this season, Randy Gregory, who signed a five-year, $70 million deal as the Broncos’ biggest signing on defense a year ago, has never played a full season in his career due to suspensions or injuries and Nik Bonitto, who was a second-round draft pick by the Broncos in 2022, played sparingly in 15 games. Jonathon Cooper, who was a seventh-round pick by the Broncos in 2021, has taken plenty of snaps with the defensive starters in the early training camp practices and Gregory, who played in six games last season due to a knee injury he suffered in Week 4, has pronounced himself ready for far more this time around.
But new defensive coordinator Vance Joseph still has to sort out where Clark fits. Clark has played at least 70% of his team’s defensive snaps in four of the last five seasons and played 69% of the Chiefs’ defensive snaps last year.
“We’ll find a role within what we are doing and where he can help us,’’ Payton said. “I think it’s always a challenge to find those guys who you can say are pressure players, but he is one of them … That’s the vision.’’
Clark's s 13.5 postseason sacks are also the third-most since sacks became an official statistic in 1982.
But to even worry about the postseason, Clark and the rest of the Broncos have to find a way to get back there in a stacked division. Mahomes, who doesn't turn 28 until September, has had the AFC West on lockdown and the Chargers just dropped $262 million contract on quarterback Justin Herbert because they believe he can lead their breakthrough.
“A the end of the day all good things come to an end, it’s all part of the journey," Clark said. “ ... Coach Payton and the staff [made] it pretty obvious they wanted me to be part of this organization.’’