Bobby Wagner is unquestionably one of the Seahawks’ two franchise pillars now, along with Russell Wilson.
That status has brought Wagner a new-found authority, and a corresponding confidence.
The All-Pro linebacker displayed both Wednesday while talking about fellow All-Pro teammate Earl Thomas’ ongoing holdout and Pro Bowl linebacker K.J. Wright’s contract also ending after this coming season.
Wagner said Wednesday he wants to finish his career with the Seahawks—and that he wants Wright to finish his career playing next to him here.
As for Thomas, Wagner sees the star safety’s absence that is entering its fourth week of the preseason with no end in sight as the “business side” of the NFL. A necessary, business side, too. One in which Thomas—not his team—is obviously declaring his worth. The impasse is that Thomas believes his worth to be above what the Seahawks think it should be beyond 2018, when Thomas will enter his early 30s.
Wagner supports Thomas’ so-far-unbending stance.
“It’s an interesting thing, man,” Wagner said. “You want him here. I want him here. But at the same time, too, there’s a business side to this thing. Sometimes that takes over what you should be doing.
“I think you see it a lot right now, from the defensive side (including All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who is also holding out, from his Los Angeles Rams). You have amazing players that are not getting paid, are not getting the money. And I think at some point you have to make a stand.
“Every year they are making the game harder and harder for a defensive player to play. You’ve got this helmet rule that they don’t even know how to officiate right now, and we are doing our best to adjust.
“I just think that defensive players are just as important as offensive players. You don’t have defensive players, this league doesn’t exist. So I feel like defensive players do need to kind of stand their ground, just to show we are just as important.”
Oh, yes, Wagner and his fellow defensive stars around the league saw the new deal Minnesota gave Kirk Cousins, the quarterback the Seahawks will be facing Friday night. They know Cousins, who at 30 years old has never won a playoff game let alone the Super Bowl Wagner and Thomas have, got the NFL’s first fully guaranteed contract, all $84 million from the Vikings, this offseason.
And those defensive stars seethe.
“We are just as important,” Wagner said.
No need to remind Wagner he signed his Seahawks extension in the summer of 2015 four days after Wilson signed his new contract with Seattle. The quarterback’s is worth more than double Wagner’s deal; Wilson’s is also for four years but at $87.6 million. Wilson’s is the richest contract in Seahawks history.
“So for me, from that standpoint, it’s hard to really tell somebody like (Thomas) what to do, because, does he deserve to get paid?” Wagner said. “Look at him. All-Pro. Pro Bowls. Best safety in the league. Not many safeties like him.
“So, you know, at some point you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, business-wise. Because a year’s a number. He’s been in the league, what, eight or nine years. He doesn’t know how many more years he’s got.”
It’s the same reason Pro Bowl strong safety Kam Chancellor, another franchise cornerstone, pushed so hard for an extension from the Seahawks for years. Chancellor held out trying to get one in 2015. He didn’t get it until the summer of 2017, when he at the same age Thomas is now, 29, two years older than Wagner.
Three months after Chancellor signed his extension with $25 million guaranteed, he got a career-ending neck injury.
Of course, therein lies the other side of the Thomas impasse. The Seahawks don’t want to go down that road for a top-dollar, hefty-guarantee extension, a third contract, with a star who will be pushing his mid-30s at the end of the deal.
And this team is not what it was when Thomas, Wagner and Wilson all get their second deals four and three years ago. These Seahawks aren’t coming off consecutive Super Bowl appearances. These Seahawks are coming off their first time not making the playoffs in six years.
“At the end of the day, you’ve got to know your worth. You’ve got to know your value,” Wagner said. “And you can’t let somebody else set your value.
“From that standpoint, you know, you let that guide you as to what you are willing to play under and what you are not. It’s always that thing, when they want you to take a pay cut, we have to make that decision. But when we ask for more money, it’s a big deal...
“So you got to make sure you take care of the business side. And fortunately sometimes that takes away from playing on the field.”
The field is where you can find Wright. Every day.
The Pro Bowl linebacker, Wagner’s partner in the middle of Seattle’s defense for the past six years, also has a contract that expires following the coming season.
Unlike Thomas, Wright has been here working with his teammates since the first day of offseason organized team activities through Wednesday’s practice. He is choosing the opposite way of handling his ending contract. He is showing up and with Wagner dutifully leading a young, changed defense into a transitional year for Seattle.
For that, Wagner says the Seahawks better take care of Wright.
Wright, whom Seattle drafted in 2011, a year before they selected Wagner, is one year older that his middle-man partner. Wright is two months younger than Thomas. Wright is earning $1.3 million less than Thomas’ $8.5 million salary this year, and $11.5 million less over their concurrent, four-year extensions that end after 2018.
Thomas was the NFL’s highest-paid safety when he signed his second contract with Seattle in 2014. He wants to stay at or near the top of the league’s market for his position beyond 2018. That’s $13 million per year with $40 million guaranteed, what Kansas City gave Thomas’ draft classmate Eric Berry last year.
Wright? For the last three seasons he’s been content being the second-highest paid Seahawks linebacker behind his good friend Wagner.
Wagner has two years and $20.5 million remaining on the four-year, $43 million extension he signed in the summer of 2015. That was months after Wright signed his expiring deal.
“You definitely have to appreciate guys like K.J. He’s been here. He hasn’t missed a practice,” Wagner said. “He’s been available. He’s letting that (business side) play out. But there’s also a side to that, you know. If you don’t get the deal done, you give a guy like that the opportunity to walk away.”
Meaning, in free agency next March.
“So, as a team, you have to figure out what you want to do, and who you want to pay,” Wagner said. “And that comes from the guys upstairs (in the Seahawks’ front office, including coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider ). But when you have certain situations where you have guys that holdout but then guys that stay, that do all the right things, and is a leader in the room, is a guy that everyone looks up to, you can’t let a guy like that walk away.
“For me, if you let a guy like that walk away it’d be telling.
“People watch, and see how you move. You can’t let a guy like that, a leader like that, that’s doing everything right, that you don’t have to worry about off the field, that you know is going to take everything on the field, you can’t let a guy like that walk away.”
Wagner is at a compelling point in his Seahawks and NFL career. His recognized as perhaps the best middle linebacker in the NFL, along with Carolina’s Luke Kuechly. He signed his extension with Seattle three summers ago that made him at the time the league’s highest-paid middle linebacker.
His and Wilson’s deals will end after 2019. This time next year, the focus around Seattle will have shifted from Thomas’ and Wright’s contract situations to Wilson’s and Wagner’s.
I asked him if he is watching his team being so dug in with Thomas and how they will ultimately handle Wright’s ending contract as sees those as benchmarks for how the team might handle his deal ending after the 2019.
“I’m not thinking about it,” Wagner said. “Once you think about it, it takes away from your game. I’m not really thinking about it.
“I’m here. I want to be here for my whole career. That’s a goal of mine. I also understand the business.
“Hopefully I play with K.J. my whole career. That is a goal of mine, as well.
“For me, I just kind of let things play out. We’ll see. We’ll see what happens.”