Bobby Wagner on Seahawks’ future, his status of team leader
Here we go again.
Less than one month after doomsayers exhaled with Russell Wilson getting an NFL-record $140 million contract to remain the Seahawks’ franchise quarterback, a few words from the quarterback of Seattle’s defense have some folks again fearing the sky may be falling.
All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner is entering the final year of his contract. He told NFL Network’s Omar Ruiz last weekend at a charity event in Wagner’s hometown of Ontario, California: “I want to retire a Seahawk, but I understand it’s a business. I’m preparing like this is my last year as a Seahawk. If it is, I want to make sure I go out with a bang and make sure I give the city something to remember.”
Cue the Chicken Littles.
And cue the same fact from amid the speculation last month—remember the baseless idea wife Ciara wanted Wilson to play for New York?: The Seahawks have no Plan B beyond Wilson on offense and Wagner on defense.
Wilson and Wagner signed their second contracts with Seattle one day apart at the start of training camp in 2015. Like for Wilson, the Seahawks have been budgeting since that time for a third deal with Wagner, at the top of the NFL market for inside linebackers.
That market got a jolt on which Seattle general manager John Schneider and his chief salary-cap executive Matt Thomas were not banking.
Since Wagner re-signed for $46 million with Seattle in the summer of 2015, Luke Kuechly with Carolina ($61.8 million, five years) and C.J. Mosley with the New York Jets have eclipsed Wagner as the NFL’s highest-paid inside linebackers.
The Seahawks planned for Kuechly’s deal; he’s regarded as the closest contemporary in the league to Wagner in skill and accomplishment.
The Seahawks absolutely did not foresee Mosley’s deal. Perhaps no one in the NFL did.
Except for the Jets. They signed Mosley for an out-of-whack $85 million over five years, with $51 million guaranteed.
Mosley will turn 27 next month. He has been selected to four Pro Bowls. That’s one fewer than Wagner, who turns 29 next month. Mosley has zero All-Pro selections, to Wagner’s three. Wagner has won a Super Bowl and played into two of them. Mosley has never played in a Super Bowl, let alone won it.
Yes, it’s safe to assume Seattle’s cost for Wagner starts at Mosley’s deal with the Jets, and goes up from there.
A unique aspect to all this is Wagner is representing himself in these talks with the Seahawks on a third contract. If he had an agent, that representative assuredly would have already talked to the team at the usual offseason intersections: the Senior Bowl in Alabama, the league’s annual scouting combine and owners meetings. The NFL’s collective bargaining agreement limits the amount of time team personnel can see players in each offseason.
So not having face-to-face negotiations yet with Wagner is not exactly the slight it may appear. There’s still time for that, four months until Wagner’s contract season begins, in fact. Wagner said two days after his and the Seahawks’ season-ending playoff loss at Dallas that he understood Wilson’s contract was the team’s first offseason priority and he would wait behind that.
“Would I like to be taken care of before the (2019) season? That’d be great,” Wagner said Jan. 7. “If I’m not, that wouldn’t be the end of the world. I understand this is a business, and I am prepared for anything that happens.
“So if they sign me before then, cool. If they don’t, cool, too.
“But, you know, I want to be here. This is where I want to be for my career. This is an amazing city, amazing fans, amazing organization. So I would love to be here.”
Again, none of this is franchise-altering news to the Seahawks. Like with Wilson, they’ve known and budgeted for years that this time to re-up Wagner again was coming—and at the top of the league’s market.
Seattle drafting two linebackers last week who have played in the middle in college is not a Plan B beyond Wagner as much as it is due diligence, plus a nod to what the team may need in the future even with Wagner.
Cody Barton said he played weakside and middle linebacker “50-50” at the University of Utah. He was going to begin his NFL career at weakside linebacker, according to what Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said the night Seattle drafted Barton in the third round. But Barton was the middle linebacker during the Seahawks’ rookie minicamp this past weekend.
Ben Burr-Kirven, the University of Washington’s middle (“Mike”) linebacker last season, was at weakside linebacker in the minicamp.
“It’s pretty different, honestly...I’m doing a little bit more stuff outside of the box, getting out on receivers, that kind of stuff,” said Burr-Kirven, Seattle’s fifth-round pick “So there’s definitely difference.
“In terms of scheme, it’s not all that different. I’m just doing a different role in it.”
The Seahawks have veteran starting weakside linebacker K.J. Wright turning 30 in July. The longest-tenured player on Seattle’s defense re-signed this offseason on a two-year contract worth up to $15 million. Wright has said it is essentially a prove-it deal because only this year has guaranteed money.
Wright is Wagner’s best friend on the team. They’ve been linebacker partners since Wagner’s rookie season with the Seahawks in 2012.
Carroll said at the league meetings in Phoenix in March, after the team re-signed Wright: “That might have been the best thing we did to negotiate with Bobby. Those guys are great friends, and they’re just warriors. They’ve been through it all together. Bobby was instrumental in the whole process.”
Seattle’s other veteran with extensive experience at weakside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme is Mychal Kendricks. He also re-signed this offseason, for one year. He is facing a recently postponed sentencing hearing Pennsylvania for insider trading.
Plus, the Seahawks have wanted a dependable backup to Wagner in the middle for years. Last season’s was Austin Calitro. He was an undrafted free agent from Villanova a couple years ago. When Wright had knee surgery in August and Kendricks got suspended by the league in the middle of the season, Calitro had to play weakside linebacker, for the first time in his life.
Carroll mentioned upon drafting them that Barton and Burr-Kirven are likely to be mainstays on special teams this year. Then over the last week the rookie linebackers wowed their new coaches with how quickly they assimilated the basics of the Seahawks’ defensive playbook.
“It really jumped out,” Carroll said. “We’ve been in these situations many times and you could tell their expertise and their willingness to really study it up and communicate with the coaches really well. They transferred the stuff in the classroom to the field exceptionally.
“And it stood out above any group we’ve ever had in here. Those were the two best guys we’ve ever brought in.”
How did they do it?
Barton described how in the days between the Seahawks drafting him and the rookie minicamp starting on Thursday they sent him a mobile tablet with the defensive playbook downloaded onto it.
“A few days later they sent me an iPad and then I just, I opened it and looked at everything, and I was kind of just like, ‘What the hell?’” Barton said.
“But then, I called my linebacker coach and just told him what I should look at and I just started taking tons of notes. Just notes and notes and notes for hours, so I got a good splatter of it. And then once I came here, they described the lingo and described what means what. So I had a good idea coming in. And then once they described to me the details of it, then I got a pretty good handle of it.”
Good enough to run the defense for three days, with rookie draft picks and undrafted free agents and tryout players on it.
Not good enough to run the starting defense this season. Or in 2020. Or beyond that.
That’s still Wagner’s job in Seattle.
Four picks signed
The Seahawks announced they have signed four of their 11 rookie draft choices so far.
The first four signed in this year’s class are safety Marquise Blair (second round, Utah), guard Phil Haynes (fourth round, Wake Forest), safety Ugo Amadi (fourth round, Oregon) and Burr-Kirven.