Seattle Seahawks

All signs on first day of camp: Bobby Wagner, Seahawks will finalize huge contract soon

From his coach’s hopeful, respectful words through teammates hugging him during practice to his best friend’s strong hints, all signs are pointing to Bobby Wagner getting his new, rich contract within days.

Or even perhaps a day.

“We’ve been working with Bobby for some time,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Thursday about negotiations with Wagner on a contract extension that would make the 29-year-old centerpiece to Seattle’s defense the NFL’s highest-paid inside linebacker into the 2020s. “There’s been a lot of conversations, a lot of stuff going on...

“But we’re working with him to, hopefully, make a really good decision, both ends of it. We love him. He’s been a great player, a great guy in the program. We respect the heck out of him.”

When I asked Carroll how to best characterize the talks and how close the sides are to an agreement, Carroll said: “That’s a really good way to ask me, to say: I’m not going to tell you anything.”

But when I asked Wagner’s good friend and fellow linebacker K.J. Wright if he got the impression that was evident in camp on Thursday, that a new deal from Wagner was close to being done, Wright’s response and look gave strong hints.

“Yeah,” Wright said, with a knowing, sly grin.

For the second time in two months, Wright called the Seahawks giving Wagner what he wants in a new deal: “A no-brainer.”

Wagner spent the first day of Seahawks training camp continuing his standout—not a holdout, but not entirely “all in,” to use Carroll’s favorite words. Wagner did what he did through offseason organized team activities and last month’s minicamp: He was at practice, but he just watched. He did not participate. He wore an inside-out, dark-blue hoodie instead of white practice jersey the defensive players wear each day.

Wagner came onto the field at team headquarters a few minutes after his teammates did Thursday morning. With his hood up as the most cognito igcognito player on the field, Wagner talked at length with rookie linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven. He hugged and slapped hands with safety Bradley McDougald. Wagner shared a long, warm bear hug with wide receiver David Moore.

Then, while rookie third-round draft choice Cody Barton and veteran backup Austin Calitro played for him, Wagner went down a row of defenders along the sideline during 11-on-11 scrimmaging and passed out high-fives, back slaps and knowledge to teammates.

Bobby Wagner wears an inside-out hoodie during practice at the Seattle Seahawks training camp at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center in Renton, Wash., on Thursday, July 25, 2019. Joshua Bessex

Wagner, widely regarded as the best inside linebacker in the league, has said he will not risk injury by practicing until he signs a new contract to replace his that ends after the coming season.

“This is a business,” Wagner said in May, explaining why he was at OTAs but not practicing in them. “You get hurt, they are going to cut you.

“Obviously, I would like something to get done before the season. I know my value. Nobody has to tell me my value. I know my value. No team, no person, no agent can tell me my value. And I believe in myself. I bet on myself. And either way to me, it’s a win. You get a contract, you win. You don’t, it’s a learning experience, you win.

“A lot of people aren’t willing to take that chance. I am.”

He’s said he wants that extension to make him the NFL’s highest-paid middle linebacker. That’s more than $17 million per year, which is what the New York Jets gave far-less-accomplished C.J. Mosley this offseason. That five-year, $85 million deal came March 12 from out of nowhere, and it reset the market for Wagner and the Seahawks months into their talks.

That is part of the reason a deal isn’t done yet. There are many others.

Wagner is representing himself in these talks, without an agent. It’s the first time he’s done this.

He said in January he understood the Seahawks had as their first priority this offseason to re-sign franchise quarterback Russell Wilson. The team did that in March, for a league-record $140 million.

Then the Seahawks had to keep Frank Clark from free agency with a franchise tag. They eventually traded their top pass rusher to Kansas City.

The Seahawks made that trade for first- and second-round picks from the Chiefs after Seattle general manager John Schneider, team contract negotiator Matt Thomas and Carroll decided to spend the about $20 million per year Clark wanted on Wagner instead.

Plus, there is a precedent of the timing of this now-seemingly imminent new deal for Wagner: When he got his second contract with Seattle, in 2015, he and the team finalized it on the third day of that summer’s training camp. That one paid him $43 million for four years through 2019. At the time it made him the NFL’s richest inside linebacker.

It’s about to happen again. Soon.

In the meantime, Carroll said he, Wagner, “has an issue” in not practicing.

Last month, in minicamp, Wagner’s stance of showing up but not practicing seemed OK with Carroll, at least by the coach’s public comments about understanding where the superstar was coming from.

After all, at least Wagner was at the practices and not holding out, as fellow All-Pro Earl Thomas did last year from April into September while in the same situation Wagner is in now: entering the final year of his contract and wanting new money at the top of the league’s market.

Thomas never got his. He’s now a Baltimore Raven. He reminded all this week in an ESPN interview his middle finger after he broke his leg during a game last September at Arizona was directed at Carroll. And that he has no regrets about it.

Carroll, by the way, had no comment Thursday when asked about Thomas.

“Really, at this time, he’s got an issue about getting out to practice—at this time,” Carroll said about Wagner not practicing at the start of training camp. “I did not talk to him about today. We will visit on that...

“I anticipated that he wouldn’t (practice Thursday). Yeah, I anticipated that he wouldn’t. But we didn’t talk about it, necessarily. We are kind of pretty much on the same page about a lot of stuff, so...”

The coach had said this May 21 about Wagner’s standout: “He’s doing what he has always done: been a leader. He’s been an integral part of everything that we’ve ever been about. He’s continuing to do that.

“The decision to do what he’s doing, at his tempo, is a good decision for him right now.”

Thursday, I asked the coach if the start of training camp changes him being understanding of Wagner not practicing until he has his new deal.

“It’s been going on a long time. We are trying to hopefully figure it out, come to a resolution,” Carroll said. “There’s a lot going on.

“And I respect where Bobby’s brain is right now. He’s trying to figure it out. We’ll see. We’ll take it one day at a time.”

Signs are it might only take a day or three more.

Gregg Bell is the Seahawks and NFL writer for The News Tribune. In January 2019 he was named the Washington state sportswriter of the year by the National Sports Media Association. He started covering the NFL in 2002 as the Oakland Raiders beat writer for The Sacramento Bee. The Ohio native began covering the Seahawks in their first Super Bowl season of 2005. In a prior life he graduated from West Point and served as a tactical intelligence officer in the U.S. Army, so he may ask you to drop and give him 10.
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