The Seattle Seahawks entered the offseason with four big matters to address with players who contracts are set to expire after the 2019 season, including quarterback Russell Wilson, defensive end Frank Clark, defensive tackle Jarran Reed and middle linebacker Bobby Wagner. They are halfway through that list, with the Wilson and Clark situations resolved, and now they can turn their attention to Reed and Wagner.
Today I’ll start with a basic look at the arguments behind why Wagner could command a significant raise in an extension, and in a separate piece in the future will look at the flip side from the team’s perspective. For starters, Bwagz is the best middle linebacker in the NFL. He’s been nothing but consistently great since being drafted by the Seahawks in 2012, and he has the awards and accolades to back that up. Sure, one could argue that Luke Kuechly of the Carolina Panthers is there with Wagner, but that’s not what we’re debating today.
In any case, Wagner’s current deal is for four years and $43M, an APY of $10.75M. However, as anyone who has been watching is well aware, the linebacker market was not just reset this offseason, it was completely blown out of the water. Kwon Alexander signed the with San Francisco 49ers for $13.5M, Anthony Barr got $13.5M from the Minnesota Vikings and C.J. Mosley signed with the New York Jets for a whopping $17M.
So, the question becomes where should Wagner be placed among these? He’s far better than any of those three linebackers, but he’s also older, so could he command the $17M that Mosley got, or even potentially more?
Simply looking at things from the franchise tag point of view, the franchise tag for linebackers in 2019 is $15.443M, and one would expect that amount to go higher in 2020. However, the franchise tag is for the higher of the set amount determined by the formula laid out in the CBA or 120% of the player’s prior year salary.
Bobby carries a cap hit of somewhere between $13.1M and $14.1M depending on how many games he plays in 2019, as he has $1M in per game roster bonuses. Thus, assuming he stays healthy and is active for all 16 games in 2019, he’d make $14.1M, and 120% of $14.1M is $16.92M. From there, since a second tag carries a cap hit of 120% of the player’s prior year salary, for 2021 he’d project to have a cap hit of $20.304M. Adding those two cap hits together, it yields a combined two year total of $37.224M, or $18.612M per year.
Thus, from Wagner’s perspective, that is where negotiations would be likely to start. That doesn’t necessarily mean that that is his floor, just that in any negotiation that he has with the team, he can reasonably be expected to start with that asking price. Obviously, the team will counter and attempt to negotiate lower salaries, but as noted, that’s a different piece for a different day. Today’s nugget is simply that Wagner has a legitimate case to start his negotiations at a number that would reset the linebacker market yet again.