A year ago many fans were clamoring for the Seattle Seahawks to release linebacker K.J. Wright in order to address a slight salary cap squeeze the team was facing with the 2020 NFL season on the horizon. The team, of course, did not acquiesce to these desires from fans, and Wright then proceeded to perform at a high level during the season, staying on the field for 86% of defensive snaps the Hawks played.
Fast forwarding a year to the present day, Wright remains unsigned as an unrestricted free agent coming off one of his best seasons. The knee injury which limited him to just five games during the 2018 season seems a but a distant memory for a player who has now appeared in all 35 regular and postseason games in which Seattle has played over the past two seasons.
Wright’s ability to stay on the field and perform at a high level was one of the factors that limited 2020 first round pick Jordyn Brooks and 2019 third round pick Cody Barton to combine for just 481 snaps on the year. This low level of playing time for Barton and Brooks came in spite of the defense losing starting linebacker Bruce Irvin to injury in the Week 2 victory over the New England Patriots.
Now, however, in contrast to twelve months ago, many fans are clamoring for the team to bring K.J. back for another season to team up with Bobby Wagner for one final season. However, the idea of a return to Seattle for Wright brings up the question of how much benefit his return would generate from either side.
For Wright, the idea of one final season with the Seahawks would be one more opportunity to showcase his skills in a system in which he can excel and showcase his skills in hopes of perhaps getting one more decent contract next offseason. However attractive that may be, the reality of the situation is that the Seahawks played 1,152 defensive snaps in 2020, with a total of 2,860 of those snaps logged by linebackers. That’s a hair under 2.5 linebackers per defensive snap, and while K.J. has been fantastic for the team for the past decade, there is no doubt that in the future the position is likely to belong to Jordyn Brooks. Thus, the question becomes how much playing time K.J. would realistically see, and whether he could find himself in a situation where he sees a limited number of snaps as the team grooms and builds experience for Brooks.
The logical next question from there is if Brooks is the future and could see playing time over Wright as the team looks forward rather than back, how much of a benefit is it for Wright to sign for a team where he may not see the field as much as he has in the past? Barring injury there is no displacing Bobby in the middle, and while Wright’s resume is far more impressive at this point than that of Barton, at the end of the day it would be no surprise for Barton to see an increased snap count in 2021 regardless of who else is in the linebacker room.
So, what it comes down to is that in the short run, yes, bringing back Wright for one last go round could help the Seahawks be a better team for the 2021 season. On the flip side, though, would the value Wright brings in 2021 be worth more than the value that would be seen in 2022 and beyond from Brooks seeing the field more this upcoming year? From a long term perspective, it’s hard to argue that playing Wright over Brooks in 2021 would be beneficial to the team, and from that it follows that Wright would be likely to see limited playing time. From there it’s easy to see how a return could be seen by Wright as effectively penciling in limited options in free agency in 2022.
In addition, from the Seahawks perspective another matter to consider is the pending decision on the fifth year option for Brooks. If Seattle does bring Wright back for one last hurrah and he comes in and lights things up, it could lead to another season of limited snaps for Brooks. That would then lead to Brooks having just a single season of significant snaps under his belt prior to the 2023 offseason when the Seahawks will be required to make a decision on the fifth year option for Brooks.
Basically, it all boils down to the fact that in the long run a return of Wright to Seattle is likely less beneficial to both sides. Now, that’s not to say there would not be benefits in the short term for either party, just that in the long run it does not seem to make a lot of sense to either reduce Brooks’ playing time or for Wright to act as an insurance policy that spends a lot of his time on the bench. So, while it would be fantastic for nostalgic reasons for the team to have Wright play a farewell tour this season, at this point that doesn’t seem to be in the cards.
(Author’s note: Now that I’ve put all this in writing, hopefully the team will see fit to make a fool out of me and bring K.J. back.)