How much more straightforward can a headline be?
Now that you’ve navigated the first round of free agency and the draft, and have not shored up your linebacker position, you, the Seattle Seahawks, are bound by honor, code and general good sense to retain the services of Kenneth Bernard Wright, Jr., known to millions of his closest friends as K.J.
Everything the Seahawks brass has done since the end of the 2020 season has led up to this unique set of circumstances where they are positioned to add Wright to a defense that sorely needed him last year and no doubt will again this year.
A) Why not? They have the funds
Seattle’s cap space is listed on overthecap.com as $7.5 million. But that’s not a) their true cap space, or b) some serious limitation anyway.
After you account for ~$500,000 to pay rookies, ~$2 million for the future-all-pro-studded practice squad and ~$3 million of IR reserve cash, the “true” amount left at this stage is in the neighborhood of a cool $2 mil. Clearly that’s not enough to retain a player of Wright’s caliber, who continues to shop his wares in free agency. As he should!
But since you noticed the word “true” is in quotation marks, your divining rod points straight to where we’re headed: the Seahawks can create additional space at any time with a variety of moves. Chief among these would be a Jamal Adams extension with a low cap hit in Year 1, as is customary; the second ace up their sleeve is a Russell Wilson contract restructure.
The cap is real, but it’s also quite fake, once you leave yourself enough moves to circumvent it.
It’s hard to tell exactly what market Wright continues to have after the first wave of free agency, the second wave, and the draft. He and the Cowboys have long been rumored to share mutual interest. However, that flirtation took a hit when Dallas drafted seven linebackers last week. (It’s two. They only took two. But they spent pick 1.12 on one from Penn State, so same difference.)
Will Wright accept less than he earned last go-round? That’s the great unanswerable. But should he be amenable to a simple continuation of his salary, it’s doable for both parties. Brace yourself for a lot of numbers. In 2019 he signed a 2/14 deal that actually ended up netting him $15.5 million after bonuses. Another 2/14 contract with a generous $6 million signing bonus and $2 million guaranteed in year one would:
- give him one more payday worth sticking around for
- represent a cap number of only $5 million in 2021, and
- allow the Seahawks to re-evaluate after one year with only $3 million dead in 2022.
The money works for everyone. Or at least it can.
B) They have the need
And at the same time, to counter everything the Seahawks’ rivals are doing, a defense requires a puzzle piece of talent that’s challenging to find — unless you’re staring directly at K.J. Like a running back who knows the next play’s a screen, and whose heart rate is suddenly elevated for no reason.
It’s no secret that the, uh, secret behind successful and innovative schemes like Kyle Shanahan’s and Sean McVay’s is to get quick, elusive receivers in the open field against more lumbering defenders. Mismatches in space, you could call it. X-Wings versus Death Stars?
To make this happen, you run enough misdirection to put the defense on their heels instead of the balls of their feet. Make them doubt their instincts. Utilize play action to freeze linebackers and safeties, even for a tenth of second, which is an eternity on a snap at the NFL level. Neuter the pass rush with quick hits away from where the defense is leaning. Force the defender of your choice, who is probably slower if you drew up the play with enough cleverness, to make a great play in isolation rather than a routine tackle where he “just” has to fill the A gap and hug an oncoming ball carrier.
Modern NFC West offenses are all about erasing what defensive ends, linebackers and strong safeties do best, and making them do what they don’t do best.
K.J. Wright’s value has never been greater to the Seahawks, because he is the perfect counter to the 49ers’ and Rams’ best laid plans. The future Ring of Honor inductee sees the whole field (insert your own personal choice of screen blow-up clip). He has put in the hours and hours, and hours of hours, and more hours even than all the hours, studying the tendencies of opposing coaches.
He obviously knows what the Seahawks want to do on defense too. What Wright has lost in speed, which isn’t much, he more than makes up for in smarts. He’s been fooled enough times by sneaky play design that he doesn’t get fooled as often anymore. The last thing you want is to have to retrain the new guy and watch him make all the same mistakes, in the faint hopes that in two seasons he’ll be maybe almost as good as Wright is today. I mean, eventually you have to make that decision to move on, but it feels like the time is a year away, maybe more.
C) Age, what is it
If it seems like Wright has been here forever, well, there’s a reason for that. In football body terms, he has. He turns 32 over the summer, which counts for more red flags than you’d find on the floor of the Supreme Soviet parliament. He’s completed ten seasons. He’s — wait for it — the longest-tenured Seahawk on the roster. If he returns! When he returns.
If likewise, it feels like Wright has never been better, well, there’s a corresponding reason for that too. As offenses around the league continue to evolve and pick on linebackers whenever possible, Wright has been granted the chance to shine statistically.
21 passes defensed in the last two years after 21 in the previous five.
Four interceptions in the last two years after 2 in his entire previous career.
Suddenly, K.J. Wright is always around the ball. And he will be as long as Shanahan, McVay and lesser genius Kliff Kingsbury are calling plays across the field.
It’s not like he’s gotten any worse at defending screens. And it’s not like he fails any criterion of the eye test. And he and Bobby share a hive mind. And he’s a leader.
The cruel aging curves and unforgiving nature of the game he’s chosen mean it’s quite unlikely Wright will still be playing at an elite level in 2022. But I wouldn’t bet a single nickel against him in 2021, and therefore a backloaded, signing-bonus-heavy two-year contract makes too much sense for everyone to let K.J. walk, right when you need him the most. Especially since other teams will shy away offering three years. Because of that scary 32 business.
Pete. John. Do the Wright thing.