The final meaningful game of the 2021 NFL season is just days away, as the Seattle Seahawks sit at home figuring out how to spend their offseason while preparing to watch the Cincinnati Bengals take on the division rival Los Angeles Rams in the Super Bowl. With that in mind, the true beginning of the offseason is less than a week away, with an offseason full of big decisions for the Hawks and their front office.
One of the biggest decisions the team will need to make is regarding second team All Pro middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, who is set to carry a cap hit north of $20M for the 2022 season should nothing change. That fact is why fans of the Seahawks have been vocal regarding their expectation that the team will move on from Wagner, releasing him in order to free up cap space.
The question, though, is whether or not the team will be willing to move on from the final member of the defense that once terrorized the league and led the team to its only Lombardi in franchise history. There’s zero doubt that Wagner showed he had lost a step during the 2021 season. However, the key question is how much of that is due to having reached an age where he’s obviously no longer in his prime, and how much of that was the result of the defense spending more time on the field than any other unit in the NFL. In spite of effectively missing the final two games of the season after suffering a knee injury on the first play of the game in the Week 17 matchup against the Detroit Lions, Wagner was just 14 snaps shy of tying his career high.
Now, it’s certain that fans don’t want to see what is about to be written, but the simple fact of the matter is that Wagner remains the unquestioned leader of the defense. That leadership is likely something that Pete Carroll and John Schneider will want to have around as the team eases in new defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt. From that perspective alone, Wagner is one of the few longtime leaders on the defense that is actually under contract for 2022 at the moment. Quandre Diggs is a free agent. Al Woods is a free agent. Benson Mayowa, Kerry Hyder and Carlos Dunlap are under contract for 2022, but the three played just 40.21%, 39.97% and 37.99% of snaps during 2021 and none of the three have been with the team for more than two years.
Putting those together, in order to keep veteran leadership while retaining some link to the greatness that once was, it means figuring out how to keep Bobby around in spite of that potential $20.35M cap hit. That is where the option for a contract extension for what would likely be a reduced role comes in.
Many fans won’t want to see it happen, but a two year extension for Wagner which reduces his 2022 salary to $4M, includes a $14M signing bonus and a voiding 2025 season might work for both sides. For the Seahawks it would allow them to keep the leadership and professionalism that Wagner can teach the youngsters, while providing continuity as Hurtt steps in. In addition, it would also free up around $9M of cap space for the team to use as it looks to retain its key free agents like Diggs, D.J. Reed, Rasheem Green and others.
The question would, of course, become what role Wagner would fill on the defense going forward. There’s no doubt that the team has invested heavily at the linebacker position in recent drafts in preparation for when the time to replace not just Wagner, but K.J. Wright as well, with Jordyn Brooks, Cody Barton and others currently in place. That brings up the possibility that perhaps Wagner’s role could change situationally. Could he potentially fill a role that see his snaps drop but his impact increase through a change in what he’s asked to do? Could a role change see him asked to drop into coverage less and rush the passer more? Who knows. He’s set to turn 32 in June, so it could be unlikely, but would the on-field results have been materially worse if Wagner had been in the roles that Mayowa filled during the 2021 season? Would fans be screaming less about Wagner dropping into coverage than they were about Mayowa and Dunlap dropping into coverage?
Whatever the answers to these questions are, the simple facts are that Wagner remains the veteran leader of the Seahawks defense and the last link to the Legion of Boom. That means that while it’s certainly possible that the team could move on from Wagner for cap purposes, it would seem likely that Pete Carroll and John Schneider will do what they can to keep the final link on the defensive side of the ball to what once was rather than simply move on.