Provocative title, no? Serious question though. At least if you ask former Seattle Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright.
In an exclusive conversation with Sports Illustrated, K.J. Wright said this about free agent linebacker Bobby Wagner and the teams he’s currently being linked to:
“The team that signs him will be someone who is serious about holding up that Lombardi Trophy at the end of the 2023 NFL season.”
Alright, K.J., you’ve got our attention.
The Dallas Cowboys are believed to be the front runners to sign Wagner - even though they just re-signed MLB Leighton Vander Esch (2 years, $8M) and have Jabril Cox (2021 R4, #115 overall) behind him.
Per Wright, via SI.com:
“(Bobby) played (in Seattle) under (now-Dallas coordinator) Dan Quinn, who knows how to utilize his skill set to make him dominate for another year.’’
. . .
“He’ll come in and show the Cowboys what a ‘championship culture’ looks like. How to prepare your mind and body. How to study film and how to be a great off the field as well.
The Seahawks are also in the mix, with John Schneider telling Seattle Sports 710 that they’ve been in touch with Bwagz and have talked about a reunion.
Given the way the relationship ended last offseason, the fact that Bobby could return ‘home’ after a year away is, perhaps, a bit surprising. I mean, who can forget Wagner saying that playing the Seahawks twice a year was ‘the cherry on top’ when he signed with the rival Los Angeles Rams?
K.J. Wright appears to think that’s old news though (and I tend to agree). From the SI article:
“When you’ve played a decade for one organization,’’ Wright tells us, “it is your second home. Your home is there. You know what your routine is going to look like, you know everyone in the building.”
“Everything flows well when you’re ‘home.’’
K.J. Wright isn’t the only one that thinks a Seattle reunion makes sense as Quandre Diggs waste(d) no time trying to recruit Bobby Wagner back to the Seahawks as soon as news broke that Wagner and the Rams had mutually agreed to part ways.
Endorsements from former players, notwithstanding, there are some pretty compelling reasons for Seattle to bring Bwagz home.
REASON #1: Seattle has a hole in the middle of its defense.
If the season started today, the Seahawks starting linebackers would be Jordyn Brooks and the recently-signed Devin Bush. Except that Brooks tore his ACL in Week 17 last season and that has put his availability for Week 1 of the 2023 season in question.
At the NFL Combine, Pete Carroll said:
“(Brooks is) doing really well.”
“The process is happening, the whole rehab process, but it’s going to be a while. A healthy young kid, he’s going to be able bounce back as fast as you can come back, and he’s a hard worker and pushes himself and all of that. But you’ve got to just hope for a smooth process along the way so there’s no setbacks.”
“(A)ll the indications are going really well so far.”
Pete Carroll’s guarded optimism aside, there’s a HUGE difference between returning to the field by Week 1 and returning to the field at 100% (whether that’s Week 1 or not).
Just ask Devin Bush . . .
Bush tore his ACL in the 5th game of the 2020 season (Week 6 vs. the Cleveland Browns). He returned to the field in 2021 and had “a season to forget”, telling Behind The Steel Curtain (on 12/14/2021):
“It was my first time going through an injury like that, first time getting surgery, first time doing rehab and first time being away from the game for a full year. So it definitely was a learning experience for me.”
“My first day of training camp until now (mid-December) I think I progressed tremendously.”
“The biggest part is mental. If I had to make a good example it would be like, if you get bit by a dog who’s to say the next time you go pet a dog?”
Assuming Brooks isn’t ready to go Week 1, the starter next to Devin Bush, given the roster’s current construction, would either be Nick Bellore, Jon Rhattigan, Josh Onujiogu, of Vi Jones.
REASON #2: Bobby Wagner is still one of the best linebackers in the league.
If you look around the internet, you’ll see lots of folks saying that Bobby Wagner has “lost a step” and/or that he’s “no longer a 3-down player.”
And so does PFF, although we’ll get to them in a minute cuz I’m going first.
Per Pro-Football-Reference.com, Bobby Wagner recorded a career-high 170 tackles in 2021, his final season with the Seahawks. That season he played 1,128 snaps on defense, which is an average of 6.64 snaps per tackle.
The year we won the Super Bowl, Bobby played 860 defensive snaps and recorded 120 tackles. That’s an average of 7.17 snaps per tackle.
In 2016 and 2019, he led the league in tackles with 167 and 159, respectively. In 2016, he played 1,073 defensive snaps (6.43 per tackle). In 2019, he played 1,054 snaps (6.63 per tackle).
Last year, with the Rams, Wagner played 1,080 snaps and had 140 tackles (7.71 average).
Some of you are probably thinking that tackles isn’t a great way to measure a linebacker’s performance.
If so, here are some other measures for you to consider:
- Percentage of defensive snaps, by season (2012-2022): 85%, 94%, 95%, 98%, 99%, 93%, 100%, 98%, 99%, 95%, 99% . . . average: 95.9%
- Sacks, by season: 2.0, 5.0, 2.0, 0.5, 4.5, 1.5, 1.0, 3.0, 3.0, 1.0, 6.0 . . . average 2.7
- Quarterback hits: 5, 6, 6, 4, 18, 13, 8, 4, 11, 3, 10 . . . average 8.0
- Tackles for Loss (TFLs): 9, 4, 10, 2, 7, 13, 6, 7, 7, 3, 10 . . . average 7.1
- Passes Defended (PDs): 4, 7, 3, 7, 3, 6, 11, 6, 8, 5, 5 . . . average 5.9
By every measure, except PDs, 2022 was an above-average year for the future Hall of Famer, with a career-best 6 sacks and his second-most TFLs.
Still not convinced?
Let’s look at how he did in PFF’s view last year:
- Overall defense: #1 at 90.7
- Run defense: #2 at 91.1
- Tackling: #1 at 91.0
- Pass rush: #7 at 79.6
- Coverage: Tied for #13 at 77.9
That doesn’t strike me as a linebacker in decline.
Granted, he played with the Rams in 2022, not the Seahawks, so maybe those stellar results should be discounted (so to speak).
Here’s where he ranked in each of the PFF categories his final 4 years in Seattle:
- Overall defense: #1 in 2018, #19 in 2019, #5 in 2020, #28 in 2021
- Run defense: #2, #8, #1, #17
- Tackling: #1, #7, #3, #18
- Pass rush: #2, #8, #5, tied for #32
- Coverage: Tied for #2, #62, tied for #30, #62
Obviously 2021 was his worst year during that stretch. However, PFF graded 199 linebackers in 2021 which means Bobby was in the top 10% in run defense and tackling, the top 20% for pass rush and overall defense, and the top 1/3rd in coverage . . . which ain’t too bad for a “down” year.
REASON #3: The money will make more sense than it did when he left.
Ignoring for the moment, the fact that the Seahawks are effectively out of cap space after their recent spending spree, the question that needs to be asked is: What would it take to get Bobby Wagner to return to Seattle?
Some think that it would take same deal he signed with the Rams last offseason. That deal was reported as a 5-year, $50M contract ($10M APY) with a max value of $65M if he hit all his incentives.
Obviously it only ended up being a 1-year, $10M deal (with the Rams taking a cap hit of $2.5M in 2022 and eating $7.5M in dead money in 2023).
$10M was arguably a bargain though.
Especially when you consider that Bobby’s final contract with the Seahawks had an APY of $18M (the highest in the league at the time).
Bobby took a huge pay cut when he agreed to the deal with the Rams, but it really wasn’t a bad deal for him when compared to the rest of the league.
In fact, if Wagner signed the same deal today, he would be tied with Bobby Okereke and De’Vondre Campbell for the 10th-highest linebacker contract (based on APY).
But . . .
Bobby’s age is working against him.
- FACT: Every one of the linebackers with an APY of $10M+ is younger than Bobby Wagner, and only C.J. Mosley (#5 at $17M APY) is older than 30.
- FACT: Of the 28 linebackers with an APY of at least $5M, only 6 are in their 30s, and only Demario Davis (Saints) is older than Bobby.
- FACT: A bunch of linebackers have signed new deals this offseason and only 1 of them (Nick Bellore) is older than Bobby.
- FACT: Per OTC’s free agency tracker, there are roughly 50 linebackers left, and Bobby Wagner is the second-oldest one in the group (Tampa Bay’s Lavonte David is 155 days older).
Also working against Bobby is the fact that neither the Cowboys nor the Seahawks have much cap space.
As of Monday, OTC shows Dallas with a little over $16M in available cap space and Seattle with a hair under $12M. And, after subtracting the money each team needs for their draft class (plus practice squads and contingencies during the season), the effective space ends up much lower.
Could either team “find” the money to sign Bobby Wagner? Absolutely! Where there’s a will, there’s a way - especially when it comes to the NFL’s salary cap.
However . . .
Between Bobby’s age, the fact that he didn’t sign with anyone during Wave 1 of free agency, and the sheer volume of “other options” that teams have available to them at the linebacker position (including a decent draft class), Bobby’s next contract could end up being less expensive than a lot of people think.
No, it won’t be a veteran-minimum deal like some 12s (or their Cowboys counterparts) might hope.
But it should be less than $10M.
In their 2023 Free Agency Rankings, PFF estimates that Bobby Wagner will sign a 1-year deal for $6.5M with $5M guaranteed at signing.
If PFF’s estimate is accurate, it would be about 60% less than the Seahawks were slated to pay him in 2022 ($16.6M cash with a $20.35M cap hit).
I love K.J. Wright but I’m not sure that bringing Bobby Wagner back gets the Seahawks to the Super Bowl, nor do I think it shows that the team is “serious” about making a run at the Lombardi Trophy - in part because Pete is “serious” about making a run at the title every year . . . including last year when the team was “retooling” and he didn’t have Bobby Wagner in the middle of his defense.
I do, however, think that a reunion would make the Seahawks a better team than they’ll be without Bobby Wagner.
And I would be thrilled if his contract ended up around $6.5M.