But even as Wagner doubled down on his comments from the summer about how the Seahawks would be erring in letting fellow linebacker K.J. Wright leave as a free agent, what he said in the same breath underscored how and why it’s anyone’s guess as to what will happen.
“I don’t know,” Wagner said after the Seahawks' season ended Saturday with a 24-22 wild-card loss to the Dallas Cowboys, which was the best game Wright played in his injury-shortened season. “... It’s a crazy business. I watched a lot of guys leave last year, so I don’t know. The right thing to do would be to bring him back. He’s been an amazing teammate, amazing person in the community, he helps young guys, he never held out, he did everything right.
“Sounds to me like that’s a guy you should pay.”
The emotion was evident in Wagner’s voice, for obvious reasons. He and Wright have been close friends and teammates for seven seasons, and in that time they’ve formed one of the NFL’s best linebacker tandems.
Wright is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent now that he’s played out the four-year, $27 million extension he signed in December of 2014. He's been one of their defensive pillars since 2011 and one of the most positive locker-room influences they've had under head coach Pete Carroll. He wants to be back, but wanting that hardly assures it will happen even when the feeling is mutual.
“I would love to be here," Wright said. "... I believe it would be in the team’s best interest if I stayed here.”
Working against his return are his age -- he turns 30 in July -- and that he missed all but five regular-season games with a knee injury. It required surgery late in the summer, kept him out for the first six games and then sidelined him for another five after he suffered a setback in his return.
But if this game was Wright’s last shot to make his case for a third contract from Seattle, he sure made a strong one. His juggling interception of a Dak Prescott pass in the end zone gave the Seahawks life in the fourth quarter. He adeptly sniffed out an earlier fly-sweep to drop Tavon Austin for a 3-yard loss. That was one of his nine tackles, second most on the team behind safety Bradley McDougald’s 10.
Wright and receiver Doug Baldwin are the second-longest-tenured Seahawks behind safety Earl Thomas. Adding to the uncertainty over Wright’s future is how the Seahawks started to drastically reshape the core of their roster over the offseason by moving on from defensive mainstays like Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril.
But if they had no use at all for aging starters, they wouldn’t have extended left tackle Duane Brown this summer right before his 33rd birthday. And Wright’s experience carries tremendous value for a defense whose youth was all too evident at times this season, including Saturday in Dallas. Wright said he anticipated the route that receiver Noah Brown was going to run on the play that resulted in his interception after seeing the Arizona Cardinals run the same thing last week with Larry Fitzgerald. Indeed, Wright was a step in front of Brown the entire time.
“I don’t know what his numbers were and all that, but having K.J. back was so valuable to us,” Carroll said. “He’s such a great player and a great leader and mentality. He gives other people strength just being around him, and he’s unbelievably valuable.”
None of the Seahawks’ in-house alternatives at weak-side linebacker are slam dunks as replacement options. Rookie Shaquem Griffin struggled while making his only start in the season opener. Second-year pro Austin Calitro helped fill in at that spot as did Mychal Kendricks before he went on injured reserve. Comments from Carroll strongly suggested that the Seahawks want to bring back Kendricks, a free agent, but a potential prison sentence for insider trading could affect that.
How the Seahawks view the health of Wright’s knee figures to be as big of a factor as any.
“K.J. is a rock. He’s always been a rock,” Baldwin said. “He’s been one of those pillars you look toward in the locker room. I knew exactly what he stands for. I knew exactly what he was going to bring to the table both on and off the field. It’s a testament to the man he is, first and foremost. He’s been that for all of us. For myself, Bobby has leaned on him so many times. Now the young guys get to experience that. They get the joy of a leader like that in their corner this year. It’s going to be an amazing thing.
“Hopefully he gets to stay with us.”