JIM MOORE

Moore: Seahawks LB Bobby Wagner’s play isn’t meeting expectations

Oct 29, 2020, 2:05 PM
Seahawks LB Bobby Wagner...
Bobby Wagner signed a contract extension in 2019 with an $18 million average salary. (AP)
(AP)

John Clayton and I have contrasting opinions on Seahawks middle linebacker Bobby Wagner’s play this year.

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“The Professor” thinks he’s doing well – and Wagner’s 63 tackles would confirm as much. That’s the fifth-highest total in the league, and there’s only one player ahead of him who has played six games like Wagner, and that’s Minnesota’s Eric Kendricks, who has 66 tackles.

The others – Jaylon Smith of Dallas (75 tackles), Brock Martinez of the Giants (73) and Zach Cunningham of Houston (71) – have played seven games.

If he keeps up his current pace, he’ll end up with 168 tackles and break his own single-season team record of 167 set in 2015. You’ll think I’m a hater, but I’m not – I don’t want him to break that record. If he breaks it, that means that Seattle’s subpar defense was on the field far too often than you want it to be in the next 10 games. I’d rather see more three-and-outs and have Wagner fall well short of 168 tackles.

To this point I’ve based a critical view of Wagner on two things:

1) My eyes.

2) The contract extension that Wagner signed in July of 2019, averaging $18 million a year, $54 million in total with a $40.2 million guarantee.

Certainly in the past you can argue that Wagner played at an $18 million level. He’s a potential Hall of Famer who will be in the Ring of Honor once his career ends. He’s been so good that his jersey number could be retired.

As I tell John over and over again, it’s not like I think he’s playing terribly. At 30, he just doesn’t appear to be as good as he used to be, falling short of justifying the money he’s making. If you’re earning $18 million a year, expectations go up as well, and I have a hard time believing that Wagner is meeting those expectations.

To my untrained eyes, he’s playing at an $8 million level or maybe a $10 million level this year. If you want to contend $12 million, fine. If you want to contend $6 million, I’d be more inclined to agree.

Keep in mind that if the Seahawks had a marginally better defense, I wouldn’t have as many quibbles with Wagner’s play. I also understand that one man can only do so much. His 10 teammates need to be better than they’ve been, too.

But this Seahawks defense is the far-and-away worst defense in the NFL. So bad it’s historical, on a pace to allow 7,666 yards and shatter the 2012 Saints’ record of 7,042 yards. And Wagner’s right in the middle of that defense. As the highest-paid player, I think he should be doing more than he is.

I went back through every box score of the Seahawks’ six games this season, charting Wagner’s tackles to try and get a better idea of how he’s playing. Granted, there are a lot of factors at work here. Wagner might be making a tackle on a run play in which one of his teammates missed the tackle or blew an assignment. Same goes for pass plays in which Wagner was credited with the tackle.

In his 30 tackles on running plays, the ball carrier averaged 3.8 yards, which is more than acceptable and would be a good reason to say that Wagner is holding his own and then some this year.

In his 25 tackles on passing plays, the receiver averaged 14 yards. Not good, but then again, it’s hard to determine if the receiver was Wagner’s responsibility or not.

Has he lost a step? Maybe so, maybe not, I truly don’t know. But K.J. Wright looks faster, and rookie Jordyn Brooks is noticeably faster. However, I’m a firm believer that if Wagner has slowed down, he can compensate with veteran savvy gained from his experience in the league.

In other statistical categories, Wagner has four passes defensed, on a pace above his average of six in his first eight years. He has no sacks after averaging 2.5 per season in his career. He has three QB hits, a pace that’s a little above his average of eight a year. But he’s lacking in the tackles for loss department with only one, coming on his third tackle of the season when he dropped Atlanta’s Brian Hill for a two-yard loss. Wagner has averaged 7.25 TFLs in his career.

If you think he’s playing at a level commensurate to his contract, you could justifiably say that Wagner doesn’t have the best defensive tackles in the world in front of him, and a middle linebacker can only do so much without those guys who do the dirty work in the trenches. But that would be an indictment on a group that includes Jarran Reed, who has not played up to his contract either.

When we talked about players who need to step up Wednesday on Bob, Dave and Moore, Dave Wyman picked Wagner. Dave wasn’t criticizing Bobby; he’d just like to see more from him.

I know this, as I’ve gotten older, I tend to live more in the past than ever. And as fans, we love players for what they’ve done for our favorite teams and what they meant to all of us in the past. As a result, we give them considerable slack when they don’t meet expectations in the present.

I was guilty of that when it came to Ken Griffey Jr., thinking he was going to be “The Kid” forever.

With Wagner, it’s not like he’s fading fast, it’s just that we’re not seeing the splash plays anymore. We’re seeing singles instead of home runs. He needs to pick up his play and this defense if it’s going to be a Super Bowl season for the Seahawks.

Follow Jim Moore on Twitter.

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