Will the Seahawks have to make a decision about LB Bobby Wagner?
Entering the 2021 offseason, the Seahawks have a lot of pending free agents and many starting jobs that need to be filled. The issue is they don’t have much cap space or many draft picks.
As it stands, the Seahawks currently have just under $3 million in available cap space per OverTheCap, and Seattle has just four draft picks in the 2021 draft, none of which are in the first or third rounds.
That could lead general manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll to make some tough decisions this offseason when it comes to veteran players on the roster. One of the most veteran players on the roster, star middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, was the topic of discussion on 710 ESPN Seattle’s Jake and Stacy on Thursday.
Wagner, 30, signed a three-year extension ahead of the 2019 season and is under contract through 2022. The first year of that new deal was in 2020, and Wagner will average $18 million per year over the contract. In 2021, he has a cap hit of just over $17 million, with a cap hit over $20 million in 2022. Wagner is paid well for good reason, though. He’s a 2020 First-Team All-Pro and has been a First-Team All Pro six times since entering the league in 2012. He regularly leads the Seahawks in tackles, including in 2020 with 138.
Seattle is in need of clearing cap space and acquiring more draft picks, so Jake Heaps and Stacy Rost made their stances on what the Seahawks should do with Wagner this offseason, landing on opposite sides of the aisle in this case.
Stacy Rost: Keep Wagner
“This is someone who is under contract, someone who has been one of your best players in the last decade and someone who is going to be a Hall of Famer, frankly,” Rost said. “This is the best middle linebacker in the league and outside of Russell Wilson, (Wagner is) your most important player.”
Wagner is one of two members of the top-ranked defense that led the Seahawks to back-to-back Super Bowls in 2013 and 2014, along with linebacker K.J. Wright, who also was still with the team in 2020. Safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas as well as cornerback Richard Sherman, all members of the legendary Legion of Boom defense from that time, either retired (Chancellor) or signed with other teams in recent offseasons.
Seattle’s defense has declined since the mid-2010s, but after being arguably the league’s worst defense in the first half of 2020, it played like one of the best over the second half. Rost says Wagner, the team’s defensive captain, is crucial for that unit and that losing him may be too much to handle.
“If you get rid of Bobby Wagner, you lose so much on defense and I’m not sure you can do enough with whatever capital or money you’re going to get to make it up,” she said. “Because presumably, quite a bit of that is going to go to investing in your offensive line, maybe getting weapons, or maybe you try and make your offense as elite as it can possibly be. And that’s fantastic, but don’t forget how much you’re giving up.
“I think our bar for Bobby Wagner keeps growing and rising because of what he’s capable of being. I think he’s still capable of being (one of the best linebackers in the NFL) … You’re giving up so much when you’re getting rid of Bobby Wagner that I very much worry if Pete Carroll can have the defense that he wants to have.”
Jake Heaps: Trade Wagner
Heaps prefaced his case by saying it’s “extremely uncomfortable” for him to say the Seahawks should trade Wagner because he’s been teammates with him in the past, the two have worked out together and he knows that Wagner is a great player and person.
“So when you talk about (someone of) Bobby Wagner’s caliber, he is a Seahawks legend, a future Hall of Famer, an All-Pro, a captain that leads and exemplifies all the qualities you could ever dream of, so how is this even a question?” Heaps said. “Well, it comes down to dollars and cents and it comes down to a really, really difficult position you’re in because of COVID, because of the limited cap space you (have, which normally wouldn’t be the case).”
The NFL cap is expected to go down by roughly $20 million from 2020 to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, teams have much less wiggle room when it comes to re-signing players or signing free agents.
With Wagner set to make over $17 million in 2021, Heaps said Wagner has to play like a top-tier player who can be a game changer and play well in coverage while contributing in the run game and on blitzes.
“If you watch the film this season … he had over 130 tackles and he did some good things. But if you look at a lot of those tackles, unfortunately they are downfield. They are 5-plus yards (downfield),” Heaps said. “There are some times where he is filling in in run gaps and things of that nature that he tries to undercut a block and he misses his shot and now you have a wide-open running lane. Those are things that I am not accustomed to seeing from Bobby Wagner.”
Heaps said that linebacker is like quarterback in the sense that what your teammates around you do greatly impacts how you play, which could play a role in some of what he saw from Wagner. But something Seattle did last offseason signals to Heaps that a split between Wagner and the Seahawks could happen.
“As you look at what the Seahawks have done, they drafted (linebacker) Jordyn Brooks, their (2020) first-round pick, and he came in this last year and he played extremely well in the second half of the season,” Heaps said. “He showed you that you can move on with confidence that this guy exemplifies the same talents and abilities that Bobby Wagner came in with and can play with that same level of aggression and speed and coverage ability that Bobby Wagner had when he was younger.”
With the Seahawks up against the cap and with so few draft picks, Heaps thinks Wagner is one of only two Seahawks on defense who could bring back significant value to add to their 2021 draft, along with safety Jamal Adams, who the Seahawks used two first-round picks and a third-round pick to acquire from the New York Jets last year. Since Seattle just acquired Adams, trading Wagner makes more sense if it came down to the two.
“This is the only move that makes sense for the Seahawks to be able to get back money to their cap and also be able to potentially get back a significant amount of capital where you do have a first-round pick, you do have potentially multiple second-round picks or third-round picks where you can potentially upgrade your roster that is in desperate need of doing so at certain positions,” he said.