Rost: Age has yet to catch up with K.J. Wright, but will Seahawks re-sign him?
Twenty-four Seahawks are set to become unrestricted free agents in March and to help fans make sense of who could come back and what kind of contracts players will be seeking, 710 ESPN Seattle’s Jake and Stacy are previewing some of the biggest names over the next few weeks.
New free agent previews premiere every weekday at 1 p.m. on Jake and Stacy. Today’s installment focuses on veteran linebacker K.J. Wright.
The skinny: K.J. Wright has been a stalwart of the Seahawks’ defense from its earliest days under Pete Carroll (Wright was drafted out of Mississippi State in 2011), through back-to-back Super Bowl trips, and into the late 2010’s. This past season concluded Wright’s 10th year in the league, an impressive feat for any player in the NFL, where the average career hovers around three years. To cap it off, Wright was also honored with the team’s prestigious Steve Largent Award.
It’s all fine and good to say an older player exemplifies leadership and savvy – those intangible characteristics owned by some of the NFL’s best players are ones that only come with age – but critics would quickly question whether such players can still be as quick and physical as they were in their 20s. It’s a fair concern; the NFL is a business that prizes youth. The thing is, Wright hasn’t had any sudden drop off since turning 30. Frankly, he’s been playing some of his best football.
Pro Football Focus assigned Wright a 75.3 grade, which is just outside the top 10 for all linebackers. He saw a career-high 132 tackles in 2019 and recorded 11 tackles for loss in 2020 (second-most in a season in his career). His 22 passes defended in the last two seasons are more than the previous five seasons combined (21, 2014-18). He also tallied six quarterback pressures and two sacks. Wright will turn 32 before the start of the new season,
Jake’s take: “K.J. Wright has made his case for the Seahawks to bring him back here in 2021… (two years ago) he was coming off one of the hardest seasons of his career where he’d suffered a bad knee injury that kept him out for the majority of the season. But the Seahawks trusted in Wright, brought him back, and he responded extremely well with two very productive seasons. In 2020, you saw this interesting transition where the Seahawks drafted Jordyn Brooks in the first round and were trying to get him on the field and still play Wright. The big change for Wright’s career at this point is when Bruce Irvin went down with an ACL tear. It forced Pete Carroll and Ken Norton Jr. to really think through how to solve this problem, and the answer was to move K.J. Wright from WILL linebacker – a position he’d played for nine seasons – to the edge, to SAM linebacker. This was absolutely the right move because he thrived. He is not the speed demon with tremendous range that he was when he first came into the league, but his savviness has allowed him to make big plays because he recognizes the play before it even happens. His big hit on Kyle Juszczyk in Week 17 is a great example. Another thing he did so well though wasn’t just his physicality and ability to set the edge; it was the fact that he did a really good job in pass coverage as well, getting out to the flat.
“The other aspect you have to put into this equation is leadership. We talk about Wilson, Wagner, Brown, well, K.J. Wright is one of those guys in the locker room that is a commanding presence and is a leader who knows exactly how to get it done. He’s honestly one of the best teammates I’ve been around. Genuinely cares about everyone around him, goes out of his way to make sure everyone is good, OK, and comfortable, and if you have questions he’s there for you. Just his presence alone int hat locker room means a lot, but when you bring his play into it, you know he’s a guy the Seahawks will want to bring back.”
Outlook: He’ll be 32 at the start of the season and has been open about his desire to finish his career with the same team, but don’t think that means Wright is willing to take a discount. It’s a fair point: how much money should he sacrifice if he can back his performance up on the field?
“I do way too much on the football field to take a discount,” Wright said during an interview with The Jim Rome Show. “It makes absolutely no sense. If you want to win all these championships and look good on Sundays, you’ve got to compensate your guys that are making plays.”
Heaps thinks Wright’s new role as a specialty linebacker ‐ rather than a linebacker who plays every down – makes his price point a bit more affordable for the Seahawks.
“When it’s all said and done, I think K.J. Wright is in a Seahawks uniform yet again and finishes out his career as a Seahawk,” Heaps said.
They won’t be the only team targeting him, though. Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox lists Wright as an ideal target for the Titans, while Sam Monson of Pro Football Talk predicts Wright will land with the Packers.
Jake & Stacy