Did Cody Barton show he can be the Seahawks’ middle LB?
It’s never ideal to finish out a season with a perennial All-Pro sidelined, but that was the reality for the Seahawks as Bobby Wagner missed the team’s finale Sunday against Arizona due to a knee injury he suffered on Seattle’s first defensive play the week before.
There was a silver lining stemming from Wagner’s absence, however, and that was 25-year-old Cody Barton getting his first chance of extended playing time in Wagner’s place at middle linebacker.
Barton, who has been a key contributor on special teams for three seasons but played sparingly at best on defense, stuffed the stat sheet in Seattle’s final two games. In 62 defensive snaps of the Seahawks’ 51-29 win over Detroit on Jan. 2, he registered seven combined tackles, a tackle for loss, a QB hit and a pass defensed. In Sunday’s 38-30 win at Arizona, he played all 76 of Seattle’s defensive snaps and made 12 combined tackles.
What makes the performance of the 2019 third-round pick out of Utah so interesting is that the 31-year-old Wagner, who has made eight straight Pro Bowls and five straight All-Pro teams, could end up being a salary cap casualty this offseason. Though he’s signed through next season, he’s set to make over $20 million in 2022. Seattle could free up nearly $17 million in cap space by releasing or trading Wagner, though, who carries just a $3.75 million dead cap hit for 2022 compared to over $20 million that it would have been in 2021. That’s something that becomes even more of a possibility if the Seahawks decide they saw enough promise from the 6-foot-2, 237-pound Barton in the final two weeks to make him their everyday middle linebacker.
The question is, did Barton show enough? In his own words, he was just trying to do his best filling in for a future Hall of Famer.
“You know, I got big shoes to fill in his absence,” Barton said of Wagner on the Seahawks radio postgame show Sunday on 710 ESPN Seattle. “At the end of the day, though, I just knew I had to do my job and not try to do crazy things. Just do my job every play.”
Three voices from 710 ESPN Seattle – longtime host Bob Stelton and former NFL players Dave Wyman and Brock Huard – shared their thoughts on Barton’s play on the station Monday. Here’s a look at what they each had to say.
“He was pretty good. The last two weeks, he was incredibly active. … He is much more instinctive at middle linebacker than he is at strongside linebacker or even WILL. Playing right in the middle of the action is where he fits best, and he played a pretty solid game. Was he super physical at the point of contact and stopping people and and hitting everything and pushing it backwards? No. But does he have the size to do that? I think that’s the question going forward. He has the instincts, and he showed you that he’s going to stick around and play linebacker in this league for a long time.”
Dave Wyman and Bob Stelton
Stelton: “I thought he played a good game, man. I thought he looked really good (against Arizona); I thought he was equally as good as he was against the Lions. Does he make every single play? No, but you (Wyman) talked about it – that was his sixth full game in his career in three years. I would be interested to see what he looked like if he played a season as a starter. … I was pleased with the way he looked out there.”
Wyman: “Remember how good he looked in the in the preseason? It’s funny – (he played) two (games) at SAM, two at middle linebacker, and two at WILL, so this really was only his second start as a true middle linebacker. … I remember looking at the film (of Barton at Utah) and he was all over the place. They brought him off the edge, they lined him up at safety, I remember they lined him up at middle linebacker inside, so he’s used to that. But like you said, not perfect, made mistakes, but that’s what happens with young guys. So it’ll just be interesting to see how they approach him because I feel like if he doesn’t think he’s going to get significant (playing) time next year, I could see him go to (Seahawks general manager John) Schneider and (coach) Pete (Carroll) and just go, ‘You got to trade me.'”