Hasselbeck: How Seahawks may use Bobby Wagner differently in return

Mar 27, 2023, 4:46 PM

Seahawks Bobby Wagner...

Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner pauses during a Dec. 12, 2021 game against Houston. (AP Photo/Matt Patterson, File)

(AP Photo/Matt Patterson, File)

Bobby Wagner is back with the Seahawks, giving the likely future Hall of Famer a chance to help a team on the rise after one year away.

Huard: What Bobby Wagner brings to the table in his Seahawks return

While it wasn’t all that long ago that Wagner last put on a Seahawks jersey, this is a different Seahawks defense he’s returning to – and he’s a bit different now, too. After all, Wagner will turn 33 this summer, though the veteran middle linebacker was still good enough in his one season with the Los Angeles Rams to earn second-team All-Pro honors.

Former Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, a member of the team’s Ring of Honor and current ESPN NFL analyst, joined Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk on Monday and shared his view on why Wagner’s role in 2023 could look different from when he was last with the team in 2021.

“I think late in people’s careers, especially on the defensive side of the ball, you can show guys, ‘Hey, you can be way more effective if we play you less snaps,’ or ‘You can be way more effective if we use you in a certain way,'” Hasselbeck told Brock Huard and guest host Ryan Rowland-Smith. “You see it mostly with pass rushers like a Von Miller-type guy or even like a Michael Strahan at the end of his career, and you see the productivity go up when the snaps go down. Middle linebacker is a little bit different, but I’ll just say a lot of times, winning first and second down helps you win third down.

“I don’t know exactly what (the Seahawks’) plans will be (for Wagner), but quite honestly, what happens on other teams is sometimes you say, ‘Hey, the middle linebacker is coming off the field on third down,’ and there’s nothing wrong with that. You know, you’re just gonna be a better player on first and second down. If there are games like that, or if that’s a style they end up going with, as long as it’s communicated effectively I don’t think there’s a problem. I think all players understand you’re not going to be the same at the end of your career as you are at the beginning, and just kind of working with a game plan is important.”

Wagner’s last year with Seattle was also the first where he played without his longtime teammate K.J. Wright, who moved on to the Las Vegas Raiders for what his final year in the NFL. Hasselbeck thinks that played a role in what a tough season for the Seahawks’ defense, though he still believes Wagner returns with something Seattle needs even if he’ll be used differently.

“I think that last year in Seattle, Bobby probably missed K.J. Wright a little bit – you know, the savviness and the chemistry and some of that kind of stuff,” he said. “I think (Wagner’s return) is a great fit, just the leadership style. But to think that it’s going to just be business as usual, I think that’s probably not the case. They’re probably gonna have to play to his strengths a little bit schematically, and that’s not a slight on him. It’s just the nature of what his skill set is and what his strengths are. … When you get older as a middle linebacker, you prefer to play nine-on-seven and not seven-on-seven, and so the schemes got to kind of protect you. The guys that you’re playing next to got to work in unison, the safeties got to work in unison so that you’re not sort of isolated all the time. That’s the thing – when you’re a little bit older, people are going to try to isolate you and see if you still got it.”

Hasselbeck remains optimistic about Wagner’s ability even if his one-year, $7 million contract seems a bit low for a player with his reputation.

“I always think of free agency like selling a house. The market is what the market is and you can’t really get mad at that,” he said. “… In another way, I think Bobby Wagner is a better player than people realize, and I think that he knows that, too. So once the contract’s done, in my mind, the contract’s done, it’s time to play football.

“I thought, for me anyway, Bobby’s last year in Seattle, he was hung on an island because they weren’t playing great team defense and he didn’t have the guys around him working in unison. He had a young player next to him (Jordyn Brooks) that I think was learning on the fly, and then I think this last year with the Rams, they weren’t as strong up front like they had been and they they struggled defensively in a big way. … I feel like the better the team he’s on, the better the player he will be. He’s like a guy you can add to get you over the hump to win a championship right now. But if you leave him on an island with guys who aren’t doing their job in front of him or guys that aren’t doing their job next to him or behind them, it’s tough for any player.”

Listen to the full conversation with Hasselbeck in the podcast below.

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Hasselbeck: How Seahawks may use Bobby Wagner differently in return