MIKE SALK

Salk: 4 ways Wagner’s Seahawks return is an unmitigated success

Sep 21, 2023, 8:17 PM

Seattle Seahawks Bobby Wagner free agency...

Bobby Wagner of the Seattle Seahawks in play against the Los Angeles Rams on Sept. 10, 2023. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Bobby Wagner’s return to the Seattle Seahawks hasn’t just been good. It has been great. Maybe even better than that.

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In fact, I’d say that two weeks into this season, the return of the future Hall of Famer has been an unmitigated success.

Here’s why:

1: Play on the field for the Seattle Seahawks

Without this one, the others don’t work.

In Wagner’s last season here in Seattle, I was among many who thought that he had slipped. Yes, the counting stats were still there (especially the tackle numbers), but they seemed to be coming deeper down the field and with fewer big plays among them. Was it age? Was it scheme? Was it the paper-thin defensive line in front of him?

At the time, I didn’t think it mattered. If either of the first two were the problem, it made sense to move on. If the issue was the line in front of him, then it made sense to lower the cost at linebacker to help the more important position.

I think we now have the answer: It appears to have been the line. Through two games, Bobby has made an enormous difference in the run game with 28 tackles (15 solo) and a tackle for loss is a great start, but it feels more meaningful than in 2021 because that run defense is allowing only 2.9 yard per carry. In 2021, that number was 3.8.

I’m not sure how Bobby has done in pass coverage. Frankly, I think it’s hard to tell from our couch who is supposed to do what. There were certainly a lot of passes caught in his area by open Rams receivers. But I get the sense that Jamal Adams’ return to the Seattle Seahawks’ defense will benefit Bobby tremendously. So I’m keeping an open mind on that one.

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2: Leadership in the locker room

Since the moment his L.O.B. compatriots exited the building, the Seahawks have recognized and encouraged his ability to lead. In fact, when Bobby joined me for an extended interview after he signed in L.A., he spoke in depth about the lengths he had gone to learn about some of the great leaders of all time, both in an out of the sports world.

But what we saw in the last week went far beyond the norm.

The Week 1 loss to the Rams was bad. But I’m not sure we really understood just how bad it really was. Those shots of despondent players on the sideline proved to be telling. And they were apparently a window into an attitude and energy that didn’t go away at the start of the next week of practice.

Enter the returning leader.

When Pete Carroll’s motivational tools fell short, he went to the bullpen and got exactly what he needed. Bobby, who had been pretty quiet and reserved for the first few months as he got the new lay of the land and re-established his credentials, apparently said what needed to be said. And from that moment, the energy was right again.

I don’t know where this season ends up going, but if it is successful, I think it’s fair to point to that moment as a key turning point. Good thing they had the right man for the job!

Speaking of being a man …

3: Engagement in the community

In my time covering sports, I can’t think of another player who has engaged with and in the community like Bobby. That isn’t to say he is the only one, just that he’s done it in a unique and genuine way.

I loved the way he took time out of his weekly press conferences to highlight local groups, businesses and organizations that deserved attention. If he is required to be there, why not use the time to get his message out?

So hearing him describe the FAST54 comic book he has created in conjunction with Virginia Mason Franciscan Health was amazing, even if it wasn’t surprising. But this one is personal. Bobby’s mother was the victim of a stroke and this partnership is all about raising awareness for the signs that could help save a life. As for the comic book angle, well that is just vintage Bobby.

I have never seen anything like this: A multi-media comic story starring Wagner that raises awareness for an important cause? Yeah, that is new and awesome. Seattle is just as lucky to have this person back in our community as the Seahawks are to have him on their roster.

4: Connection with the fans

I went to the opening game of the season for one reason: to hear the ovation when Wagner was introduced to the crowd. It didn’t disappoint.

It was as loud and genuine as any I can remember. The fans were ecstatic to have their guy back. And it made the sting of an awful lose hurt just a little less. That isn’t reason enough to have a player back on the roster, but it didn’t feel like a token moment to honor a former hero. It was getting him back where he belongs: on the field in front of the 12s.

I don’t know where this season goes for Bobby, but I hope that moment was as memorable and meaningful for him as it seemed for the crowd.

Too often in sports media we get caught up in criticism and analysis. We are often looking for ways to make the team better. It’s nice to have the beginning of a story that is exactly the opposite.

It’s nice to have Bobby back in Seattle.

More on the Seattle Seahawks

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