It’s been pretty clear since Bobby Wagner’s departure from the Rams that his preference was to return to Seattle. He’s coming home, which will have many Seahawks fans rejoicing. It will be a feel-good story in the city and it means linebacker is no longer a need for the team.
I do have a few reservations to raise though and hope this isn’t construed as raining on anyone’s parade.
In his last season in Seattle in 2021, I thought Wagner looked a shell of himself. He wasn’t attacking gaps with the same vigour. He was riding screen passes downfield. He wasn’t flying to the ball. I’m not sure if he had an injury or felt like it was a bit of a lost cause as things unfolded — but this wasn’t the Wagner we’d come to know.
Seattle didn’t have to cut him a year ago. An extension would’ve lowered his large $20m cap hit and they could’ve kept him around. Perhaps it was simply a really difficult bargaining position to owe that much for 2022 and work on an extension? Especially with no agent involved. That’s very plausible. Either way, I thought the Seahawks made the right call to cut him and jump into a new era.
I thought he looked renewed and refreshed in the three Rams’ games I watched last season — the blowout against Denver and Russell Wilson on Christmas Day and the two meetings with the Seahawks. In particular against Seattle, I thought he looked fantastic. There were many reasons why he would be highly motivated to excel in those games — but the fact is he did play very well.
I can’t speak for the rest of his season but it sounds like he returned to form. I would caution, however, that he did get to play behind Aaron Donald for 11 games. He won’t get that luxury in Seattle.
Indeed, the defensive line currently looks incredibly limited. They have cut everyone and signed just two replacements — Dre’Mont Jones and Jarran Reed. I like both of these signings but for Wagner to excel, I think he needs (and deserves) to have a D-line that can control things up front.
Wagner is 33 in June. He’s coming to the end of his career. It remains to be seen, even with the addition of Jones, whether the Seahawks can be good enough up front to allow him to play free and fast. Is he going to be able to produce, or will we see a repeat of 2021?
Can you create a fearsome D-line with rookies? Or do you need a few more grizzled veterans in there? Do they need the Shelby Harris and Al Woods types to mix in with some young talent?
I also fear that they’re increasingly setting up a situation where they’re going to back themselves into a corner in the draft. Are they obliged to take defensive linemen early and often, regardless of whoever else is available? They’ve spoken about avoiding that situation but it’s hard to know how they’ll steer clear of it now.
According to Over the Cap they have -$746,786 in effective cap space. If Wagner’s contract isn’t incentive-laden, they don’t even have the money currently to sign their rookies. They also don’t have many levers to create more cap space. It’s basically negotiating with Uchenna Nwosu from a position of weak leverage or cutting Jamal Adams as a post-June 1st release. Or they trade Noah Fant in a buyers market, given the quality of the tight ends in the draft.
It’s a big benefit to the Seahawks to have Wagner’s experience and leadership. I sense they’ve gone above and beyond to get this done — knowing the groundswell of desire from fans and the players’ apparent preference to come home.
I do think it’s curious though that they’re spending so much, again, on linebackers and safeties while the defensive line is in the state that it is. The draft will inevitably provide help. Clearly, they intend to be younger up front. That can have big benefits — but can a young, inexperienced line execute the scheme and keep the second-level defenders clean?
I also appreciate this is not a good linebacker class. Now, they can ignore it completely if they wish. They have eliminated a worry and have added character to the locker room.
Some other notes:
— In the last 12 months Wagner’s been cut by the Seahawks and the Rams. On each occasion he has had a ‘let’s wait and see’ market, with teams weighing up their options. If he’s still capable of playing like one of the best linebackers in the NFL, why has he been cut twice and not been a hot-ticket free agent on either occasion?
— One of my big complaints during the 2018-21 period was the resource spend at linebacker and safety, compared to the investment in the trenches. Last year was a great start — cutting money at linebacker then spending high picks on the O-line and defensive front seven. Then they signed Dre’Mont Jones to kick off free agency this year. However, they still have an astonishing $36m committed to Quandre Diggs and Jamal Adams in 2023 on top of also signing Julian Love and retaining Ryan Neal. Now they’ve brought back Wagner and signed Bush for $10.5m. It’s a curious strategy.
— Is there a danger that nostalgia is playing too big a a part in this? Is he coming back because he legitimately is ready to play better than his previous season in Seattle, or are we getting caught up in a nice story? The Seahawks were right to turn to a new era a year ago and launch a fresh start. Is one injury to Jordyn Brooks enough to rush back to the past?
— Are the Seahawks being more aggressive to accelerate their fresh start, are they simply being opportunistic or do they think they are close to contending? I am very comfortable with the first two but I hope they’re realistic about where they are. If they can combine competitive in 2023 with an eye to the long-term through the draft, that would be ideal. I hope, however, they avoid treating the draft like a ‘finishing touch’ with attempted ‘impact’ moves to fill remaining holes. That is the kind of plan, as they have admitted themselves, that has led to mistakes in the past.
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