SEATTLE – Bobby Wagner left no question Tuesday about what he wants in order to remain with the Seahawks beyond this season: an extension before the start of the 2019 season that will make him the highest-paid inside linebacker in the NFL. But that in itself may only have raised more questions about where things stand between Wagner and the Seahawks and what happens now. So here’s an attempt at addressing some of the key issues in the Seahawks’ latest contract conundrum.
What is it that Wagner wants?
Wagner said flat-out Tuesday that he will top the $17 million a year that the New York Jets gave free agent C.J. Mosley in March, a five-year deal that also includes $51 million guaranteed. “That is the standard, so that is the plan, to break that,” said Wagner.
It’s unclear whether Wagner wants a deal that would break all of that – including years and guarantee – or if he would be happy with a shorter deal that would top Mosley’s per-year average salary. But the Seahawks undoubtedly hope it’s the latter. Wagner currently makes $10.75 million per year, entering the final season of a four-year contract worth $43 million signed in the summer of 2015 that included just under $22 million guaranteed. That’d be a big raise, and Wagner would be 30 by the time the extension years would take hold.
But Wagner is also considered as good at his position as any player in the NFL, and among the best in NFL history. The Seahawks present a stat in their media guide that illustrates his value. In the 103 games Wagner has played since 2012, the Seahawks have allowed just 17.4 points per game and gone 70-32-1. In the nine games he has missed due to injury, the Seahawks have allowed 20.9 points per game and gone 5-4.
How will Wagner the agent impact things?
Wagner decided to represent himself following his 2015 contract, which was negotiated by David Mulugheta. Wagner said one reason is that he doesn’t need anyone’s help to determine what he wants, stating, “I know my value. Nobody has to tell me my value.”
Players rarely represent themselves, but Seattle has had two others who have done so: Russell Okung and Richard Sherman. Coaches and team execs say it can be somewhat tricky in negotiating trying to talk frankly to a player whom the team presumably hopes to keep, and to do so without damaging the relationship.
“It’s not an issue, it’s just different,” said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll on Tuesday, adding that the main issue is making sure to communicate clearly with Wagner and “making sure he knows what he needs to know when the time comes. … When we have done this in the past, it has worked out fine and we don’t expect anything to be different than that.”
And Wagner said he has no concerns about hearing some frank talk from the team.
“At the end of the day, me representing myself shouldn’t be a big deal,” Wagner said. “They should look at it like any other deal. There’s a lot of people worried about them saying things and me being able to take criticism. That’s part of the game, you have to be able to take criticism. At the end of the day you want the person to say something straight to your face how they feel, not to somebody else. I don’t need a third party.”
This setup will add some pressure on Wagner to get that kind of a deal, which could further complicate things with the Seahawks. As more players have represented themselves, there has been growing scrutiny among agents and around the NFL whether the players are getting the same deal an agent would be able to negotiate. Wagner, though, said he’s willing to live with what happens.
“I bet on myself, and either way to me it’s a win,” he said. “You get a contract, you win. You don’t, it’s a learning experience, so you win. A lot of people are not willing to take that chance. I am.”
Is there cap room?
Yep. First off, teams always have the ability to keep the players they really want by moving things around. But Seattle doesn’t have to do anything to keep Wagner other than make the commitment.
Seattle has more than $25 million in cap space for the 2019 season, according to figures from the NFL Players Association on Wednesday, and a new deal for Wagner could theoretically be structured to reduce his $14.037 million cap hit for 2019.
Seattle has more than $74 million in effective cap space for 2020, third-most in the NFL, according to OvertheCap.com, and the Seahawks have few long-range commitments. In fact, Seattle has just four players under contract for the 2021 season other than those on rookie contracts: Russell Wilson, Duane Brown, Tyler Lockett and Jason Myers.
Could the franchise tag come into play?
Only if Wagner were to play this season on his current contract and still remain unsigned as next year begins. Wagner has made clear he’d like a deal sooner than that, but if nothing gets done than the Seahawks could use the tag, as they did this year on Frank Clark, to prevent Wagner from entering free agency and continue to attempt to reach agreement on a contract.
Former NFL agent Joel Corry, who now writes about financial issues for CBSSports.com, has reported that the tag for Wagner for 2020 would project to $16.845 million and $20.214 million in 2021. Those are numbers Seattle would have to take on its salary cap in full for each season, one reason teams try to avoid the tag.
Wagner won’t hold out, right?
It’s worth noting there’s nothing to hold out from yet – all drills at this point of the year are officially voluntary. Wagner is showing up for all of Seattle’s offseason program but isn’t taking part in on-field drills to protect himself from possible injury and also to make something of a statement about his contract. Earl Thomas, Michael Bennett and Frank Clark in past years all have skipped the voluntary sessions, so by showing up, Wagner is at least keeping things, to use a term Carroll did Tuesday, “amicable.”
A minicamp set for June 11-13 is officially mandatory, but the Seahawks in the past were fine with players such as Lynch showing up but not doing anything on the field (players also can be fined up to $84,435 for skipping minicamp). Training camp is obviously another matter, and Wagner’s hope is obviously that something is done by then – and his presence now seems to indicate he doesn’t plan to hold out (though no one knew in the spring Kam Chancellor planned to hold out in 2015, either).
And as Seahawks fans who have watched similar situations the last few years, NFL rules generally compel players to show up and take part. Players can be fined up to $40,000 a day for not showing up to training camp, and players also are paid their salaries each week during the season. For Wagner, that means $616,647 each week in 2019 (Wagner also has per-game roster bonuses of $62,500 for 2019).
How will it end?
The Seahawks have shown no reluctance to move on from big names, so nothing should ever be ruled out.
But the Seahawks still appear to regard Wagner as a big part of their future (though they did make the most significant investment at linebacker through the draft – taking Cody Barton and Ben Burr-Kirven – since Wagner was picked in 2012).
As Carroll noted Tuesday, the fact that nothing has been done yet doesn’t mean anything. Wagner didn’t sign his last deal until Aug. 2.