Sunday the Seattle Seahawks will look to keep their faint playoff hopes alive when they go on the road to take on a Houston Texans team that is one of just four teams with a worse record than Seattle this season. In order to have any hope whatsoever of making the postseason the Hawks would need to win more games over the final five weeks of the season than they won during the first thirteen weeks, but anything is possible.
That said, whenever the season does come to a close for Seattle there will be a whole host of roster questions that will need to be addressed. Those include not only the large number of starters that will need replacing on both sides of the ball, the Hawks will also have several decisions to make when it comes time to evaluate the players signed through the 2022 season as well.
Obviously, the first place many fans will turn their attention is to the 2019 draft class. It’s no secret that several of the players selected on the first two days will likely not warrant a second contract with the Hawks, specifically L.J. Collier, Marquise Blair and Cody Barton, but there is certainly a discussion to be had regarding DK Metcalf and Ugo Amadi. Looking past the members of the 2019 rookie class, however, one big question looming over the offseason will be the status of All Pro middle linebacker Bobby Wagner.
Wagner is the lone holdover from the Legion of Boom defense that carried Seattle to a Super Bowl victory, and while he’s certainly not the player he once was, he has played every defensive snap so far this season, leads the NFL in tackles and is still certainly a factor in the middle of the Seahawks defense. That leads to the question of what the Seahawks should do when it comes to Wagner’s $20.35M cap hit for 2022.
Obviously, $20.35M is quite a bit of money for an off ball linebacker who most will agree has lost a step this season and who will be another year older next season. The issues for Seattle, however, is that the team doesn’t appear to have a capable replacement on the roster for Wagner at the moment. To cut off the conversation before someone jumps in screaming that Brooks was drafted in order to be ready to take over for Wagner, doing that then leaves the team with no one manning the spot that Brooks is filling this season, thus there is still a hole at linebacker. It seems unlikely that Cody Barton would be able to step in and fill that role without the team taking a significant hit at the position, otherwise the team would have probably given Barton more than 312 defensive snaps during his nearly three seasons on the roster.
That said, even a Wagner who isn’t what he once is likely to bring more to the team than many other options that are available to replace him, and that certainly has value.
What it therefore boils down to is basically three options when it comes to Wagner:
- Let him play out his contract and be a free agent after 2022 ($20.35M cap hit for 2022)
- Release him (assuming he finishes out the season healthy, $3.75M dead cap hit for 2022)
- Extend him to lower his 2022 cap number and keep him on the roster at a more palatable cap hit going forward
The last option may not seem all that attractive to fans, but extending a player doesn’t necessarily mean extending that player at a top of market deal. Certainly the key question will be whether the two sides would be able to come to an agreement on a deal that gives Wagner the cash flow he desires with cap hits that don’t hamstring the team as it works to address all the other roster questions that require attention this offseason.
For example, one option would be for the Hawks to extend Wagner two seasons by converting $15M of his 2022 base salary to signing bonus and then reaching agreement on acceptable salaries for the 2023 and 2024 seasons. The result of that would be to keep Wagner’s cash flow the same, while dropping his cap hit by $10M for 2022 and freeing up space for the Hawks. That then, obviously, raises multiple other questions including what salaries would be acceptable to both sides for future seasons and what can realistically be expected of Wagner in future years. Alternatively, many would look at such an extension as simply pushing $10M of his 2022 cap hit into 2023, which leads one to ask whether that is better or worse than letting him go and leaving a big hole in a defense that is already likely to see multiple starters depart in free agency.
Thus, on top of the decisions the Seahawks need to make regarding their free agents this offseason, they will also need to figure out how to address the longest tenured member of the defense.