BY Art Thiel 08:55PM 05/21/2019

Thiel: Wagner at Seahawks drills, with asterisk

Bobby Wagner wants to be the NFL’s highest-paid linebacker, a cost that recently went up. He’s trying an unusual tactic to persuade the Seahawks he’s about more than cash.

Pete Carroll said Tuesday that contract-extension talks with LB Bobby Wagner were going along just fine. / Art Thiel, Sportspress Northwest

The traditional awkward dance between the Seahawks and a star player seeking a third contract is underway again. This time, LB Bobby Wagner seems be going out of his way not to step on toes.

After the unpleasantness with Earl Thomas a year ago, and Richard Sherman before that, and Kam Chancellor before that, Wagner decided to show up for practice. But not actually practice, until a deal for an extension is struck.

As holdouts go, this is more like arched eyebrows, as opposed to hostage self-taking.

“I will be here, as my participation,” Wagner said Tuesday after the first voluntary organized team activity (OTA) that was open to media. “Doing whatever I can. Just being a leader, sending the right message.

“I feel like the quarterback of the defense is pretty important.  Not having that piece would kind of put a damper on the defense. That’s why I’m here. That’s all I will be, is here.”

It’s a strategy that seeks to walk between the worlds. He’s not in the full pout that Thomas was, not showing up at all, but he doesn’t want to seem a patsy in a negotiation that he is pridefully handling himself, with no agent.

Above all,  he does not want to have happen what happened Monday to fellow LB Rueben Foster, who was lost for the season in an OTA drill in Washington’s camp, when he merely moved awkwardly in a non-contact drill and tore an ACL.

Any injury before a contract extension is struck would leave Wagner in a situation much like that in 2017 for Sherman, who lost millions in future earnings when he played into his contract year and tore his Achilles tendon. The Seahawks let him go injured into free agency, when he signed for much less to join the 49ers.

Wagner’s goal, and it is a plausible aspiration, is to be the game’s highest paid linebacker. That title belongs to the New York Jets’ C.J. Mosley, who in March signed a free-agent deal worth up to $85 million over five years, $51 million guaranteed.

The $17 million average annual value constituted a big spike in the LB market — Carolina’s Luke Kuechly is next-highest at $12.4 million —  so much so that it was believed to have been a factor in last week’s abrupt, ill-timed firing of Jets GM Mike Maccagnan.  Jets owner Chris Johnson apparently felt that Mosley, despite his four Pro Bowl selections in five seasons in Baltimore, was massively overpaid by his dopey GM.

Seahawks GM John Schneider, if you could ever get him to stop muttering under his breath about it, likely would have agreed.

The deed, however, is done, and Schneider had to re-do his salary cap whiteboard.

“That’s the standard,” Wagner said of Mosley’s deal. “That is the plan to break it.”

That’s about as clear a target as one gets ahead of these talks — straight from the agent and the player.

Coach Pete Carroll didn’t want to convey distress by blinking, coughing or retching, so instead merely read from the figurative company script.

“Okay, here’s the way we’re saying that,” he said. “If you watched this, as you have all throughout the off-season, there’s been a process of step by step. We’re right in stride with the process.

“Bobby’s been great. Everything’s going to come together in time. Everything’s in order. We’re in order of what we want to do. It feels very comfortable and very amicable and all of that. So everything’s going just right.”

Carroll so wants to tuck in the 12s with a nice bedtime story.

It may come true. After nailing the services of Russell Wilson at the top of the QB market, a feat achieved with less tension than many had forecast, the Seahawks, after the injury retirement of WR Doug Baldwin, have about $24 million salary cap space to help make Wagner the top-paid linebacker.

But the fairy-tale ending has to work around a familiar plot twist: Age.

Mosley is 27 in June, and Wagner is 29 in June. You know how the Seahawks get when players approach age-30 contracts. It’s as if 30 is the new 60.

It’s not just the Seahawks. With the exception of quarterbacks, who are these days protected by rules that act as virtual Kevlar jackets to extend careers indefinitely, teams are increasingly reticent to employ expensive, damaged veterans when younger, cheaper, healthier help is available that is almost as good.

While nothing in Wagner’s play suggests any downturn, the idea of giving such a powerhouse hitter big guarantees spread over five years seems a bit chilling to the exchequer.

After seeing Chancellor at 29 and DE Cliff Avril at 31 go down with career-ending injuries on what seemed like fluke-contact tackles, it’s not as if the Seahawks have to make up stories of bad outcomes.

Whether Wagner will accept fewer years and less guaranteed money than Mosley will be key points in a conversation already underway. Wagner seemed somewhat nonchalant about potential outcomes (a poker face is always good in these episodes).

Earlier, he said in an interview with NFL.com that he is preparing as if this is his last season in Seattle. Tuesday, he indicated as much.

“I am here and that’s what I want to do,” he said after watching practice from the sidelines. “This is my decision. As of right now there is no other years for me left here, so that was just a very honest opinion that if I don’t get a deal done, that’s it.

“I’m a professional.This is what it is. As of right now, my contract ends at this year so that’s where it stands. I am honoring the contract, helping the young guys to be the best they can be. But I believe there is something that can happen.’’

There is enough time between now and the start of training camp in late July for a deal to be struck. Until then, there is no reason for a premier talent in his eighth year to take physical risks now in a voluntary workout, or even in the mandatory mini-camp in June.

“There is no other reason” for staying on the sidelines, he said. “It’s a very tough thing to go through. You don’t necessarily know how to handle staying out.

“I’m not trying to turn this into some big drama thing, a drawn-out thing. It’s a business. If it works out, it does, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. Cool.”

After watching so many of the Super Bowl stars leave, no one needs to tell Seahawks fans it’s a business.

But by being present, mentoring his potential successors and staying out of harm’s way, Wagner is walking between the worlds, playing an unusual card that says there is a little more to him than straight cash. An agent would have told him he was nuts.


YourThoughts

  • 1coolguy

    Good column Art – The Mosley deal, at $5m OVER the 2nd highest, is clear stupidity – what could the Jets GM have been thinking? Are he and Mosley related? Does Mosley have the negatives? haha.
    I can never blame anyone for seeking out as much as possible, yet Mosleys deal is not the new standard – it is an outlier penned by a fool – and is easily dismissed.
    Wagner deserves “Kuechly” money, and no one deserves Mosely money.
    Pay him $14m for 3 years guaranteed and be done with it.

    • art thiel

      Nice sentiment, but the market was set by Mosley. Since Wagner is two years older, he can’t argue his value is the same, but he can argue that continuity with the Seahawks is worth something, as it was with Wilson’s deal.

  • Seattle Lifer

    Perhaps the resolution to all this salary cap discussion is to keep the salary cap as it is and then play 8 man football with a limit to 20 players on each team. Everyone could be well paid and there might be less pay disparity.

    • art thiel

      Would you pay full-price tickets to see that? This is ‘Murica, where things only get bigger, not smaller.

      • Seattle Lifer

        Art, it is all about profit and marketing, I don’t pay to watch the NFL, I do pay (share tickets) to see BC Lions. But my answer was more tongue in cheek about all the hand wringing.

        • art thiel

          When you add in travel costs, isn’t it just as expensive as a Seahawks game? Or is it the 110-yard field that is irresistible?

    • Archangelo Spumoni

      An actual solution: delete the salary cap and let’s see the socialist owners stop being good little socialists with their equally shared major media revenue, virtually zero free agency, the draft, said socialist-style salary cap, socialist-style publicly funded stadia, rewarding the worst via the first draft picks, etc. Be capitalists, boys. After all, you are supposedly our captains of industry. Or something.

      Note for haters: the GB franchise is technically a stock company, publicly held, meaning lots o’ financial data must be publicly released.
      Each year GB announces major broadcast contract revenue (split perfectly equally among all the franchises) and this always pays the entire player salary bucket plus about 50% left over for the _____ (something whatever).
      BEFORE the first ticket sold, first seat license gouged, first exhibition game full price ticket, first beer***, first program, first parking dollar, first shared apparel dollar, first local media contract, etc. ad nauseam.

      The NFL is simply a license to print money.
      Further note for haters: everybody gets all hotted up about some player wanting more $$ and we are almost always utterly blind to this socialist-type finance model. “Dang players–they should be dang happy to have this job with its 2 or 3 year average career duration, dang brain damage, a lifetime of pain, and generally shortened dang life span.”
      Last note for haters: Answer: HAR HAR HAR HAR HAR HAR HAR HAR. All you pay is extra for beer, airline tickets, cars, trucks, rental cars, bank services, credit cards, whatever advertising inundates us during games on tv or live.

      *** players are barred from endorsing beer–owner, teams, and league only.

  • tor5

    I’m somewhat naïve about how what a fair contract would look like, but as a fan I’m totally fine with what Wagner is doing. It seems like a clever and respectful way to show some leverage. And as for matching the Mosley deal, the question isn’t really about whether the Jets were stupid, it’s about whether anyone else is willing to match that stupidity for Wagner. I’d bet someone is (or would come close) and, thus, that’s the market, right?

    • art thiel

      It’s hard to forecast a market when the Jets seem to have overpaid for Mosley and the Ravens seem to have overpaid for Earl Thomas. Wagner would command much in next year’s FA market but neither he nor the Seahawks want to find out.

  • jafabian

    I saw on SI.com that Dak Prescott announced that he wants to be “a Cowboy forever” and has confidence that everything will work out. Pretty refreshing from the typical “show me the money” attitude most athletes have.

    • art thiel

      Russell Wilson didn’t say it publicly, but indicated after signing his deal he had the same sentiment about the Seahawks. I’m not sure Prescott did himself any favors in the negotiations.

      • jafabian

        Depends on Jerry Jones. On one hand he is somewhat Trump-like in that he values loyalty. Could be why Prescott said what he said. On the other Jerry is as cost-conscious as any other team owner. He does have limits though as evidenced when he gave Emmitt Smith the contract he wanted after Smith’s holdout went into the season. Wilson plays the game well: he states his loyalty to the team only so many times and not at all during contract negotiations. At least this time we weren’t subjected to endless sub-tweeting.

        • art thiel

          You’re right that Jones, like Trump, is mostly impulse. It’s part or what has held back the Cowboys. Prescott is above average, but I can’t tll whether he’s reached his ceiling.

  • Ken S.

    I’d like to see Wagner play out his career with the Seahawks, he’s one of my favorite (current) players. But how long will that career last? Not many are still around at 35 unless they were bench-warmers for much of their career. NFL linebackers peak age is around 26-27 and decline from there.His quiet manner on and off the field is refreshing in this day and age of huge egos. Unlike an outspoken linebacker the Seahawks bet the farm on, and lost, big time. Those memories don’t fade quickly. Brian Bosworth. So much promise, so little delivered. There is little to compare between the two, Bosworth proved himself to be a con-man, and little else.

    http://socalledfantasyexperts.com/wp-content/uploads/pfr-aging-curve-for-nfl-defensive-players-linebackers.png

    • art thiel

      Fair points about wear and tear on LBs, which is why the Seahawks don’t want to go beyond three years. That’s what Wagner won’t want to hear. All elite athletes believe they are exceptions to the rule.