BY Art Thiel 06:00AM 05/30/2019

Thiel: Seahawks do the the Wright thing by K.J.

The Seahawks have shed a lot of top-end talent, but they chose to keep LB K.J. Wright despite his age and his knee. He tries to explain why.

Shaquem Griffin (49) gets some wisdom from the master, K.J. Wright (50). / Art Thiel, Sportspress Northwest

Every sports fan operating off of more than his or her medulla oblongata knows that a professional athlete’s prime time — except for golfers, bowlers and good quarterbacks — is short. But that truth stands little chance against the tsunami of sentiment that follows career’s end for a beloved local hero.

Seahawks fans in particular have had a steady weepfest over the departures of Marshawn Lynch, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, and most recently, Doug Baldwin. Even Jon Ryan, a punter, fercripesakes, was lamented in the manner of a long-lived parrot now pushing up daisies.

For all the obvious reasons, attrition in football is particularly odious. Yet it often startles more casual fans when they learn that only three Seahawks remain from the Super Bowl teams — QB Russell Wilson and LBs Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright. The Patriots, whom the Seahawks met in the 2015 Game That Shall Not Be Uttered, started the 2018 season with 12 holdovers.

The casualty rate surprises even Wright. More surprising than that? He’s the perambulating contradiction.

“I didn’t see it happening,” Wright said Wednesday after practice. “I thought I’d be in a different-colored jersey.”

In 2018, the final year of his contract, Wright made no public attempt to extort the team for a contract extension, which at the time seemed to have worked out poorly.

A knee problem needing arthroscopic surgery kept Wright out the first six games. After a three-game return, he sat out two more weeks, before coming back for the final two games and the playoff loss at Dallas.

“Soon as I knew it was surgery, I was like, ‘Dang, this is not very good,” he said. “Contract-year surgery, (playing) five games — all those signs saying, ‘Thank you for your services, gotta move on.'”

Yet shortly after free agency began, the Seahawks offered him a two-year, $15 million deal, although only the $8 million for 2019 is guaranteed.

For a guy who will be 30 in July and coming off a bum knee, that’s a handsome chunk. What happened?

“They love me here,” he told reporters, who erupted in laughter.

In the ruthless world of pro ball, love is not a concept taken seriously when it comes to money. But if it were ever to slip into the consciousness of general manager John Schneider, Wright would be the guy to have inspired it.

“I’m glad they love me,” he said. “They know what I bring to the table. I’m still a helluva linebacker making plays all over the field.

“There was a community effort — media, people in the building, fans — really pushing for me. Everybody was making it happen.”

While it’s true that Wright is among the team’s most popular players, in-house and out-house, there was a more practical consideration. The Seahawks in 2018 were mediocre defensively, and Wright’s limited play was only a part of it. His return to health means one less position to worry about in the first full season without the Legion of Boom, and minus top pass rusher Frank Clark.

On defense, the Seahawks have many question marks. Healthy, Wright is an exclamation point.

Or, as defensive coordinator Ken Norton put it pithily Wednesday, “His game film speaks for itself.”

In eight years, Wright, a fourth-round pick in 2011 from Mississippi State, has been a rock, a Scottie Pippen to Wagner’s Michael Jordan. He is replaced neither quickly nor easily, and is needed immediately.

“This is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business,” he said. “They don’t care about the past eight years; it’s what can you do for us going forward.

“Last year really put things in perspective for me — approach every game and practice with gratitude and thankfulness. You never know when something may happen. Could be  your last play. Just have fun, enjoy it, and don’t sweat the small stuff.”

For now, during the padless practices of organized team activities, his task is to mentor his drafted successors — third-rounder Cody Barton of Utah and fifth-rounder Ben Burr-Kirven of Washington.

Wright praised both for their football intelligence.

“They picked up the playbook fast,” he said, drawing out the last word. “I was telling BBK about this formation (for D-line stunts), and he, like, took the words out of my mouth. I’ve never seen rookie linebackers like this.”

The coaching is vital role for a linebacker who is 30, which is 40 in real life. And it’s representative of why the Seahawks felt another contract was worth the risk

“Somebody told me I was the longest-tenured Seahawk,” he said. “It’s a blessing and an honor being with one program your whole career. It’s fun being in this position.”

As any survivor will tell you, any position beats the alternative. Health willing, Wright has a shot in his likely final season to own his place, running backs, and fans’ hearts all at once.


YourThoughts

  • StephenBody

    Could not possibly have happened to a more deserving guy. I hope he plays until he’s fifty.

    • art thiel

      That makes it unanimous in Seattle.

  • Effzee

    “lamented in the manner of a long-lived parrot now pushing up daisies” … exquisite Monty Python reference, but I think you meant “ex-parrot.” ;)

    • art thiel

      I sort of assumed that if it were pushing up daisies, the parrot could be assumed to be an “ex” by discerning readers such as you.

      Sometimes I have to amuse myself, but it’s good to know the circle grows.

  • marmoto

    30 is more like 57 in real-life working years.

    • art thiel

      I wish I could argue.

      • 1coolguy

        $8m in one year is more than I will make in my lifetime. I hope these players, after they whine about their ailments, earn to realize how fortunate they are. Give me some knee operations and shoulder problems and I’ll take the $8m any day.

        • Bruce McDermott

          The operations and joint problems are one thing. The brain injuries and shortened lifespans are another.

          • art thiel

            Retired, diminished players often are too proud to say that the sacrifice of brain function wasn’t worth it. Many of them haven’t/won’t make enough money to sustain them when they can’t drive, or tell the driver where home is.

          • Bruce McDermott

            Right. My point was that even $8 million, let alone multiples of that number, may not be worth losing your brain and your life many years earlier than you might otherwise have enjoyed both.

        • art thiel

          I recall very few players whining. If a guy can’t play effectively, he can’t play effectively.

  • Richie Rich

    I love watching KJ play, and I feel he’s a steadying influence on that defense that has lost a lot of veterans over the past couple of seasons. Not that he makes Bobby Wagner better, but I bet he makes him more comfortable, knowing he’s got KJ watching his flank.

    • art thiel

      The Seahawks defense improved over time as the key players knew intuitively what others would do against certain formations. Small but vital asset.

  • jafabian

    The Seahawks organization loved all the players from the Super Bowl team. It’s just that some took their time and position with the franchise for granted and did not remain focused on the team goals. KJ has been refreshing comparatively with his attitude and approach. And in the games he played last season he made his presence known. A great player for the younger players to emulate.

    • art thiel

      I’m not willing to say players can’t think of themselves at the same time they think of the team. It is possible for a keen mind to hold contradictory thoughts. Although I do think Sherman talked his way out of town when it didn’t need to happen.

      • 1coolguy

        Agreed – he diminished his Seattle legacy and it didn’t need to happen. He couldn’t control his being out front in the press and it’s too bad. He’s a good guy and I wish he were still with us.

        • art thiel

          Sherman is always worth listening to, even when self-serving. But he hasn’t caught on to avoiding being self-desttructive.

          • Husky73

            Self destructive….excellent point.

      • Husky73

        Male twenty somethings can be volatile. I know that I was, and I had three more. Now, at sixty something, I sometimes cringe when I look back at the years when I did not know what I did not know. Sherman is a smart guy. He will reflect and mature.

        • art thiel

          Keep your cringe handy. It’s still happening.

  • wabubba67

    Once had the privilege of riding in a light rail car in San Diego with Wright’s parents, and they could not have been more humble and unassuming. Always thought that was likely a great indicator of what their son might be like.

    • art thiel

      To go a little trite here, the apple did not fall from the trees.

      • 1coolguy

        “far”

        • art thiel

          Thanks for the fix.

  • 1coolguy

    Class act – a model for all other Hawks to witness

  • Tman

    May I have permission to use “weepfest” in conversation from time to time?

    • art thiel

      Donations accepted in the jar marked “Abnormal.”