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Matt Calkins: Contract extension for Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner was a matter of ‘when,’ not ‘if’

UPDATED: Sat., July 27, 2019

Seattle Seahawks middle linebacker Bobby Wagner  reacts during a game against the Arizona Cardinals on Nov. 9, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. The Seahawks agreed to a three-year contract extension with All-Pro middle linebacker  Wagner, locking up the anchor of their defense for the foreseeable future. (Rick Scuteri / AP)
Seattle Seahawks middle linebacker Bobby Wagner reacts during a game against the Arizona Cardinals on Nov. 9, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. The Seahawks agreed to a three-year contract extension with All-Pro middle linebacker Wagner, locking up the anchor of their defense for the foreseeable future. (Rick Scuteri / AP)
By Matt Calkins Seattle Times

SEATTLE – The best linebacker in football. A team he has never feuded with. A city he has embraced from the moment he arrived. This was never an if but always a when – a no-brainer with zero suspense.

Late Friday afternoon, the Seahawks made Bobby Wagner the NFL’s highest-paid inside linebacker by signing him to a three-year, $54 million extension, which includes $40.2 million guaranteed. The deal might not be as long as the five-year, $85 million extension C.J. Mosley inked with the Jets in March, but it does pay more annually.

Anything short of that wouldn’t have felt right for the 29-year-old Wagner, who’s on the fast track for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Just a couple of weeks after getting a 99 rating on the Madden NFL video game, he got a 100 percent commitment from Seattle.

Wagner didn’t practice for the first two days of training camp, although he was in uniform Friday. But never did the negotiations feel particularly contentious.

That doesn’t befit Wagner’s character, which has never emitted much arrogance. As Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Thursday, “He’s never done anything that doesn’t represent class and character and leadership. I’m not even talking about his performance, just the person he has always been.”

Sure, there may have been a couple of glints of drama, but never a full-fledged flame. In May, Wagner said he was preparing as though this was his last year in Seattle, and on the first day of training camp Thursday, he opted for an inside-out hoodie instead of a jersey.

But by NFL standards, those don’t even register as a 1 on the Richter scale. What Wagner does on the football field, however, could be described as seismic.

No. 54 has made the Pro Bowl in each of the past five seasons, and he has been first-team All-Pro in four of them. Last year, he was fourth in the NFL in tackles and, remarkably, missed just one. He also had 11 passes defended – tops among the top-10 tacklers – and took an interception 98 yards to the house against the 49ers.

No reason to think the highlights won’t keep piling up.

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson gushed about Wagner a few hours before the extension was announced Friday. Both were drafted in 2012, and as Wilson underscored, one media outlet gave the Seahawks an “F” grade for their selections that year.

That prompted a meeting between the pair and other rookies, who were determined to change the outlook. It’s safe to say they changed that years ago, but Friday’s signing offered an additional receipt.

“He deserves to be the highest-paid linebacker. There’s nobody better than him in the game, that’s just the honest truth,” Wilson said of Wagner. “He’s done great things, he’s put up the stats, he’s done all the things.”

Wagner may be coming off his best season in the league, but the Seahawks need him to have a better one in 2019. Gone, after all, is defensive end Frank Clark, who racked up a team-high 13 sacks last season. Gone for the first six games is suspended defensive tackle Jarran Reed, who added 10.5 sacks.

This is probably the least support Wagner has had on his side of the ball since he entered the league, so anything short of a year worthy of that Madden rating could cost Seattle a playoff spot.

But you get the feeling “B-Wagz” is ready for that challenge. At one point last season, a reporter asked if he felt like he was “the guy” now that most of the defensive stardom from the Super Bowl teams was gone. He smiled and responded, “I’ve been the guy.”

Hard to argue otherwise based on his performance. Even harder based on his new deal.

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