SEATTLE – On the April day in 2011 when K.J. Wright was drafted in the fourth round by the Seahawks, he made a little prediction.
“I believe this will be a good spot,” Wright told reporters that day. “I said before the draft started that I would probably go to Seattle, and that is just the perfect spot for me.”
If perfection can be bettered, than it’s possible that is what has happened for Wright in Seattle.
The Mississippi State grad – he got the call that he was being drafted while he was in line to get his degree in criminology – quickly emerged as a key player on one of the best defenses in NFL history, winning a Super Bowl ring in his third year, while also getting married and starting a family.
So when he entered NFL free agency for the first time in his career eight years later, it was going to take a lot to make Wright leave.
And before the first day when players could officially sign with other teams had passed, the Seahawks made it easy for Wright to stay, offering him a two-year deal worth a reported $15.5 million.
Thursday, Wright said he couldn’t be happier.
“I’ve been here eight years,” Wright said in a message. “It’s only right to make it 10.”
The agreement puts a happy capper on what has been a challenging year for Wright from a football standpoint.
One of the team’s iron men during his first seven seasons with the Seahawks, Wright suffered a knee injury in the third exhibition game against Minnesota that hampered him most of the year. He missed six games after having surgery to repair cartilage damage and suffered a setback when he tried to push it to return quickly.
“Damn, this is the worst timing,” Wright said he recalls of what he thought when he had the surgery entering a contract year and with his NFL future uncertain.
Wright – who had missed only five games in the first seven years of his career – came back to play three games at midseason before again shutting it down, saying he wasn’t yet 100 percent.
He finally returned for good for the final two regular-season games and the playoff contest against Dallas. He had an interception and seven tackles against the Cowboys to prove to himself he was finally back.
But whether the team agreed was another matter, and Wright was forlorn in the locker room afterward not only because of Seattle’s loss but also because he had no idea if it would be the last time he would be in a Seahawks locker room.
“I head into free agency,” Wright said. “We will see how that goes. I want to be here. I would love to be here. I love playing for this team, with Bobby (Wagner). I believe it would be in the team’s best interest if I stayed here.”
Ultimately, the Seahawks agreed, not that they ever really need convincing. It just needed to make sense financially.
“Having K.J. back is so valuable to us,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said after the Dallas game. “He’s such a great player and a great leader and his mentality, he gives other people strength just being around him. He’s unbelievably valuable in that regard.”
That Wright is signing for two years instead of the four years and $27 million on his previous contract surely helped ease his way to stay with the Seahawks. What also helped is Wright’s team-first attitude and leadership. Seattle has let other big-name veterans leave whose time they felt maybe had simply passed both in on-field production and locker-room influence.
That isn’t the case with Wright, who will return to give Seattle one of the best inside linebacking tandems in the NFL working alongside Wagner.
Wagner’s contract expires following the 2019 season, and he said following the loss at Dallas that he felt they needed to keep Wright, saying he thought it would be the key to making a longer playoff run in 2019. It was one of several times he lobbied publicly for Wright’s return, even saying he would look at how the team handled Wright’s future when it comes time to decide his own.
“The right thing to do will be to bring him back,” said Wagner, who has been paired with Wright since coming into the league a year after him in 2012. “He’s been an amazing teammate, amazing person in the community. He helps young guys. Never held out. Did everything right. Sounds to me like a guy that you should pay.” (Wagner tweeted his happiness about Wright’s return, stating: “Yessir!!! Back at it again! We got work! Couldn’t happen to a better person.. Congrats!”
Seahawks add former Idaho offensive lineman Iupati
The Seahawks found a replacement for departed free agent J.R. Sweezy, reaching agreement on a one-year deal with free-agent guard Mike Iupati. The signing was first reported by Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network and confirmed to the Seattle Times. Financial details were not yet available.
Iupati played the last four seasons at Arizona but from 2010-14 played with the 49ers, where one of his offensive line coaches was Mike Solari, who is now the OL coach for the Seahawks.
Iupati has played almost exclusively left guard, the spot that Sweezy played last season for the Seahawks before being signed earlier this week by the same Arizona team that Iupati is departing.
Iupati started 10 games for Arizona last season and has 114 career starts after having been taken by the 49ers in the first round of the 2010 draft at No. 17 overall out of Idaho.
But Iupati, who turns 32 in May, has struggled with injuries the past two seasons, playing just 11 games. He missed all but one game in 2017 with an elbow injury and suffered a knee injury late last year that eventually relegated him to the Injured Reserve list. He had a grade of 62.9 from Pro Football Focus at the time, ranking 35th among all guards – and FWIW, that’s higher than PFF had for either D.J. Fluker or Sweezy, who were at 49.2 and 45.7, respectively.
Iupati, though, has historically been known for his run blocking. He had a 70.1 grade as a run blocker last year from PFF, fourth best among all guards, but 47.5 pass blocking, 75th among all guards.
But PFF was far from glowing in its assessment of Iupati last November shortly before he was injured, writing: “Mike Iupati has never been one of the best pass protectors at the guard position in the league, but even when he struggled there, you could count on him to open up holes in the run game. That hasn’t been the case so far this season. His 61.5 run-blocking grade is far and away the lowest of his nine-year career, as is his 36.2 pass-blocking grade.”
The signing of Iupati to a one-year deal stays in line with what was the team’s strategy last year with Sweezy and Fluker, who also each got one-year contracts after coming off injury-plagued seasons that saw them either released or not re-signed by their old team.
Iupati is a native of American Samoa who attended Western High in Anaheim, California, before signing with Idaho and playing for the Vandals from 2006-09. He made the Pro Bowl every year from 2012-15 and signed a contract with Arizona following the 2014 season worth $8 million a season. He’ll surely be making far less with the Seahawks.
Shortly after the news of Iupati’s signing, it was revealed that the Seahawks are also keeping D.J. Fluker, finalizing a two-year contract for him to stay and return to pay right guard. Seattle also has Ethan Pocic, Jordan Simmons and Jordan Roos under contract at the guard spot for 2019 and Germain Ifedi can also play there.
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