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Sports >  Seattle Seahawks

Commentary: If K.J. Wright moves on from the Seahawks, here’s how he’ll be remembered on and off the field

UPDATED: Wed., Feb. 24, 2021

On the field, Seattle Seahawks' K.J. Wright, pictured in 2019 against the Philadelphia Eagles, is all business. Off the field, however, he's known to be generous and sincere.  (Matt Rourke)
On the field, Seattle Seahawks' K.J. Wright, pictured in 2019 against the Philadelphia Eagles, is all business. Off the field, however, he's known to be generous and sincere. (Matt Rourke)
By Matt Calkins Seattle Times

What if this is it? What if linebacker K.J. Wright, who’s as fierce on the field as he is friendly off it, has played his last game as a Seattle Seahawk?

It’s a little sad to think about. Not just because of how dominant he has been between the lines over the past decade, but because of how warm and sincere he was when not engaged in battle.

But the fact is, Wright, a free agent, could very well be wearing different laundry when the 2021 NFL season begins. The league’s salary cap — which was originally projected to be over $200 million — has regressed to $180 million because of losses related to COVID-19.

Considering Wright recently told sports radio host Jim Rome that he wouldn’t take a hometown discount — not to mention that his return could limit 2020 first-round draft pick Jordyn Brooks’ snap total — the Seahawks face a tough decision in regard to re-signing him.

Do they bring the soon-to-be 32-year-old back for one more go-round? Or do they part ways and use the spare cash to shore up areas of need?

We’ll find out soon enough, but if 2020 was, indeed, Wright’s final year in Seattle, how will he be remembered? A few ways, actually.

For starters, there was his performance. If you wanted efficiency, Wright gave you efficiency.

Though he has made just one Pro Bowl (2016), Wright has long been one of the NFL’s most productive linebackers. His 593 solo tackles are 14th among active players, and of the 13 players above him, only teammate Bobby Wagner (fifth) played fewer seasons. His 941 combined tackles, meanwhile, are seventh among active players.

But it’s not just Wright’s statistics that jump out — there’s his versatility, too. After playing strongside linebacker for his first two years in Seattle, he moved to the weak side in 2013, then back to the strong side last year after Bruce Irvin got hurt.

There wasn’t a drop-off. If anything, there was a step-up — as he logged the second-best year of his career according to analytics site Pro Football Focus, which ranked him as the league’s seventh-best linebacker.

This is probably why Wright has been preparing the public for a possible departure. He knows his play caused his asking price to soar, and that leaving might be the only way to score one last payday. Not only would that be tough on longtime teammates such as Wagner and Russell Wilson, but also the media who regularly swarmed his locker. Because …

If you wanted kindness, Wright gave you kindness. It didn’t matter if you were a national columnist or a cub reporter from Yakima. It’s one thing to answer questions in a respectful, engaging manner, as many pro athletes do. It’s another for a pro athlete to take a sincere interest in you.

Wright was genuinely curious about how the sports media works, and would regularly ask questions about our industry and process. And as far as subjects went — football, pop culture, politics, race, history — nothing was off-limits.

Wright rarely took the podium in the Seahawks’ auditorium, but he was a must-visit in the VMAC locker room. No reporting on a hot topic was complete unless he gave you a quote.

But it wasn’t just the scribes that benefited from his generosity, it was folks from around the world. Because …

If you wanted philanthropy, Wright gave you philanthropy. Three years ago, K.J. traveled to Kenya thinking it would just be a vacation. But upon visiting a village, he noticed the inhabitants were drinking dirty water.

So with the goal of funding freshwater wells, he pledged money for every tackle he made in 2018, encouraged local businesses to donate, gave some of his own cash, and convinced the NFL to contribute $25,000.

When he returned a year later, two wells had been built. His efforts led to the Seahawks selecting him as their 2018 Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee. Not that that was the truly rewarding part of the process.

“It was just amazing,” Wright told seahawks.com. “A principal who has been there his whole life said he hadn’t had fresh water at any of the schools in the area. They had to share water with the animals. It was just a heartfelt story. For me to be able to help make their lives easier, it was hands down one of the best things I’ve ever been a part of.”

This isn’t farewell yet. It’s still possible Wright comes back. But his Seahawk legacy is secure either way.

On field or off, he never failed to deliver.

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