With Bobby Wagner set to be released by Rams, here’s what to know about potential for Seahawks reunion
Feb. 23, 2023 Updated Thu., Feb. 23, 2023 at 10:44 p.m.
SEATTLE – Bobby Wagner’s stay in Los Angeles will turn out to be a short one.
Wagner, who signed with the Rams last March after being released by the Seahawks, will not return to L.A. in 2023, ESPN, the NFL Network and other outlets reported Thursday afternoon.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Wagner and the Rams had “mutually agreed to part ways.”
Schefter further reported that Wagner “wants to win” – something he may not have seen coming any time soon with a Rams team retooling after a disappointing 5-12 season that was the worst for a defending Super Bowl winner – while the Rams wanted to move on from Wagner to create needed cap space.
The Athletic reported that the move was decided upon after Wagner met with Rams officials on Thursday.
While the news was revealed Thursday that the Rams will release Wagner, NFL.com reported that the move will not become official until March 15, when the new league year begins.
After being released by Seattle last March 8, Wagner signed what was billed as a five-year, $50 million contract with the Rams.
The contract included only $10 million of fully guaranteed money.
His 2023 salary of $7.5 million was due to become guaranteed on March 19, but that won’t happen.
The Rams will save $5 million in 2023 against the salary cap by releasing Wagner prior to June 1 (or $8 million if they designated it a post-June 1 cut), according to OvertheCap.com, as Wagner was due to have a $12.5 million cap hit (he had just a $2.5 million cap hit in 2022 with the contract backloaded).
The Rams entered the day more than $14 million above the cap, according to OvertheCap.com. Teams have to be cap compliant by March 15.
That Wagner will be back on the market will inevitably raise the question of whether he could return to the Seahawks, the team whose defense he led for 10 years – and for whom he will surely one day be a Ring of Honor member – before his release last year.
Asked about Wagner during his weekly appearance on Seattle Sports 710-AM Thursday afternoon, general manager John Schneider was noncommittal but also didn’t seem to rule it out, noting that since Wagner has not been officially released, nothing can be done now.
“He’s technically still on their roster, so we won’t be able to speak to his agent for a minute or two,” Schneider said, before adding that Wagner’s agent “is actually himself.”
Wagner becomes available with Seattle’s linebacking situation suddenly in some limbo.
Jordyn Brooks – who took over for Wagner at middle linebacker – suffered an ACL injury in a game Jan. 1 and had surgery on Jan. 19, and it is unclear when he will be ready.
Cody Barton – who replaced Brooks at MLB for the final game and the playoffs after starting the rest of the season at weakside linebacker – can now be a free agent.
Among those appearing to plead for a Wagner return was Seahawks safety Quandre Diggs, who quote-tweeted, “I know a place,” along with a tweet about the news.
But whether either side would want a return was hard to know in the immediacy of the moment.
That Wagner wants to win now as he enters his 12th NFL season might mean he could look at teams that could be perceived as being closer to the Super Bowl than Seattle.
There was some immediate speculation that a natural fit could be Dallas, where former Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn (the DC for each of Seattle’s Super Bowls during Wagner’s time) could be a fit. Dallas also has some uncertainty at linebacker with three players at that spot set to hit free agency, including Leighton Vander Esch.
And while the Seahawks have not been shy about bringing back former players – as they did this year with Bruce Irvin – Wagner could represent a different scenario, in part due to it being so soon after his release.
When Wagner was released last March, Schneider had said, “We’re on to Jordyn and Cody.”
But, that was when Barton was still under contract and Brooks was healthy.
With some uncertainty about the future of each, linebacker has loomed as a spot the Seahawks could look to address in free agency and the draft.
Wagner also evinced some bitterness in the moments after being released, stating he had to learn of the move from others aside from Schneider and coach Pete Carroll, who each later apologized for the awkward handling of the news. Schneider said that Wagner acting as his own agent helped complicate things because there was no buffer between team and player as events progressed.
Carroll intimated that one reason the team hedged on telling Wagner he was being released until it was just about to become official is that he wanted the team to explore every possible avenue for potentially keeping Wagner first.
Wagner, though, said later that time had begun to heal some of those wounds, in part because the move allowed him to return to play for the Rams in his native L.A. and for a team coming off a Super Bowl title.
“Obviously there are still feelings there [about being released],” he told the Times in July. “But at the end of the day I have a different perspective. I think my opinion on it would have been different if I ended up somewhere else. But to have the opportunity to go home and play not far from my family. Like I haven’t played this close to my family since high school [Colony High in Ontario, California].
“… I didn’t want to leave Seattle. But if I was going to leave Seattle, home was the next-best thing for me and so being able to be home, like I’m at peace with the situation. But still any competitor is looking forward to going back to the place that you played that they felt like you didn’t have nothing left and proving them wrong.”
And before a reunion with the Seahawks in December, Wagner said he did not harbor any lingering bitterness.
“I am a mature man,” he said when asked if he still might have any hard feelings. “And that happened a long time ago. So I’m focused on performing at my best ability against the team that I’m playing this week.”
When Seattle released Wagner, it did so to save $16.6 million against the cap for 2022.
There was also the obvious factor that Wagner had played 10 years – he will be 33 before the start of next season.
But Wagner proved in 2022 that he still has it, named as a second-team All-Pro and playing all 17 games, including 99% of the snaps, with 140 tackles. He also had two interceptions – one against the Seahawks in L.A. in December and another against former teammate Russell Wilson – and a career-high six sacks.
Wagner was also rated as the top middle linebacker in the NFL by Pro Football Focus, which wrote: “Wagner playing as well as he did this season in his first year with a new team would be remarkable enough, but doing so given the injury disaster in Los Angeles and still looking like the best linebacker in the game is truly outstanding.”
So, there will undoubtedly be teams interested in Wagner.
Could the Seahawks be one of those? For now, that’s a question that appears to not yet have an answer.
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