Could Bobby Wagner return, or WSU’s Daiyan Henley be a fit for Seahawks’ linebacker role?
March 1, 2023 Updated Fri., March 3, 2023 at 3:12 p.m.
INDIANAPOLIS — As the Seahawks converged on the NFL scouting combine this week, linebacker loomed as a position that is more of a potential problem area to solve than they anticipated it would be a few months ago.
Last spring, the Seahawks figured they were set for a while when they released Bobby Wagner and decided to turn over the inside linebacking spots to the young tandem of Jordyn Brooks — their first-round pick in 2020 — in the middle and Cody Barton, a third-rounder in 2019 on the weakside.
But on Jan. 1, Brooks suffered an ACL injury in a game against the Jets that has his readiness for the start of the 2023 season in question.
And Barton, while he started all 17 regular-season games, didn’t necessarily stake a claim to a long-term job with the team. Barton is now a free agent, and coach Pete Carroll didn’t appear to guarantee he’ll be back during his media session Tuesday.
“Cody had a good finish to the season for us and did a nice job,” Carroll said. “But there’s some opportunities, and some options. So we’re wide open.”
And being wide open means exploring options that could range from bringing back Wagner to taking a linebacker with any of their 10 allowed draft picks, and maybe specifically with one of the five picks they have in the first three rounds.
Yes, the Seahawks could consider it, depending on how things develop, though indications are a return of Wagner is far from a slam dunk.
To recap — it was reported last week that Wagner will be released by the Rams on March 15 (the Rams made an official announcement of the move on Wednesday), the first day free agents can sign with teams other than their own.
While that means he can’t sign with a new team until then, a report from The Athletic this week stated Wagner, who is serving as his own agent, has been given permission to talk to other teams now, meaning he can get a head start on the process.
Carroll and Seahawks general manager John Schneider said Tuesday that they couldn’t comment on any interest in Wagner because he has yet to be released.
But they also have famously stated numerous times that the Seahawks stay open to everything, and a league source said the team would consider its options with Wagner.
The biggest hurdle, obviously, would be money.
Wagner made an average of $18 million on his last contract with Seattle before his release in March 2022, that saved $16.6 million against the salary cap. He signed a five-year, $50 million with the Rams, but will be released to save LA $5 million against the cap in 2023, with Wagner having made $7.25 million in his time with the Rams, according to OvertheCap.com.
The Seahawks have an effective cap space of just over $14 million (which means their listed total of just over $24 million in cap space minus the roughly $10 million they will need for their 2023 draft picks), and still have to fit in quarterback Geno Smith, along with whatever else they want to accomplish. It’s one reason Seattle could soon release some veterans of its own such as guard Gabe Jackson.
So, Seattle not only couldn’t offer anything close to what Wagner was making before in his Seahawks career but probably not what the Rams were due to pay him, either.
Wagner is also said to want a situation where he can win now.
So, any combination of interest from a team offering more money and that might be perceived as closer to another Super Bowl than Seattle might entice Wagner away (assuming the Seahawks are indeed interested enough to make a firm offer), though the lure of returning to his second home would obviously have appeal for Wagner.
Also a consideration is that Wagner will be 33 in June, meaning he’d be a short-term to a position for which Seattle needs some long-term answers. Along with Barton being a free agent, Brooks is entering the final year of his contract in 2023, though the team could pick up a fifth-year option by May 1 at just over $12.7 million for the 2024 season.
There’d also be the question of if the Seahawks would just move Brooks back to the weak side spot he played in 2020-21 before moving to the middle in 2022 if Wagner signed, though obviously Brooks must get healthy first.
True, Seattle’s surprising success in 2022 might have the Seahawks thinking more “win now” at this point than they thought a year ago, so a one-year or so return for a veteran such as Wagner might make more sense than it would have then, when Seattle appeared to want to get younger all over.
“Well, it does bring the sense of urgency and we have to address it,” Carroll said of the injury to Brooks and Barton’s free agency leaving the Seahawks with a current hole in the middle of their defense. “There’s a number of guys in free agency, if we need to go that way.”
But what Seattle also may do is look for a younger player in the draft to grow with, as well.
And one player on their radar is Washington State’s Daiyan Henley, the only Cougar at the combine and rated as the top inside linebacker available according to Pro Football Focus, which has him 38th overall on its big board (PFF projects his best position as weakside linebacker, though Seattle’s revamped 3-4 defense has made the two inside linebacking spots more interchangeable than they were in years past).
Schneider attended WSU’s October game against Utah when Henley made a game-high 12 tackles, as well as the Senior Bowl at which Henley was portrayed as one of the bigger risers. Henley said during his media availability Wednesday he has met with the Seahawks here.
“Dope guy,” Henley said of Carroll. “Like very friendly, charismatic. Was a great first impression, for sure.”
The 6-2, 232-pound Henley played just one year at WSU after transferring from Nevada, following his defensive coordinator, Brian Ward, who took over at WSU last year but has since left for Arizona State.
That was just Henley’s third year playing linebacker after beginning his Nevada career as a receiver — and after having played mostly quarterback until his senior year at Crenshaw High in Los Angeles.
“A lot of mental gymnastics,” Henley said. “Going from receiver to one of the most physically demanding positions on the field, you’ve got to have the mindset to do it. You can’t just go from catching the ball and trying not to get hit to attacking the ball every play and trying to make a big hit. So for me, I always had that mentality where I was ready to take on contact, so it wasn’t too hard for me to go to a delivering-the-contact mindset.”
Certainly, whether Wagner returns or not, the Seahawks are going to need to find a few contact-deliverers in 2023.
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