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Seattle Seahawks

Commentary: Why a Bobby Wagner-Seahawks reunion would make sense

Los Angeles Rams linebacker Bobby Wagner intercepts a pass by Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson in the first quarter at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, on Sunday, Dec. 25, 2022.  (Tribune News Service)
By Larry Stone Seattle Times

SEATTLE – The longer Bobby Wagner sits on the open market, the more you can feel the gentle trade winds blowing him back toward Seattle.

Or maybe that’s just the warm breath of former teammates advocating for Wagner’s return. In particular, K.J. Wright and Quandre Diggs have been vocal in their insistence that a second act with the Seahawks is not just sensible but highly desirable.

What matters, though, is what coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider think. And how Wagner himself weighs the anger he felt last March over what he perceived to be miscommunication by the Seahawks in failing to inform him of his release before it became public against the nostalgic pull of returning to the scene of his greatest career success.

Here’s what I think: The positive benefits of a Wagner return outweigh the legitimate hesitations – on both sides – that have kept it from happening thus far. That doesn’t mean it will get done, but the more I mull it over, the more I like the idea of Wagner, Version II.

We might as well start with the most obvious – and complex – potential roadblock: money. In an NFL world where the salary cap looms over every personnel decision, coming up with a salary that’s mutually beneficial is going to be difficult. It might well be a deal-breaker. But the longer this drags out, the clearer it becomes that the market for inside linebackers is stagnant – if not cratering.

Lavonte David, who at 33 is just six months older than Wagner and of similar stature as a revered linebacker, re-signed last week with Tampa Bay at one year, $7 million. That may be a guidepost for what Wagner could reasonably command. If he’s willing to accept something in that vicinity, there might be wiggle room to get something done. But the Seahawks, with the signings they have already made, are reportedly right at their salary-cap number – even after releasing Al Woods, Quinton Jefferson and Shelby Harris.

It’s easy to envision the Seahawks telling Wagner’s agent – which significantly is Wagner himself – the number that works for them and not backing far off it. That’s pretty much the modus operandi they used to retain Jermaine Kearse when he was a free agent in 2016.

Whether Wagner is willing to come back on their terms might hinge on what sort of market develops for him around the NFL. Most important, how heavily he is courted by the Dallas Cowboys, the other team to whom Wagner has been most closely linked.

As for any grudges held by Wagner, that seems to be a moot point and not something that would dissuade his return. The Seahawks under this regime have a history of welcoming back players who left not always under the most pleasant of circumstances. Carroll, in particular, has a gift for not burning bridges.

All indications are that Wagner does not have lingering hard feelings. Wright, one of Wagner’s closest friends, told Sports Illustrated’s Fan Nation Seahawks website what the appeal of Seattle would be to Wagner:

“When you’ve played a decade for one organization, it is your second home. Your home is there. You know what your routine is going to look like, you know everyone in the building. Everything flows well when you’re ‘home.’ ”

Could Wagner actually help the Seahawks? Or, more important, do Carroll and Schneider – who a year ago came to the conclusion Wagner was expendable – believe he can? And does Wagner, who at this stage of his career is looking for a team he can win a ring with, believe the Seahawks give him that chance? All are critical questions in this equation.

Wagner had an outstanding season for the Rams in 2022 by almost every measure. It’s hard to imagine that, even factoring in the inevitable effect of increasing age, he wouldn’t fill a valuable role for a team that has a glaring need at linebacker.

The Seahawks already signed a free agent, Devin Bush, who can play either linebacker spot, middle or weakside. But Bush, a former No. 1 pick by the Steelers, has struggled to come back from a serious ACL injury in 2020.

Speaking of which, Jordyn Brooks, whom the Seahawks foresaw as the successor to Wagner as the leader of their linebacking corps, suffered a significant ACL injury in Seattle’s Week 17 win over the Jets on Jan. 1. Factoring in a nine-month recovery, that pegs Brooks’ return beyond the season opener in September – but that’s far from a guarantee. And it’s impossible to know how the injury will affect Brooks’ speed, his No. 1 asset.

Another wild card: The Seahawks would like Jamal Adams to play a lot more weakside linebacker in 2023 to maximize his skill set; but Adams’ recovery from the torn quadriceps tendon that sidelined him for virtually the entire season is also an unknown factor.

It’s the uncertainty over Brooks’ status that provides the main impetus, and justification, for a Wagner return. Some may worry about the leadership hierarchy on the team and whether Wagner’s renewed presence might disrupt the transition to Brooks that took place last year. I think it’s far more likely that Wagner would provide invaluable veteran leadership that a young team in defensive flux should covet.

We all got to see for 10 years what a positive presence Wagner was both on and off the field. Maybe you can’t go home again, as author Thomas Wolfe said. But bringing Bobby Wagner home to Seattle seems like a natural move for the Seahawks.