Bobby Wagner has been a major reason the Seattle defense has put the clamps on Arizona, San Francisco and — most impressively — Philadelphia over the last three weeks — and teammates are singing his praises.
“He’s the heart of the defense,” cornerback Richard Sherman said. “He cleans up a lot of mistakes made by guys, and other guys clean up mistakes like Earl (Thomas) and Kam (Chancellor). We’ve got a lot guys who are erasers out there, and he has such an instinctual game. He believes what he sees, he plays what he sees. On top of the immense talent and speed that he has, that makes for a fantastic football player that I hope everybody recognizes.”
Wagner’s agent obviously hopes general manager John Schneider recognizes it and will be ready to pay Wagner in the next two years.
The Seahawks will have upwards of $40 million in salary cap space next year, but they will need to use a chunk of it on
quarterback Russell Wilson and much of it on trying to re-sign
Wagner’s defensive teammates — specifically Cliff Avril, K.J. Wright and Byron Maxwell.
An extension for Wagner could be possible if the linebacker doesn’t try to get top-five money for the position, which would mean a deal worth $9 million a year.
Schneider, who has never paid a linebacker big money, almost certainly would not want to dish out that much to Wagner,
especially after the third-year player has missed seven games over the past two years.
It’s a tough call for Schneider — weighing Wagner’s importance to the defense vs. his availability and determining his net value and what the Seahawks are willing to pay.
But Schneider had to do the same thing with Kam Chancellor in 2013 after the strong safety had struggled through an injury-plagued 2012 season. The Hawks gave Chancellor a deal worth $6 million a year, and the safety rewarded them with a stellar Super Bowl season and then turned into an outspoken leader this season.
Schneider might be — and probably should be — willing to pay Wagner top-10 money — about $7 million a year. The Hawks could afford that next offseason and still extend Wilson and keep Avril, Wright, Maxwell, et al. (assuming they don’t get break-the-bank offers elsewhere).
But if Wagner’s agent stands firm on $9 million, Schneider almost surely will wait until after the 2015 season to see if that price comes down. And if he can’t get him into a more reasonable range, the Seahawks might have to consider replacing Wagner.
But that’s an issue for after this season. In the meantime, the Hawks will hope Wagner remains the healthy heartbeat of a defense that leads them to another Super Bowl title.