Wagner is worth $9M to league’s No. 1 defense

Defense with and without WagnerWhen Bobby Wagner signs his new contract — and it appears that could be in time for training camp next week — every offense that has to face the Seahawks’ defense for the next three seasons is going to shed a few more tears.

You would too if you knew the No. 1 defense of the last three years likely will remain that way for the next three — with Wagner, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, K.J. Wright and Cliff Avril (and maybe Michael Bennett) all under contract. That’s seven starters signed through at least 2017. And that doesn’t count Cary Williams, Frank Clark or Kevin Pierre-Louis — expected key contributors all signed through 2017 as well.

With Wagner back and replacements already lined up for Bruce Irvin (whom the team won’t be able to afford), the Hawks will have only one defensive spot to address after this season: tackle. Their top three will all be free agents (more on Brandon Mebane below).

As for the value of Wagner’s deal, we’ve projected something like $38 million over four years — which, for the Seahawks, would really look like about $39 million over five. Two inside linebackers, Pittsburgh’s Lawrence Timmons and San Francisco’s NaVorro Bowman, make more than $9 million a year. Wagner would join them at $9.5 million (on the extension). The Hawks could guarantee Wagner about $20 million, including a $10 million signing bonus; that would about match Houston linebacker Brian Cushing’s $21 million in guarantees, which leads inside linebackers.

Wagner clearly is worth the money. The Seattle defense was not the same without him in the five games he missed last season, and he has turned into one of the most complete linebackers in the game — a fact that was recognized when he was voted to his first All-Pro and Pro Bowl teams last season.

As for those who wonder how the Hawks could re-sign both Wagner and Russell Wilson next week: The Hawks have around $9 million in cap space and would need up to $7 million of that to accommodate signing bonus proration on new deals for both.

That probably would mean the Hawks would need Mebane to take a pay reduction from his $5.5 million salary — or perhaps do a short extension — so they have the requisite reserve cap space for practice squad players and injury replacements this season.

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