It’s looking more and more like K.J. Wright and Doug Baldwin are in their final seasons with the Seahawks — and, if the Hawks don’t want to pay Bobby Wagner again, he will have to join them.
The Seahawks created a lot of shockwaves when they separated from a handful of their Super Bowl stars earlier this year — a sudden about-face for John Schneider and Pete Carroll that showed they were ready to remake the team.
A lot of fans are going to hate this, but the smart ones will recognize the reality of it: Wagner, Baldwin and Wright all might join Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett, Kam Chancellor and Cliff Avril as former Seahawks next year.
As great as they have been since they arrived in 2011, Wright and Baldwin are breaking down and no longer worth top dollar. So both figure to be gone after this season. And, if, as expected, the Hawks don’t intend to re-sign Wagner, they have to trade him.
Wright, 29, has missed most of the season nursing a knee problem he still has not overcome. He will be a free agent afterward, and it seems increasingly likely that his time with the Seahawks is about over. Even if he manages to come back healthy for the final month and the playoffs, the only way the team might re-sign him is if he takes a lot less than the $7.2 million he is making this season.
While Baldwin apparently feels healthier than he has in months, the 30-year-old has fought through several injuries this year and now has another injury (groin). Sure, he might have a couple more productive years left, but the Hawks are unlikely to want to pay him his scheduled $10 million and $11 million in the next two years. So prepare for the prideful player to decline a pay cut next offseason and the Hawks to shop him and then, if they get no offers, release him.
The Seahawks just signed Tyler Lockett to a new deal worth over $10 million a year, and (no surprise) he has taken over as the team’s top receiver. David Moore (a big surprise) also has stepped up in his second season and could be the No. 2 next year if Baldwin is gone.
It would be nice to keep Baldwin, but not at the price he commands now. If he won’t take a cut, the Hawks should try to get what they can for him (probably just a mid-round pick) — and let him go if no team bites.
The Hawks also should try to trade Wagner, who is the only guy of value playing at a high level (despite Seattle’s poor run defense).
We originally assumed the Hawks would want to pay Wagner along with Russell Wilson, Thomas and Wright — just like we initially thought Sherman and Bennett would be on the team this year. But Schneider and Carroll clearly are moving on from their first Super Bowl core.
The Hawks cut ties with Sherman and Bennett and have chosen not to pay Thomas and Wright, so it follows that they won’t want to pay Wagner top dollar anymore as he approaches his eighth season at age 29. It’s the same thinking that made them decide against paying Thomas after Chancellor was injured just months into his second big extension with the team (and then was validated when Thomas was lost for the year again).
If the Hawks don’t want to pay him, they need to get what they can for him — rather than repeat the Thomas holdout saga (and Wagner almost certainly would hold out for an extension). He is still one of the best middle linebackers in the league, so Seattle should be able to get a second-rounder and mid-rounder for him. Those picks would help fortify a 2019 draft stock that has shrunk to a first, third, fourth and fifth.
The Hawks need to improve their D-line, which means paying their star pass rusher, Frank Clark, and adding veterans inside and out while drafting a pass rusher, too. At middle linebacker, Austin Calitro could battle another cheaper vet for Wagner’s spot.
If the Hawks were able to trade Baldwin and Wagner, they would net over $18 million in cap space and likely enter the draft with a full complement of picks. They could then afford, if they so chose, to sign a young free-agent pass rusher (if any good ones were left after franchise tags) — maybe Dee Ford, Jadeveon Clowney or Za’Darius Smith — to pair with Clark.
Plenty of fans who have grown to love Carroll’s First Edition Seahawks will consider it blasphemy to propose trades of Wagner and Baldwin. But Schneider and Carroll obviously are creating a Second Edition, and the smart move would be to get what they can for the aging, expensive stars they probably aren’t going to pay anyway.