RENTON, Wash. -- While Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner spent the first two days of the team's 2015 training camp on the field at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center, getting ready for the team's first full padded practice, the Seahawks were getting ready to make him a much richer man.
On Saturday night, the Seahawks and Wagner agreed to a four-year, $43 million contract extension that will ostensibly keep Wagner in Seattle through the 2019 season, and makes him the highest-paid inside linebacker in the NFL. Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons' deal averages just under $9.6 million per year, and Wagner's tops that scale with $10.75 million per year in total money. Wagner, who was set to make less than a million dollars in 2015, the last year of the rookie contract he signed as a second-round pick out of Utah State in 2012, will also get $22 million guaranteed in this new deal.
On July 31, the first day of camp and the day in which quarterback Russell Wilson's new four-year, $87.6 million deal was the primary topic of discussion, Wagner still sounded very much like a man who was unsure about his future contractual status.
"I’m hopeful they reach a contract," he said. "That’s not really up to me. My agent, everybody in the organization, [general manager] John [Schneider] and [head coach] Pete [Carroll], that’s their job to figure that out and it’s my job to continue to show you guys that I’m the best linebacker in this league, and that’s what I’m going to do."
“It’s important to be recognized as one of the best. Like I said, it’s not up to me, I let the people who get paid to figure that out. My job is to go out there and make sure this defense is ran right and is the best defense, and it will be the best defense, as you guys see on this field, again.”
Wagner had certainly stated his case through his first three NFL seasons. He's racked up more than 100 tackles in each of those seasons, and he did so in 2014 despite a turf-toe injury that cost five games in the middle of the season.
During the five games he missed, the Seahawks ranked 20th in points allowed, ninth in yards allowed, 23rd in rushing yards allowed, 24th in completion percentage allowed, 20th in first downs allowed, 13th in fourth-quarter points allowed, and they went 3-2. When Wagner returned, and over the following four games, the Seahawks ranked first in points allowed, first in yards allowed, third in rushing yards allowed, tied for fourth in completion percentage allowed, ranked second in first downs allowed, and went 4-0. And that was despite injuries to defensive tackles Brandon Mebane and Jordan Hill. For the second straight season, Wagner was a key cog in the NFL's best defense, and now, he's getting paid appropriately.
“Bobby is a tremendous athlete," Carroll said of Wagner in January as the Seahawks ramped up to their Super Bowl XLIX appearance. "He’s really fast. He was a 4.4 guy coming out and he has real natural abilities. Very adept quickness-wise. Hand-eye coordination is great. He’s really a very, very good athlete for the position. When Bobby came to us, a pretty raw player that came in the door and we threw him right in, in the middle, to see if he could take command of the huddle and the calls and all that and he’s never backed off of that. He has grown and become a tremendous leader on our team, noting the impact that he had when he came back after injury this year was a big factor for us. He’s an all-around player. He can cover really well. He can blitz well. He’s the best we have at going sideline to sideline, and he’s a big factor for us.”
The Seahawks still have a couple of important defenders who are unhappy with their current contracts -- safety Kam Chancellor and defensive lineman Michael Bennett are the two big names there -- but they've managed to get Chancellor, Bennett, Wagner, cornerback Richard Sherman, safety Earl Thomas and linebacker K.J. Wright sewn up over the last two seasons. And so, a defense that was constructed via great draft picks and savvy free-agency moves will stay together through the next few seasons.