Linebacker hasn't been a need of the Seahawks for quite some time, though they've always tried to plan for the long-term. Whether it's last year's first-round selection of Jordyn Brooks or previous draft picks of Cody Barton and Ben Burr-Kirven, Seattle's managed to build some young depth behind their two longtime defensive cornerstones in Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright.
That depth may be put to the test in 2021 with Wright heading for free agency and an unclear path to retention for the Seahawks. Though Brooks proved ready for a bigger role towards the end of 2020, losing Wright would be a huge blow both from a competitive and sentimental standpoint.
Let's take a look on how things could shake out for Seattle's linebacking unit moving forward.
What We Know
Wright, 31, is coming off one of the best seasons in his 10-year NFL career. In 2020, the legendary Seahawks linebacker logged 86 combined tackles, two sacks, two fumble recoveries, one interception, and a league-leading 11 tackles-for-loss. While he's stated a desire to return to Seattle, the only realistic way the cap-strapped Seahawks may be able to bring him back is if he signed for less than market value; given the year he just had, however, that seems unlikely.
Wagner, who turns 31 this summer, is still under contract for two more seasons, but the Seahawks may need to start thinking about life beyond him as he continues to get older at one of the most physically demanding positions in football.
As mentioned, Brooks took a big step in the second half of 2020 and looks ready to start next season. The second-year man out of Texas Tech showed a strong feel in pass coverage and has the speed to make plays all over the field.
The team also still has Barton and Burr-Kirven on the roster, though both have yet to give Seattle a reason to think they're anything other than special teams players at this point in their career.
Bruce Irvin is an unrestricted free agent after tearing his ACL early on in the 2020 campaign and has last said he would retire if the Seahawks did not bring him back. Fan-favorite Shaquem Griffin is also a free agent but of the restricted variety, so there's a less of a threat of him departing—in the offseason, at least.
What We Don't Know
Is Wright coming back? As we've gone over, the road to reunion with the Seahawks is a bleak one right now. However, if he does return, Seattle won't have to do much else at the position for the rest of the offseason.
How important is it to the Seahawks to have three starting-caliber linebackers? Often using safety Jamal Adams at the line of scrimmage in 2020, the team took a step back from the base schemes they heavily relied upon in 2019. If this continues they should feel comfortable with Wagner and Brooks headlining the spot, though upgrading their depth behind them wouldn't hurt.
What's the long-term plan with Wagner? Considering the All-Pro linebacker's place in Seahawks lore, there may be a place for him on the team as long as he wants to keep playing. But if he eventually decides to call it a career or the two parties split in the 2023 offseason, Seattle should probably start thinking about its contingency plan.
What to Expect
Whether Wright leaves or not, getting deeper at linebacker may be a small focus of the Seahawks this offseason. Even with limited draft capital, coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider may target a prospect at the position to develop behind Brooks and Wagner.
Don't expect them to spend much - if at all - on the position in free agency, especially if they opt to not re-sign Wright due to financial reasons. They could still look to bring back Irvin or a similar LEO type on the cheap, as well as another special teams artist, but that's about it with the salary cap restrictions they're currently faced with.
Overall, linebacker is yet another position along Seattle's defense that will be greatly impacted by the fate of one player. With how much the team has already invested at the position, however, losing Wright may not result in a significant response in regards to supplemental acquisitions.
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