K.J. Wright Remains Lynchpin for Seahawks Defense

Corbin Smith

Coming off an injury-riddled 2018 season, K.J. Wright didn’t plan to be back with the Seahawks for a ninth season.

Entering free agency in March, Wright prepped his family for the inevitable, believing his tenure with the only team he’d ever known had reached its conclusion. With his agent reaching out to potential suitors, he’d continue his NFL career wearing a new uniform in a new city.

But then, Seattle made an offer Wright wasn’t expecting. Staying in the Pacific Northwest as he wanted all along, the veteran linebacker signed a two-year, $14 million deal.

The decision to bring back Wright on a new deal wasn’t without risk, though it was a team-friendly deal with no guaranteed money after 2019. Set to turn 30 years old in July, he missed 11 regular season games last season with lingering knee problems.

But with five games left to play and the calendar flipping to December, re-upping Wright has proven to be a worthwhile investment for the Seahawks. With his knee injury behind him, he’s quickly closing in on 100 tackles for the fifth time in his career and already has established a career-high with seven passes defensed in coverage.

As one of the key contributors in the Seahawks recent defensive surge, Wright enjoyed his finest game of the year in Sunday’s 17-9 win over the Eagles, finishing with a season-high 12 combined tackles and blowing up a screen for a tackle for loss. He also registered his first quarterback hit of the season.

After watching Wright excel during his previous eight seasons, coach Pete Carroll hasn’t been surprised to see him bounce back with a clean bill of health and resume a leadership role for the 9-2 Seahawks.

“He’s doing typical K.J. stuff. He’s playing really smart. He’s helping us in a lot of different areas. He does a lot of different things. He picks up a lot of coverage matchups and tight ends and stuff. He’s done a nice job of that. Pressures a little bit. Just basically playing K.J. football.”

Given his age and recent injury history, some speculated declining athleticism would make it challenging for Wright to return to his former Pro Bowl form. But even if he’s lost a step, his game has never been predicated on elite athleticism and as teammate Bobby Wagner noted, his instincts have allowed him to stay at the top of his game.

“When you show him one play, he remembers it for like the rest of his life,” Wagner said on Wednesday. “So, you should never try to run that play again. His intellect, how smart he is – obviously people know how great of a person he is – and I’m happy for his success.”

As an example, Wagner referenced two plays from late in the 2018 season. In a Week 17 win over the Cardinals, Wright was fooled and beaten in coverage when receiver Larry Fitzgerald sold a block before running a late route, eventually catching a touchdown pass from quarterback Josh Rosen.

But just one week later in the wild card round, the Cowboys ran the same exact play with receiver Noah Brown. This time around, Wright wasn’t caught off guard and intercepted Dak Prescott in the end zone, creating a critical fourth quarter turnover to keep the Seahawks within three points.

It’s that type of attention to detail that has allowed Wright, who was selected in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL Draft, to prolong a wildly successful NFL career. Earlier this season, he moved into fifth on the franchise’s all-time tackles list behind only Wagner, Eugene Robinson, Keith Butler, and Joe Nash.

During Seattle’s Super Bowl years, Wright always seemed to play in the shadows of other stars such as Wagner and Earl Thomas. Even with a lot of new faces surrounding him after significant roster turnover over the past two years, he continues to somehow fly under the radar for a budding title contender.

But if this current Seahawks incarnation plans to make noise in January like their predecessors, Wright’s importance as a veteran presence for a young defense cannot be understated. He remains one of the team’s unsung leaders and as his production indicates, he’s still got plenty left in the tank to play a starring role in the postseason.