Preparing for his 11th NFL season, Seahawks veteran linebacker K.J. Wright hopes to continue playing the Pacific Northwest in 2021. But he isn't interested in taking a substantial pay cut to make it happen.
During an interview on the Jim Rome Show, Wright indicated it would be a "beautiful story" to wrap up his career in Seattle. Nonetheless, if the franchise doesn't offer him a contract approaching his perceived market value, he will be prepared to take his talents elsewhere.
"I do way too much on the football field to take a discount," Wright stated. "It makes absolutely no sense. If you want to win all these championships and look good on Sundays, you've got to compensate your guys who are making plays... I have a family and I'm trying to set up long, long-term success for my family, so it's kind of out of the question."
This isn't the first time Wright has entered free agency understanding there was a legitimate chance his time with the Seahawks could be coming to a close. Only two short years ago, coming off a season in which he only played in five games due to injury and set to turn 30 years old during the offseason, he told reporters he thought he was going to be wearing another uniform in 2019.
But Seattle surprisingly came back with a solid two-year offer and Wright accepted during the early stages of free agency, allowing him to reach his goal of 10 NFL seasons with the same team. Since signing the dotted line, he has played some of his best football, amassing 219 combined tackles, 21 passes defensed, four interceptions, and 16 tackles for loss while starting all 32 regular season games.
Last year in particular, Wright shined in all facets. Though he wasn't necessarily enthused about moving to strongside linebacker after teammate Bruce Irvin suffered a season-ending torn ACL, he transitioned to the position and thrived, producing 86 tackles, an interception, 2.0 sacks, and 11 tackles for loss. He ended the season as the only defender in the NFL with double digit passes defensed and tackles for loss.
Since entering the NFL as a fourth-round pick out of Mississippi State in 2011, Wright has been one of the league's most consistent, yet undervalued defenders. He has surpassed 100 tackles in a season five times and he has gradually continued to improve in coverage, as exhibited by the fact he has produced 11 and 10 passes defensed each of the past two season respectively.
Considering how well Wright played last season for a defense that was historically inept for the first eight games before turning things around - a strong argument can be made he was the most consistent player on the entire team in 2020 - who could blame the soon-to-be 31-year old for taking his hard-earned money while he still can?
But while Wright doesn't plan on settling for less and he understands Seattle has some difficult decisions to make in regard to the salary cap, as he further indicated in a response to a fan on Twitter, there's still time to "get creative" to keep him in the fold.
"At the end of the day, I get it," Wright told Rome. "I've been looking at the salary cap. You know, they've got to clear space to make things happen, so they've got to get busy."
Most likely, the Seahawks will need to create enough space to pay him at least $7 million per year, if not more, to compete with offers from other teams. With the presence of 2020 first-round pick Jordyn Brooks, who came on strong at the end of his rookie season and looks ready for extensive playing time at weakside linebacker, the front office has to decide if it can afford to re-sign Wright when he potentially could see a diminished workload.
Among those who could have interest in Wright if he departs, the Raiders and Cowboys both hired former Seahawks defensive coordinators in Gus Bradley and Dan Quinn this offseason. Given their familiarity with the veteran linebacker and the issues both defenses battled during the 2020 season, either location could be an ideal landing spot for the right money playing in a system he's comfortable in.
For now, however, Wright is keeping his fingers crossed the Seahawks will find a way to bring him back and he can wrap up his career where it started. Confident in his ability to continue playing at a high level, the key will be receiving a competitive offer that matches how other teams value him on the market.
"If I could just ride it all out with the Seahawks, that's some legendary type stuff. Like I said before I left, I believe that it'd be a great investment for Seattle to keep me because as you've seen, since I've been here, we've been nothing but awesome. Always making it to the playoffs, winning our division, so they now how much I want to be here."