Surprised He's Still Available, Seahawks Haven't Closed Door on Potential K.J. Wright Reunion

Seemingly in need of a SAM linebacker, the Seahawks have yet to move on from longtime starter and current free agent K.J. Wright.
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RENTON, WA - While Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider spent half of their annual pre-draft meeting with the media answering questions about Russell Wilson, they were able to provide some interesting nuggets of information not pertaining to their quarterback's previously aired frustrations as the conference went on. Amongst talks covering the uniqueness of this year's draft and their unideal draft capital situation heading into the event, the two also offered some insight into the status of veteran linebacker K.J. Wright.

Now in the sixth week of free agency, Wright remains without a home for the 2021 season. Coming off another stellar campaign for the Seahawks 10 years deep into his career, the Mississippi State alum has been in contact with Seattle, the Cowboys, and presumably a few other teams throughout the free agency process. However, none have extended him a contract to this point—at least, not one he's been willing to sign.

"Quite frankly," Schneider began to explain. "There's so many coaches on our staff - that were on our staff - that are at different places, we thought he would be signed by now." 

In terms of the 'coaches' Schneider mentioned, he's likely referring to new Dallas defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, among others. For Seattle's two Super Bowl appearances in 2013 and 2014, Quinn filled that very same role before taking a head coaching position with the Falcons. He was an integral piece to one of the most dominant defenses in NFL history, which included a young Wright at its core, and the free agent linebacker hasn't been shy about his desire to be a part of his former coach's return to the gridiron.

"Dallas has certainly been on my list of 'dream teams,'" Wright told CowboysSI.com's Mike Fisher in March. "With Dan Quinn there, and with other aspects of that team and that defense, I do think it's one of the teams I fit in with."

It should be mentioned that Gus Bradley, his first defensive coordinator in the NFL, is now on Jon Gruden's staff in Las Vegas. Additionally, Kris Richard, who also served as defensive coordinator in Seattle from 2015-2017, is now the defensive backs coach for the Saints. Therefore, both could be potential landing spots for Wright as well. 

Wright's availability could change as soon as next week. Once teams have a better understanding of where their roster stands following the draft's conclusion sometime Saturday afternoon, remaining veteran free agents such as Wright should see a boost in activity in their market.

"I think a lot of teams are going to see what they do in the draft and then come around to some of these veterans that are available in free agency," said Schneider in the Wednesday afternoon presser. 

It also helps that free agent signings will no longer count towards the 2022 compensatory pick formula starting May 2. Then, teams can freely add as many free agents as their salary cap allows without risking the loss of additional selections in next year's draft. 

The Seahawks aren't expected to receive any compensatory picks next year, with OverTheCap.com projecting their additions of Ahkello Witherspoon, Gerald Everett, and Kerry Hyder Jr. to cancel out Shaquill Griffin, David Moore, and Carlos Hyde's departures. Those were predicted to net Seattle a fourth, sixth, and seventh round selection, respectively. And if Wright goes elsewhere after the May 2 deadline, they won't be gaining anything from his exit either.

But a potential reunion with their longtime defensive stud isn't off the table for the Seahawks just yet. Carroll has kept in touch, meeting with Wright "just the other day" to gauge one another's interest. 

"I had a really good sit-down with him," Carroll recalled. "To bring it all together, you know, where we're coming from. We needed to hear where he's coming from and talk about the future and what's best possible moving forward. ... We're nose-to-nose on this deal."

Whether Carroll's usage of the word 'deal' was in reference to actual movement on a contract or just the situation as a whole, it's clear there is strong interest from both sides to keep Wright in the Pacific Northwest. And for good reason, because the 2016 Pro Bowler is coming off two of his best seasons to date.

Set to play at the age of 32 this fall, Wright put up a career-high 132 tackles in 2019 and followed that up by registering as the only defender in the NFL with double digit passes defensed (10) and tackles-for-loss (11) in 2020. He was able to maintain that level of production all while playing a new position for most of last season, moving over to strongside - or 'SAM' - linebacker after Bruce Irvin suffered a torn ACL in a Week 2 matchup versus the Patriots. 

With the arrival of 2020 first-round selection Jordyn Brooks, who appears to have all but wrapped up a starting job at Wright's former position on the weakside, the veteran would likely have to return to SAM if he strikes a deal with Seattle. That would fill a rather uncertain spot for the team, though Carroll mentioned Cody Barton - a former third-round pick out of Utah with SAM experience - as someone he wants to give a better chance to compete for starting snaps to this season.

While the Seahawks seem to have confidence in Barton's ability to handle the role, the third-year man has struggled in limited defensive opportunities thus far in his young career. There's also the possibility of moving defensive end Darrell Taylor, who Seattle traded up for in the second round of last year's draft, to the spot given his athleticism. However, Taylor missed the entire 2020 season after enduring several setbacks in his return from a leg injury suffered in college, and Carroll and Schneider didn't offer any hints towards a positional change for him in their presser. 

Their best - and most obvious - option to improve at SAM still appears to be Wright. It's arguably the most ideal scenario for each side, given the Seahawks' need at the position and his lack of options. Considering the time that's gone by and the steady communication between him and the organization, it may only be a matter of time before he decides to run it back in Seattle for an 11th straight season. While Schneider came off less optimistic in his stance on the matter, Carroll likes what his conversations with Wright have produced.

"The door is not closed to us in what we’re doing moving forward. We were very clear about that and felt very good about where we are with K.J."