Bobby Wagner’s Worth

Since the Seattle Seahawks have been unable to come to terms yet with Russell Wilson on a new contract extension, the team appears to have turned their attention to signing the other major player who is coming up on his possible walk year, LB Bobby Wagner, according to NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport. The question then becomes how much is Wagner’s value as a football player worth to a team that has already extended core players Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, K.J. Wright and Richard Sherman? And then whether that contract can still be made cap-friendly enough to keep the team in a position to be able to sign quality depth in the next few years.

Another issue is whether the Seahawks and Wagner can agree to officially start the extension in 2016. The Seahawks have done an excellent job of signing their core defensive players, like Sherman and Thomas, to extensions that start after their rookie contracts are completed. This is important because tearing up the final year of a rookie deal can hurt a team with cap space making it difficult to sign secondary players and project how much cap space a team really has. The flip side to players agreeing to substantially increase their pay the first year they are eligible for the increase is that it makes them appear, at least, to be completely team-first people and endears them to the fan base. This is a win-win for the player and the team. Sure, it means the player has to wait one more year before seeing an increase in base salary, but they usually gain a decent signing bonus and gain one more year of relative security (of course, this is the NFL, so player happiness with their contracts usually is grounded in the guaranteed money). Seattle wants Wagner to follow the lead of Sherman and Thomas and play out 2015 as the final year of his rookie contract, and if Wagner is not content with that issue it could lead to a contract agreement not being closed until July or just before the season.

Is Wagner worth extension money? The assumption is that any deal Wagner agrees to means he would make between $8-10 million. Considering that as things stand currently he is due to make $977,427 in 2015, he will certainly see a huge increase in salary no matter what the number is. Does Wagner deserve that increase? Yes. Consider the five games that Wagner missed due to injury in 2014: the opposing offenses averaged more rushing yards and more points per game in those games than at any other point in the year. After Wagner returned from being injured (it should be noted this coincided with Kam Chancellor’s return from injury as well), the defense surrendered less than five points per game. Wagner is not the most important player on the Seahawks defense; that would be Earl Thomas and then Kam Chancellor and then possibly Wagner. But the things Wagner is able to do better than others is organize the defense, play the pass effectively for a middle linebacker and help control the opponents run game. He also, and this may be more important, allows other players to focus on their roles better. K.J. Wright, for instance, played Wagner’s position last season when Wagner was hurt, and that took Wright away from his main responsibilities, such as being the principal defender against tight ends. Wagner is the domino that the Seahawks cannot afford to fall as it affects the defense as a whole. He is the leader of his position group, has the skills to dominate from his position and seems to be a good person. He is definitely worth the $8-10 million that the Seahawks will pay him.

The final question is does adding the Wagner contract along with the existing extensions of Thomas, Sherman, plus the contract that the Seahawks and Wilson will eventually sign, hurt the team long term? Yes and no. The Collective Bargaining Agreement of the NFL is made up in a way that good teams cannot hold on to a majority of their best players for a long period. The Seahawks will lose some very good players as every team does. The important part comes in managing a team so that the core players stay together as long as possible, and then hope the organization drafts well. The Seahawks have accomplished that fairly well in the Pete Carroll-John Schneider era. The team’s window of opportunity to win Super Bowls appears to be open for longer than most successful teams, but the players the Seahawks are extending must remain healthy. The salary cap is projected to be $150 million in 2016, $160 million in 2017 and $170 million in 2018. The problem for the Seahawks may come in the 2018 season, and they may have some difficult decisions to make. Currently, the team has 12 players committed for that year and will have about $123 million available to spend. However, this does not take into account any deal that Wagner and Wilson get completed. Wilson, of course, will have a big cap number. Chancellor is not under contract for 2018. He is a key part of what the Seahawks do and the defense always suffers when he is not on the field. Will the Seahawks re-sign him? That is just one of many questions. Wagner, though, will still be young enough to make a difference (he will only be 28), and assuming his contract gets completed with the Seahawks, he will be even more valuable in 2018 than he is now. Last year, he was a first team All-Pro and actually received an MVP vote. Seahawks fans have to hope that production continues, but if one is going to spend a lot of money on a middle linebacker, Wagner is a wise choice to spend it on.