Wright, one of just five players on the active roster left from the 2013 team that won the Super Bowl, missed the first six games of the season with a knee injury.
The more the seasons roll by — faster than he ever imagined they would when he entered the NFL in 2011 — K.J. Wright has realized how much he’s going to miss football when his career is over.
So when the Seahawks’ starting linebacker was told in August that he needed cleanup surgery to repair some damage to his knee, the initial thoughts of what it might mean for his contract situation were quickly replaced by the more immediate — and emotional — realization that the season was going to start without him.
“When I got hurt it did cross my mind like, ‘Damn, this is the worst timing,’ ’’ said Wright, who is in the final year of his contract with no indication an extension is in the offing anytime soon.
“But when you get hurt and you miss some ball, all you care about is football, and the contract stuff will handle itself. I just want to play. The money is the money — whatever. I just want to play ball, be out there with my guys, and just do what I love. Football is first and that stuff will handle itself.’’
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On Sunday against the Detroit Lions, Wright will finally get to play again, having returned to practice this week after missing the first six games of the season following arthroscopic surgery in August and a setback in training a few weeks later.
The six games were one more than he had missed in his first seven years with the Seahawks combined, and the first time he’d ever missed a significant part of any season in his life.
Worse, Wright couldn’t fly due to concerns about swelling in his knee. So for Seattle’s four road games — including the trip to London — he had to stay home. Two games he watched at Cliff Avril’s house. The other two he watched at home with his wife, Natalie.
“She’s asking questions and I’m like ‘I really don’t feel like telling you what happened on that play — yes, Bobby (Wagner) did mess up,’’’ Wright joked.
To compound Wright’s frustration, he wasn’t even really sure he’d done anything to his knee when he initially hurt it.
Wright said he first felt a twinge doing a “shuffle” drill during pregame warmups before the third preseason game at Minnesota on Aug. 24.
But Wright played his usual allotment of snaps in the game, saying he felt he’d played as well as ever. His performance included a highlight-reel hit on Minnesota’s Stefon Diggs that was ruled legal.
But afterward Wright told Seattle trainers he felt a little pain in his knee, which led to an MRI once he returned and a diagnosis that there was just enough damage to warrant surgery.
Wright said he initially circled the third game against Dallas as when he expected to return.
But impatience caught up to him.
“I was running within two weeks,’’ he said. “But I think I went a bit too hard.’’
He was told to take a break at that point and with the Seahawks getting good play at weakside linebacker from Mychal Kendricks and Barkevious Mingo, the Detroit game after the bye week was set as a realistic return date.
The Seahawks have played well in his absence, ranking sixth this week in total defense and fifth in points allowed.
But the tests get even tougher now with quarterbacks like Matthew Stafford, Philip Rivers, Jared Goff and Aaron Rodgers on tap the next four weeks — games in which even one mistake could prove critical.
“We’ve been playing together for seven years, so we have a communication that can’t be replicated,’’ Wagner said. “He makes plays and he’s going to make adjustments and things of that nature. I’m extremely excited to have him back. I think the last time you saw him, he was making big hits and all that stuff, so that’s what I’m expecting from him.”
Wright says he expects to be the same player he’s always been.
Wright’s play in the next 10 games could determine both the course of Seattle’s season but also likely the future of Wright’s career.
He’ll be 30 in July and Seattle had been grooming Shaquem Griffin as a potential successor at weakside linebacker. Griffin proved not quite ready for that role when he started the Denver game. But Seattle’s success since with Mingo and Kendricks — who is indefinitely suspended — and the presence of Griffin and Austin Calitro, coupled with the Seahawks’ willingness over the last year to move on from veteran players, makes it very possible that whatever is left of this season is also what’s left of Wright’s Seattle career.
Which means, Wright says, that more than ever he just wants to enjoy the moments that will begin anew on Sunday.
He revealed Thursday he took out an insurance policy to guard against a major injury. Otherwise, he said, contracts and money are for now out of mind.
“I’m going to play it out and once free agency comes we’ll see what happens,’’ Wright said. “. … I’m glad to be back. Very glad.’’