The club is set with Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright anchoring the middle of the defense. But their injuries last season highlighted the need to find them some help.
If anyone ever doubted — or had simply maybe taken for granted — just how much Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright have meant to the Seahawks since 2012, they found out anew the value of the two stalwart linebackers in 2017.
Well into November, Wagner was in the running for NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors while Wright — who hadn’t missed a game since 2013 — was having another typically steady campaign.
Wagner struggled with a nagging hamstring injury while Wright suffered a concussion at Jacksonville that knocked him out for the fourth quarter and the following week against the Rams.
Without Wagner and Wright for much of the second half against the Jags, a 3-0 game at the half turned into a 30-24 defeat. And without Wright and with a noticeably hobbled Wagner the following week, the Rams literally ran away with the NFC West title in Seattle with a shocking 42-7 rout.
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Simply put, in six quarters in which one or both were out, Seattle allowed 69 points — 11.5 per quarter.
In the 58 quarters in which the two played, Seattle allowed an average of just 4.5 points.
The good news is that Wagner and Wright remain in the prime of their careers, each under contract for next season.
But the massive drop-off in play when the two were out this season speaks to a need for the Seahawks to upgrade the depth at linebacker.
Snaps played: 1,022, 93.08 percent (via Pro Football Reference).
Key stat: 133 tackles, seventh in the NFL.
Contract situation: Signed through 2019.
Snaps played: 956, 87.07 percent.
Key stat: 108 tackles, 18th in NFL.
Contract situation: Signed through 2018.
Snaps played: 306, 27.87 percent.
Key stat: 26 tackles, nine starts.
Contract situation: Unrestricted free agents.
Snaps played: 195, 17.76 percent.
Key stat: 17 tackles, three starts, 253 special teams snaps.
Contract situation: Unrestricted free agent.
Snaps played: 20, 1.82 percent.
Key stat: 246 special teams snaps.
Contract situation: Signed through 2018.
Wagner and Wright gave the Seahawks one of the best linebacking duos in the NFL this year when healthy.
After injuries and some special-teams lapses from other linebackers on the roster in 2016, the Seahawks spent last offseason acquiring veterans to help fill the void, notably signing longtime 49er Michael Wilhoite to play strongside linebacker. It’s a position on the field only about one-third of the time and as such hasn’t been one Seattle has made huge investments in.
Wilhoite, 31, played capably but is an unrestricted free agent and Seattle might use that spot to get younger.
Other than Garvin, another offseason free-agent signee who is also again a free agent, none of the linebackers played much on defense.
Wagner is under contract through 2019. But Wright is quietly entering the final year of his contract. He’ll turn 29 next season and Seattle will have to think about if he’s worth extending now or deciding to wait on that until next offseason. Wright has an $8.2 million cap hit in 2018 with just $1 million in dead money.
If Wilhoite and Garvin are allowed to leave, Seattle will have to find others to take their roles either in free agency or the draft.
POSSIBLE FREE AGENT TARGETS
Here’s another spot where the free-agent pickings are regarded as slim this year as Pro Football Focus termed it “one of the weakest positions in free agency.’’
One intriguing name should Seattle look the free-agent route to fill the strongside linebacker spot is one-time Seahawk Korey Toomer, a fifth-round pick in 2012 who never played in a regular-season game for the Seahawks. He has started 16 games the past two seasons for the Chargers, last year doing so for defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, who was part of the Seattle staff when Toomer was drafted.
Some Seahawks fans have also wondered if another former Seattle player — Bruce Irvin — might become available. The Raiders could save $8.25 million if they released him with no dead money and new Oakland coach Jon Gruden could make some changes.
How much Seattle would be interested is unclear, especially with the Seahawks appearing more willing to make significant changes and bring in fresh faces.
POSSIBLE DRAFT TARGETS
Due in large part to the dependability and consistency of Wright and Wagner, Seattle has not drafted a linebacker since taking Kevin Pierre-Louis in the fourth round in 2014.
But with Wright’s long-term future uncertain and the needs at strongside linebacker this might be the year.
There is some decent depth in the middle rounds of the draft and Seattle won’t have to look far to scout one intriguing prospect — former Husky Azeem Victor.