The Seahawks’ one big looming contractual question as the July 25 start of training camp inches closer is middle linebacker Bobby Wagner’s status.
Wagner is entering the final year of his contract and has made it clear he wants a new deal before the season that will make him the highest-paid inside linebacker in the NFL, meaning more than the $17 million a year C.J. Mosley gets from the New York Jets.
But standing right behind Wagner in hopes of an extension is defensive tackle Jarran Reed, who also is entering the final year of his contract, a four-year rookie deal signed in 2016 after he was drafted in the second round out of Alabama. The contract is worth $4.8 million, with a base salary of $1.16 million for this season.
And Monday came what former NFL agent Joel Corry, who writes about league financial matters for CBSSports.com and other outlets, said is some clarity to Reed’s market value, thanks to a new contract signed by Atlanta’s Grady Jarrett.
Jarrett, whom the Falcons gave a franchise tag last spring, agreed to a four-year deal worth up to $68 million ($17 million a year average) Monday just before the deadline for teams to sign tagged players to long-term contracts.
“That helps really define the (defensive-tackle) market,’’ Corry said of a contract that makes Jarrett the third-highest-paid defensive tackle in the NFL, behind Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams and Fletcher Cox of Philadelphia.
“I would be using that as, ‘This is where the market is. This is his benchmark. This is the comp we should be talking about,’’’ Corry said.
Corry, though, says it might not be that simple, noting Chris Jones also is still hoping to get a new deal from the Kansas City Chiefs.
Corry says he doesn’t think Jones will sign for less than $20 million a year and doesn’t think the Chiefs will want to pay it. But if Jones were to get a new contract at that number, Reed’s agents would likely point to that deal, as well.
“He is not Chris Jones,’’ Corry said of Reed. “But (if he were Reed’s agent) I would be factoring that into the equation, as well.’’
As Corry noted, Jarrett might be the more accurate comparison for Reed as a tackle at a similar spot in his career who has shown an ability to rush the passer.
Jarrett is roughly four months younger than Reed but has played one more season and 15 more games. Jarrett has 14 sacks in his career with a high of six while Reed has 13.5 with a high of 10.5 last season.
Seattle, of course, doesn’t have to do anything right now and could wait to see if Reed’s breakout 2018 season was an aberration or a sign of things to come, even if the Seahawks don’t expect Reed to get 10.5 sacks every year (it had only been done by two other tackles in team history, Hall of Famers Cortez Kennedy and John Randle).
But patience doesn’t come without risk, Corry said.
“They may want to wait and see if that was an anomaly or the real deal, but also knowing that if he does that again, then I’m not getting him for anything like I could have gotten him for this year,’’ Corry said.
Seattle seems almost certain to address Wagner first.
There have been almost no rumblings about negotiations during the summer, but it’s been thought if a deal were to get done it could well happen right as camp begins. That would be consistent with Wagner’s last deal in 2015 and lots of others, such as Russell Wilson’s in 2015 and Tyler Lockett and Duane Brown last year. Who knows, maybe the fact Wagner is serving as his own agent, thereby theoretically decreasing the number of people who would know anything about talks, has contributed to the lack of chatter about any possible talks.
As for Wagner wanting more than $17 million a year to surpass Mosley, Corry said, “That’s logical. I would, too. He’s a much better player.’’
Wagner showed up for the team’s offseason program but did not take part in on-field drills so as to avoid possible injury, a compromise the team seemed satisfied with. Coach Pete Carroll at one point said everything between Wagner and the Seahawks has been “amicable.’’
If Seattle were to re-up Wagner at $17 million or more per year, he would become the highest-paid defensive player in team history and second to Wilson as highest-paid overall. And Seattle could then also pay Reed something close to that number and not have to worry about Reed’s contract surpassing Wagner’s.
Seattle also has a franchise tag of its own it could use on Wagner or Reed, and if Wagner were to sign, the tag would seem like an even bigger possibility for Reed as there are no other players on the roster who would be a logical candidate for the tag in 2020.
Corry estimates the tag number would be about $16 million for a defensive tackle.
Seattle showed a willingness to wait it out with Frank Clark last year, and then, after he had a career-high 13.5 sacks, placed a tag on him to prevent him from entering free agency before then working out a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs to get a first-round draft choice in 2019 and a second-rounder in 2020.
“I’d understand why Seattle would have reservations (extending Reed) because even Frank Clark had a more demonstrated track record, just based on last year,’’ Corry said. “But there’s always that notion that the longer you wait to pay a good-to-great player, it’s going to cost you more money.’’
Seattle has plenty of cap space to do whatever it wants, with $23.7 million remaining for 2019 (more than all but eight other teams) and then a whopping $75.2 million for 2020, more than any team other than the Houston Texans, according to OvertheCap.com.
Now it’s just up to Seattle to decide what exactly it wants to do.