RENTON — As he talked publicly Sunday for the first time since signing a new contract that makes him the highest-paid inside linebacker in NFL history, Bobby Wagner’s mind drifted alternately into what it meant in fulfilling a promise and its impact in how he might be remembered forever.
He recalled first how close such a moment came to never happening, when in the spring and summer of 2009 he thought about quitting football following his freshman season at Utah State when his mother, Phenia, died after a heart attack.
“I was very serious (about quitting),’’ said Wagner, a native of Los Angeles who said his initial move to Logan, Utah, had been a culture shock. “You lost your mom — that was my support system at the time. … I wanted to move back home.’’
He didn’t, he remembered, because of conversations he had had with his mother, who had dealt with other health issues resulting from a stroke in the months before her death.
“She didn’t want me to move back home,” Wagner said. “She wanted me to finish what I started, and so I gave her my word I would finish what I started. Looking at it today, I think she would be proud.”
And he thought of how reaching an agreement with the Seahawks on a three-year, $54 million contract extension that ties him to Seattle through the 2022 season, when he would be 32 years old, may well be the key moment in determining how his football career is recalled decades from now.
It’s a contract, he hopes, that helps keep him with the Seahawks forever and will allow him to be immortalized with the same kind of banner hanging over CenturyLink Field as four other former Seattle players who all played their entire careers here and now are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“You watch guys like Ray Lewis, you watch guys like Brian Urlacher, everything they accomplished was dope,” Wagner said. “But it was cool to see them do it for one team, one city and really cement their legacy where they were at. I feel like this is a step forward. Hopefully three, four years we’ll be back, I’ll be saying, ‘Hey I was frustrated, but we got the deal done.’ “
He also admitted there have been some frustrating moments in the past few months as well as he negotiated his deal with the Seahawks, having decided last year to serve as his own agent.
Wagner’s thoughts on his contract desires changed greatly in March when the New York Jets surprisingly handed a contract to free agent C.J. Mosley paying him $85 million over five years, or $17 million a season. That was more than $4 million a year more than Luke Kuechly, who had been the highest-paid inside linebacker, just ahead of Wagner, and set what Wagner admitted in June was his new market.
“The plan is to break that,” he said in May.
He did, while taking fewer years and a lower overall guarantee than Mosley (Wagner received a reported $40.2 million to Mosley’s $51 million guarantee), but also doing so by getting a third contract from the same team, something not all that easy to do.
“It really came down to the end,” said Wagner, who signed the deal shortly after 5 p.m. Friday. “There were moments where you didn’t think the deal was going to get done. It was what it was. When we sat down and just locked ourselves in a room and said, ‘Look, we both want to be here. Y’all want me here. Let’s get something done,’ we ultimately came to an agreement.”
The contract came after Wagner had attended, but not participated in, the first two training-camp practices, having also not taken part in any on-field work during the team’s offseason program … sort of a non-holdout holdout.
Wagner said he had no deadline, but the team might well have viewed this weekend as a critical point to get Wagner back on the field with a preseason game now less than two weeks away, and the team scheduled to put on pads and do full-contact work for the first time this week.
“It’s great to get Bobby back out there,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “He’s a great guy to have on your club and to represent your franchise, and if a guy is going to get paid you want it to be a guy like this. He just stands for so much positive, so much good, and I know our fans love him, and he loves being here. He’d like to spend the rest of his career here.’’
Wagner said there wasn’t necessarily a turning point in the talks, which Carroll said had gone on “for quite some time now.”
But one key moment came in June when Wagner was among those included in a trip to France with Michael Jordan — Wagner has had a contract with Jordan Brand shoes for roughly two years.
“It was dope, honestly,” Wagner said. “He took us out to France, and we got a chance to really sit down and just have a conversation with him. We talked about his playing days, talked about his mind-set — tried to steal some of his mind-set — talked about training, talked about a bunch of different things. I asked him how he would feel if one of the players (with the Charlotte Bobcats, for whom Jordan is a part owner) came and tried to negotiate a deal, what would be different, how would he see it? We just talked about a lot. It’s just really cool to have a guy like that in your corner and have a guy like that willing to take the time to speak to you and take the time to give you that knowledge, pass the knowledge down. I felt like I could have asked him anything.”
The decision to represent himself, Wagner said, was due in part to wanting to get a jump start on life after football and understanding the business world as best as he can — he was a business entrepreneurship major at Utah State — not necessarily a statement about agents.
Carroll has said dealing directly with players (something Seattle also had to do with Russell Okung and Richard Sherman) can be awkward and potentially lead to hard feelings. He said the talks with Wagner were business-like and amicable throughout.
“I don’t think every guy can do it,” Carroll said.
But Wagner said he understood business is business and football is football.
And he said he knows many in the business part of the football world will parse the details of the numbers to determine if he got the best deal he could. But to Wagner, the fact that the deal is done and he knows he can stay in Seattle is enough.
“Being the highest-paid (linebacker) was dope,” Wagner said. “But my thing was to just make sure we got a deal done, and that’s kind of what I was really focused on, was getting a deal done and just trying to do better than the last one. In everything in life you want to be better, so I wanted to do better than my last deal, and I feel like I accomplished that. I don’t really care about … I’m pretty sure people are going to come and they’re going to try to criticize it and things of that nature but I don’t care. I won. Not even from like the numbers perspective.
“Back when my mom passed, I thought about quitting football. I didn’t want to play no more. So for me to be in this position on my third contract, something that statistically nobody gets to do, I’m grateful. I’m humble. I’m blessed and there’s nothing that anybody can say to me that’s going to take that away from me.”