K.J. Wright made clear whenever asked that he wanted to play out his NFL career in the city where it started.
“That would just be a beautiful story, if I could just ride it all out with the Seahawks,” Wright said in an interview with CBS Sports Radio earlier this year. “That’s some legendary-type stuff.”
But Wright would rather keep playing than not play at all.
So that means Wright’s ride is taking a detour to Las Vegas.
Wright, whose 10 years with Seattle made him the longest-tenured player and the only one left who predated the arrival of quarterback Russell Wilson, has agreed to a one-year deal with the Raiders, a source confirmed to The Seattle Times.
There, Wright will play strongside linebacker, reunite with former Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley and join a defense that is sorely in need of veteran playmakers.
Thus ends — for now, anyway — the Seattle career of one of the most productive and well-liked players in team history.
Wright, who arrived as a fourth-round pick in 2011 out of Mississippi State and progressed so quickly as a rookie that the team soon traded former first-rounder Aaron Curry to make room for him in the starting lineup, leaves as the third-leading tackler in team history.
His 934 trails only the 1,211 of teammate, linebacking partner and good friend Bobby Wagner and the 984 of Eugene Robinson.
But as much as numbers, what also defined Wright’s career was his impact in the locker room and off the field.
Wright’s usually calm and laid-back demeanor served as a stabilizing force on a legendary defense filled with strong personalities while he was the team’s Man of the Year in 2018 for, among other endeavors, raising money to construct fresh water wells in Kenya.
Wright turned in what by all accounts was one of his best seasons with Seattle in 2020, playing both strongside and weakside linebacker. He became the starting strongside linebacker in the base defense following an injury in Week Two to Bruce Irvin but also usually played weakside linebacker in the nickel. His 11 tackles-for-a-loss and 10 pass defenses were each the second most of his career, and Pro Football Focus recently rated Wright as the 14th best linebacker entering the 2021 season. He also recently was rated as the 67th best player in the league by the NFL Network.
But the 2020 season was the last of a two-year deal worth $15.5 million Wright signed in 2019 that allowed him to play 10 years with Seattle.
After becoming a free agent, Wright said consistently he hoped to stay but also that he felt he had played well enough that he deserved to get fair market value and that he would be willing to leave.
“I do way too much on the football field to take a discount,’’ Wright said in that same CBS interview in February. “It makes absolutely no sense.’’
But Wright turned 32 in July, and the Seahawks decided to turn their weakside and strongside linebacking positions over to high picks from recent drafts.
Jordyn Brooks, a first-round pick in 2020, is taking over the WLB spot on a full-time basis (last year, he started in the base defense but came off in the nickel with Wright moving to WLB), and 2020 second-rounder Darrell Taylor is taking over the starting strongside spot. Re-signing Wright, the team felt, would have essentially blocked the ascension of one or both.
Seattle coach Pete Carroll said in the spring that the door remained open for Wright to return, but he also said the team was content with its current roster and wouldn’t likely make significant changes until it saw what it had in camp.
And camp went well for Brooks and Taylor, who has not missed so much as a practice after sitting out all last season with a leg injury. Seattle has redefined its strongside linebacker position, also using the likes of Alton Robinson and Benson Mayowa there in training camp.
Wright has remained in the Seattle area working out and said he also was leaving the door open to return to Seattle. But he also said he would pursue other opportunities and first visited the Raiders in early August.
The Raiders also are an obvious fit for Wright as their new defensive coordinator is Bradley, who was the defensive coordinator with the Seahawks from 2009-12.
Bradley has continued to run a defense similar to that of Seattle’s and Carroll’s in his stops since leaving the Seahawks in 2013, initially to become the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Bradley was hired by the Raiders in January after the team fired Paul Guenther following a season in which the Raiders finished 30th in the NFL in points allowed and 25th in yards allowed.
Wright briefly played middle linebacker with Seattle as a rookie before taking over for Curry, resulting in Curry’s eventual trade to the Raiders. Wright moved to weakside linebacker as his primary position in 2013 after the departure of Leroy Hill, and he made 80 tackles that year as the Seahawks won the Super Bowl.
That Wright is now wearing a different uniform means there are just two players under contract for the 2021 Seahawks who were part of the team that won the Super Bowl and have been with the Seahawks ever since — Wilson and Wagner.