On the April day in 2011 when K.J. Wright was drafted in the fourth round by the Seahawks, he made a little prediction.
“I believe this will be a good spot,” Wright told reporters that day. “I said before the draft started that I would probably go to Seattle, and that is just the perfect spot for me.”
If perfection can be bettered, than it’s possible that is what has happened for Wright in Seattle.
The Mississippi State grad — he got the call that he was being drafted while he was in line to get his degree in criminology — quickly emerged as a key player on one of the best defenses in NFL history, winning a Super Bowl ring in his third year, while also getting married and starting a family.
So when he entered NFL free agency for the first time in his career eight years later, it was going to take a lot to make Wright leave.
And before the first day when players could officially sign with other teams had passed, the Seahawks made it easy for Wright to stay, offering him a two-year deal worth a reported $15.5 million.
Thursday, Wright said he couldn’t be happier.
“I’ve been here eight years,” Wright said in a message. “It’s only right to make it 10.”
The agreement puts a happy capper on what has been a challenging year for Wright from a football standpoint.
One of the team’s iron men during his first seven seasons with the Seahawks, Wright suffered a knee injury in the third exhibition game against Minnesota that hampered him most of the year. He missed six games after having surgery to repair cartilage damage and suffered a setback when he tried to push it to return quickly.
“Damn, this is the worst timing,” Wright said he recalls of what he thought when he had the surgery entering a contract year and with his NFL future uncertain.
Wright — who had missed only five games in the first seven years of his career — came back to play three games at midseason before again shutting it down, saying he wasn’t yet 100 percent.
He finally returned for good for the final two regular-season games and the playoff contest against Dallas. He had an interception and seven tackles against the Cowboys to prove to himself he was finally back.
But whether the team agreed was another matter, and Wright was forlorn in the locker room afterward not only because of Seattle’s loss but also because he had no idea if it would be the last time he would be in a Seahawks locker room.
“I head into free agency,” Wright said. “We will see how that goes. I want to be here. I would love to be here. I love playing for this team, with Bobby (Wagner). I believe it would be in the team’s best interest if I stayed here.”
Ultimately, the Seahawks agreed, not that they ever really need convincing. It just needed to make sense financially.
“Having K.J. back is so valuable to us,’’ Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said after the Dallas game. “He’s such a great player and a great leader and his mentality, he gives other people strength just being around him. He’s unbelievably valuable in that regard.’’
That Wright is signing for two years instead of the four years and $27 million on his previous contract surely helped ease his way to stay with the Seahawks. What also helped is Wright’s team-first attitude and leadership. Seattle has let other big-name veterans leave whose time they felt maybe had simply passed both in on-field production and locker-room influence.
That isn’t the case with Wright, who will return to give Seattle one of the best inside linebacking tandems in the NFL working alongside Wagner.
Wagner’s contract expires following the 2019 season, and he said following the loss at Dallas that he felt they needed to keep Wright, saying he thought it would be the key to making a longer playoff run in 2019. It was one of several times he lobbied publicly for Wright’s return, even saying he would look at how the team handled Wright’s future when it comes time to decide his own.
“The right thing to do will be to bring him back,” said Wagner, who has been paired with Wright since coming into the league a year after him in 2012. “He’s been an amazing teammate, amazing person in the community. He helps young guys. Never held out. Did everything right. Sounds to me like a guy that you should pay.’’ (Wagner tweeted his happiness about Wright’s return Thursday night, stating: “Yessir!!! Back at it again! We got work! Couldn’t happen to a better person.. Congrats!”
The Seahawks sent some conflicting signals as to whether Wright would return by signing Mychal Kendricks — who filled in for Wright for four games last season — to a one-year deal said to be worth up to $5.5 million Wednesday afternoon.
The Seahwaks figure they can find ways to use both players in 2019. They are also remaining uncertain if Kendricks will be available to play in 2019 as he is due to be sentenced April 4 for insider trading, but there appears to be a feeling he will be available.
That leaves the question of exactly how the Seahawks will use Wright and Kendricks and if they will find ways to get both on the field at the same time. Wright has played strongside linebacker before and could maybe fit into that again, as well, and maybe Seattle thinks Kendricks could also play some there.
It leaves the question of whether the Seahawks might be thinking of releasing Barkevious Mingo, who was the strongside linebacker last season but also played some weakside in the absence of Wright in certain schemes. The Seahawks could save $4.8 million by releasing Mingo, which they may need to do to fit in the salaries of Wright and Kendricks under the salary cap.
Seattle also made a qualifying offer to Austin Calitro, who started four games at weakside linebacker last season when Wright was injured. Shaquem Griffin also got a start at weakside linebacker in the season opener and also returns.
What’s clear is that Wright will have another two years in the home he never wanted to leave.