RENTON — Spring is the feel-good time of the NFL season when roster construction is done and coaches can again work with players on the field without the pressure of a game to play in a few days.
You needed to look no further than the Seahawks letting actor Rainn Wilson (a Seattle native and lifelong fan) hold the ball for a Jason Myers kick during Wednesday’s organized team activity (OTA) practice for evidence that while work is being done, fun is also being had during sessions that are technically voluntary. For the record, the 38-yard field goal was good.
But no one may be enjoying things more right now than K.J. Wright, the 29-year-old linebacker who is now in his ninth season with the Seahawks. With Doug Baldwin and Kam Chancellor’s recent releases, Wright is the only Seahawks player left whose arrival predates that of Russell Wilson in 2012 (Wright, Wilson and Bobby Wagner are the only three players left from the 2013 team that won the Super Bowl).
Seeing those departures has only reinforced to Wright how fortunate he is to still be standing, especially after a 2018 season that was the roughest of his career. He played just five games due to a knee injury suffered in the preseason that required surgery, which left in doubt whether the team would try to re-sign him as a free agent.
“I love it, man,’’ Wright said of being on the field for another set of OTAs, the second one open to the media this offseason. “What I went through last year really put things in perspective for me. I just approach every game, every practice with just gratitude and thankfulness because you just never know when something may happen and it could be your last play. I’m just real thankful and just going to go into this season and just have fun, man, and just enjoy it and not sweat the small stuff.’’
Wright re-signed with the Seahawks after the team made him a two-year offer worth up to $14 million with $6.5 million guaranteed. The deal is structured in a manner that there is no certainty that Wright will return in 2020. By drafting linebackers Cody Barton and Ben Burr-Kirven in April, the Seahawks showed further planning for the future at that position, a year after Seattle also selected Shaquem Griffin to play the same spot as Wright (weakside linebacker).
But just getting the 2019 season is for now enough for Wright, who said he left Dallas after Seattle’s playoff loss to the Cowboys last January assuming he had played his last game for the Seahawks.
“I didn’t see it happening,’’ he said of returning to Seattle, where he has played since the team selected him in the fourth round of the 2011 draft out of Mississippi State. “I thought I was going to be in a different-colored jersey. But they love me here, and I’m glad they love me and they know what I bring to the table — a hell of a linebacker who can make plays all over the field, as you all saw those last few games.’’
Wright said he thinks he is past the knee issues of last season, though as a precautionary measure he is not doing much during OTAs in terms of team drills. And he said he thinks being healthy again means he will be the same player as ever when the fall rolls around. He returned for the final two games of the regular season and the playoff game a year ago, and he felt the last two games in particular — when he made a combined 15 tackles and had an interception in the end zone against Dallas — showed he can still make the same impact he always has.
“It was major,’’ he said of how vital it was he played well in those games. “I know that I’m a good football player, but you’ve just got to keep doing it because it’s a ‘what have you done for me lately’ type of business. So no one cares about what you did in the past, no one cares about those eight years. It’s what can you for us going forward. So it was big for me.”
Undoubtedly, football considerations were the main reason why Seattle re-signed Wright.
But as he has alluded to a few times now, he thinks it didn’t hurt that he has been a popular and engaging presence in the locker room and community, and last year did not hold out when his future was in question.
He plans next month to put the finishing touches on one of his pet off-field projects, flying to Kenya with about 20 family members to see the completion of two wells for fresh water in the village of Maasai Mara. Wright raised about $45,000 through various efforts (including donating $300 per tackle) and also will get $25,000 from the NFL for being the Seahawks’ Man of the Year.
“I think it was a real community effort as far as bringing me back,” he said.
But come the fall, Wright’s real value will be on the field, where he plans to again team with Bobby Wagner to man the inside linebacker spots as the two have consistently done since 2013.
Wagner is now entering his contract year and serving as his own agent and is doing sort of a mix of what Wright and Earl Thomas did last year — showing up (as did Wright) but not taking part in any drills (Thomas didn’t show up).
Wright, though, confidently predicted that Wagner — who has said he wants a deal that will make him the highest-paid inside linebacker in the NFL — will reach agreement with the Seahawks, saying he is “100 percent” certain Wagner will stay in Seattle.
“Bobby knows what he is doing,’’ Wright said. “It’s going to be really exciting to see everything pan out. He’s going to be a Seahawk for life. Go get a hell of a deal done. So I’m excited to see how it all turns out.’’
And if he’s having fun in May, he’s also excited to get back on the field with Wagner in the fall.
At one point Wednesday, Wright was asked if the presence of the young linebackers might mean he can take a few plays off, if needed, once the season rolls around. He reacted as if he was offended at the mere notion of the question.
“Nah, nah,’’ he said. “I don’t like coming off the field.’’
Now more than ever.