There’s one big question for the Seahawks when it comes to their linebacking corps entering free agency — what will happen with K.J. Wright?
There’s another that’s not quite on the front-burner — what will happen with Bruce Irvin?
This one is at least intriguing — what will happen with 2018 draft darling Shaquem Griffin?
As our review of Seahawks position groups entering free agency continue, here’s a look at the linebackers.
Players under contract
MLB Bobby Wagner: That Wagner has increasing cap hits during the final two years of his deal — $17.1 million in 2021 and $20.3 million in 2022 — has led to speculation whether he will finish out that contract. But $5 million of his $13.15 million base salary for 2021 is already guaranteed. Wagner may be in more of a “prove-it’’ mode in 2021 at age 31 to show he deserves the final year.
WLB Jordyn Brooks: Brooks, the team’s first-round pick a year ago, moved into the starting lineup after the first month of the season at weakside linebacker in the base defense. He could eventually move over to MLB once Wagner moves on. But the plan in 2021 is for him to spend another year playing alongside Wagner.
LB Cody Barton: Barton, who is entering the third year of his rookie deal, might be best viewed as the primary backup at the moment at all three spots.
MLB Ben Burr-Kirven: The former UW standout last year was a core special teamer but otherwise saw little action (10 snaps). That may be his role going forward. Seattle could look to add competition to the backup spots this offseason.
Impending unrestricted free agents
WLB/SLB K.J. Wright: In a media blitz a few weeks ago, Wright made it clear he is not looking for a hometown discount after a season when he was considered one of the best linebackers in the NFL. He proved to have great value and versatility playing as a strongside linebacker in the base defense and weakside in the nickel. If he stays in Seattle, that would likely remain his role with the team wanting to get Brooks on the field as much as possible. Wright made an average of $7 million on his last deal (earning another $1.5 million in bonuses). He’s probably hoping for more than that now. Pro Football Focus estimated Wright to get a two-year deal at $6 million per season.
SLB Bruce Irvin: Irvin was slated to be the Seahawks’ starting strongside linebacker last year, but he suffered a season-ending ACL injury in Week Two against New England, which led to Wright’s move to the SLB spot. Coach Pete Carroll said after the season Irvin had to have a second surgery to take care of the issue, so it’s unclear when he will be ready, meaning Irvin may not sign for a while.
Impending restricted free agent
Shaquem Griffin: Griffin played 113 snaps on defense last year, mostly as an edge rusher. But his playing time decreased markedly after midseason, and he also was not as involved on special teams as his first two years. Because he was waived at the cutdown to 53 last fall, his rookie contract voided, which is why he is a restricted free agent. The Seahawks do not seem likely to tender him, meaning he will become an unrestricted free agent March 17, likely along with his brother, Shaquill, who was not given a franchise tag.
Possible free-agent targets
The Seahawks will only have to go this route if they don’t re-sign Wright and/or Irvin.
If Wright/Irvin re-sign, all they might really need to do at linebacker is add some depth players.
Here are a few they could target if needed.
Kevin Pierre-Louis: The Seahawks have never been shy about bringing back former players. Pierre-Louis, a fourth-round pick by the Seahawks in 2014, has played for five teams in his career. He spent last season with Washington where he played a career-high 506 snaps with 11 starts and could be an inexpensive option for a depth linebacker and special teams.
Brandon Copeland: The 29-year-old might also be the type of linebacker the Seahawks could look for to fill out depth. He has 18 starts in five NFL seasons — getting four last season with the Patriots — but has usually been a core special teams player.
Raekwon McMillan: A second-round pick in 2017, the 25-year-old hasn’t lived up to expectations in four years with the Dolphins and Raiders. But he could be worth a flyer for depth.
The needs here are few if the Seahawks re-sign Wright.
If the Seahawks do not re-sign Wright, then the question becomes: Do they think Barton can step in to that role? Given their cap constraints, that could be their decision. It’s worth remembering that a strongside linebacker in the base defense is only on the field 30-40% of the time. Wright was different last year since he stayed on in nickel to play the weakside spot. So they could decide to give Barton a shot at that and see what happens, maybe signing a veteran as competition/depth.
It’s hard to gauge how avidly the Seahawks will try to re-sign Wright. He made it clear that while he’d love to end his career in Seattle after 10 years here, he’s willing to move on for the right price.
Next: Defensive backs.