RENTON — Bobby Wagner has understood the reality for a while now — he would have to play the 2021 season without his running mate of the last nine years, K.J. Wright.
Still, that there really was no turning back the clock became clear for Wagner Monday when the Raiders officially signed Wright to a one-year contract and he suited up in practice wearing No. 34.
Wright, a fourth-round pick in 2011, and Wagner became fast friends when Wagner joined the team in 2012. And since 2013 they had formed the team’s inside linebacking duo (Wright playing outside in 2012), an eight-year run as the best inside linebacking duo in team history.
Wagner said the two still talk regularly and did so after Wright signed with the Raiders.
“I told him that black and silver looks ugly on him, for sure,” Wagner said Wednesday as he talked to the media for the first time since early in training camp. “We talked all the time. I was very aware of everything that was going on. Obviously, I was sad to see him go, but I was definitely happy because he had the opportunity to continue playing a game that he clearly loves. It’s going to be weird for sure, but I look forward to watching his film.”
It’ll be even weirder seeing Wright wear what was once Bo Jackson’s number with the Raiders instead of the 50 he wore with Seattle. The No. 34 was what Wright wore at Mississippi State and a number he can use thanks to new NFL rules.
“I wouldn’t say that’s the best college number — I’ll still go with 9, in my opinion,” Wagner said, referring to his college number.
“He knows how I feel about him. He knows what he means to me, not just as a football player, but as a brother of mine. Just because he’s playing in Las Vegas doesn’t mean our connection isn’t as strong as it’s ever been. We just have to make sure we reach out more now that we don’t see each other every day.”
Who Wagner will see every day now are the two young players the Seahawks will rely on now at the other two linebacker spots — weakside linebacker Jordyn Brooks and strongside linebacker Darrell Taylor.
Wright played both spots last year. But Seattle wants Brooks, a first-round pick in 2020, to now be a full-time player after his role last year, where he came off the field in the nickel with Wright staying on. Wright also played strongside in the base. But this year, that role goes to Taylor, a second-round pick in 2020.
Like all Seahawks fans, Wagner may have held out hope to the end that there was a chance Wright could return.
But what he knows he’ll always have are their memories of their nine years together.
“It meant the world,” Wagner said. “It was kind of the perfect storm. I came in and I didn’t know what was going on, but I was excited to play football. To have somebody who literally just went through that entire process, and was still going through it — we kind of grew up together. There was a life experience that we were able to have and be involved in each other’s lives for. There was a lot of football experiences. We saw a lot of highs, a lot of lows, and we see a lot of growth in one another.
“It was amazing to have that type of communication where I didn’t even have to say anything and he knew exactly what I was thinking. If I wanted him to take a chance on something, or if he wanted me to take a chance, we had each other’s back. Now that we don’t have that, we’ve just got to build it again.”