RENTON — Though his contractual future remains uncertain, Bobby Wagner isn’t staying away from the Seahawks as the team began voluntary organized team activities (OTAs) this week.
But he also isn’t quite all the way in, with Wagner’s participation stopping at the sidelines.
Wagner says he plans to attend OTAs to help groom the young linebackers, among other things.
But for now, he won’t step on the field, making a point that he’d like a contract extension sooner rather than later — preferably no later than the start of the 2019 regular season.
“I will be here — that will be my participation,’’ said Wagner, who watched from the sideline during the team’s second OTA on Tuesday and first that was open to the media. “I will be here helping the young guys, doing whatever I can. … You want to send the right message. You want to support the guys. I do feel like the quarterback of the defense is pretty important, so not having that piece would put a damper on the defense. I just feel like it’s important for our success, so I’m here.”
But making a statement — and staying healthy as he enters the final year of his contract — is equally important.
And when he talked to the media at length afterward for the first time since the end of the 2018 season, Wagner made a loud statement about what he hopes to get from the Seahawks: a contract topping that of C.J. Mosley, a former Baltimore Raven who was signed by the New York Jets in March to a five-year contract worth up to $85 million total (or $17 million a year) with $51 million guaranteed.
That deal shattered the market for inside linebackers — the next highest-paid inside linebacker is Carolina’s Luke Kuechly at $12.359 million a year on a deal that runs out following the 2021 season, and then Wagner, who makes $10.75 million a year on a deal that runs out following the 2020 season that he signed in the summer of 2015.
Any hope that Wagner, who is serving as his own agent, might view the Mosley contract as an outlier and not expect the Seahawks to top it, though, was quickly shot down by Wagner on Tuesday.
“I mean, the number is the number, the market is the market,’’ Wagner said of Mosley’s deal, which was negotiated by Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan, who was fired last week, with the Mosley deal thought to have played somewhat of a role in a rift that developed with new head coach Adam Gase.
“That’s the top (of the) linebacker market,” Wagner said. “That is the standard. And so that is the plan to break that.”
The total might be a lot to ask — Seattle typically has not gone more than four years (see Russell Wilson’s recent deal) and Wagner will be 30 by the time a new contract would begin.
But Wagner’s statement made clear he’s unlikely to settle for anything less than Mosley’s average.
Wagner, in fact, raised some eyebrows when he said in a recent NFL Network interview that he is preparing as if this will be his last season with the Seahawks, just in case it is.
“I’m a professional,’’ Wagner said Tuesday when asked about that comment. “This is what it is. As of right now, my contract ends at this year so that’s where it stands. I am honoring the contract, I am here, participating, helping the young guys to be the best they can be. So I am here and that’s what I want to do, this is my decision, so as of right now there is no other years for me left here so that was just a very honest opinion that if I don’t get a deal done, that’s it (in Seattle). But I believe there is something that can happen.’’
And Wagner said the two sides have had some talks, though he declined to go into detail.
“We’ve had some communication so we know we have a plan and we just have to figure the plan out,’’ said Wagner, who said he would like something done before the start of the 2019 season. “I’m just being patient and I’m letting things happen.”
As might be expected, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll sounded optimistic.
“If you have watched us, as you have, all through the offseason, it’s been a process of step-by-step, and we are right in stride with the process,’’ Carroll said. “Bobby has been great, everything is going to come together in time. … Everything is in order, we are in order with what we want to do and it feels very comfortable and very amicable and all that, so everything is going just right.’’
Carroll called Wagner’s decision to attend OTAs but not participate on the field “a good decision for him right now.’’
The decision is in contrast with some notable Seahawks in recent years who stayed away while they tried to get new contracts, including Earl Thomas and Frank Clark a year ago. Wagner referred to how Thomas sat out and got hurt, while good friend and fellow linebacker K.J. Wright — who was also entering his final season of his deal — participated fully and also got hurt. Wright ended up re-signing with Seattle while Thomas did not, landing with Baltimore.
“It’s a very tough thing to go through,’’ Wagner said. “You don’t now necessarily know how to handle it. You’ve got guys who hold out and you just take the situation that we had last year when you had a guy that held out, came back, got hurt (Thomas) and a guy that came and participated and got hurt (Wright). So, it’s a tricky situation, and this is a business. You get hurt, they don’t pay you, so you’ve got to be mindful of that. You all know I’m a professional. I’m going to be in shape. I work out every single day, so you all don’t have to worry about me being in shape, and my mind is going to always be sharp.’’
One potential complication is that Wagner is representing himself. His previous contract was negotiated by noted NFL agent David Mulugheta, whose long list of clients includes Thomas.
Wagner said he decided after his last contract that he wanted to try to represent himself. He said it’s not because he has some goal to be an agent someday, just that he thinks it’s the best way for him to get the deal he wants.
“It was something I wanted to do for myself,’’ Wagner said. “It was something I always wanted to do, especially since my last contract. I wanted to venture off. It just so happened I saw other guys do it before I had a chance to do it, so it’s always been something I wanted to do. As you get into this business you learn a little bit more too. That played a role. Like I said, I would rather the stuff be told to me than a third party.”
Wagner is the third notable Seahawk to serve as his own agent, after Russell Okung and Richard Sherman. Neither signed a new deal with Seattle.
But Wagner noted Tuesday that each was also coming off a notable injury (Okung had shoulder surgery at the time and Sherman had suffered an Achilles injury).
“Every situation is different,’’ Wagner said. “So you pay attention to them, but we haven’t talked much about it. This has been my decision, and you know I learned from them, but they are not helping me with this. This is myself.’’
And if there might be some things Wagner will consult with others as he handles the process of getting a new contract, one thing that’s not in question is what he wants.
“I know my value,’’ he said. “Nobody has to tell me my value. I know my value, so no team, no person, no agent, can tell me my value, and I believe in myself. I bet on myself, and either way to me it’s a win. You get a contract, you win. You don’t, it’s a learning experience, so you win. A lot of people are not willing to take that chance. I am.’’