Systematically, the Seahawks have been crossing items off their “to-do” list, until now just one more major task stands between them and a nearly flawless offseason.
Granted, it’s a biggie: Work out a contract extension for All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner. And, preferably, do it before training camp starts in July.
It won’t be easy. Fellow linebacker C.J. Mosley assured that when he signed his out-of-whack extension (five years for a maximum $85 million, with $51 million guaranteed) with the Jets. That contract took the market in a direction that dismayed the Seahawks — and delighted Wagner’s agent.
Oh, yeah, that happens to be Wagner himself, and player-directed negotiations are always a dicey proposition.
But here’s the good news: Wagner wants to make a deal, or at least it appears so. The Seahawks want to make a deal.
The Seahawks have the financial wherewithal and salary-cap flexibility to make a deal.
So, barring unreasonableness and/or hardheadedness that would be uncharacteristic on either side, a deal will get done.
A deal must get done.
OK, technically, it doesn’t have to get done. Wagner does, after all, have another year left on his contract, and he has not given any indication of a holdout. Quite the opposite — Wagner showed up for the optional OTAs, when he could have easily stayed away. No, he didn’t practice, but under the circumstances, it was a gesture of good faith and leadership.
But after working out Russell Wilson’s new deal in mid-April, it would be symbolic for the Seahawks to lock up “the quarterback of the defense,” as Wagner (correctly) referred to himself.
And not only symbolic — with such a vast turnover of core players in recent years, the Seahawks have a vital need for the savvy institutional knowledge, and still-ferocious tackling ability, of Wagner.
Pete Carroll called the relationship with Wagner in regards to negotiations “amicable,” which is always a great place to start. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to remain that way, despite all the best intentions.
Wagner the agent may have a desire to stay above the fray, but his client is an athlete. The same competitive drive that has fueled him to five Pro Bowls will eventually work its way into negotiations. They already have, in fact, with Wagner’s statement that he expects to beat Mosley’s deal.
That’s the way great players in all sports view contract negotiations, in my experience. If someone whom you are convinced you’re better than — and virtually every NFL observer would agree that Wagner is a superior player to Mosley — gets a new contract, you want to exceed that number. It can become an obsession.
It’s why athletes feel they’ve been done wrong and express righteous indignation while making exorbitant salaries. That paradox has a tendency to alienate fans. But at its core, it’s not about the money, per se. It’s about comparative value. It’s about pride and perception and self-worth.
So, yes, the potential for acrimony always exists. That’s why the Seahawks have to reconcile themselves, and quickly, to the fact that the Mosley number is the new standard.
Mosley’s deal might be an outlier, and the Jets may have been foolish for giving it to him. Instead of moving the market forward incrementally, he pushed it ahead exponentially. According to Spotrac, his $85-million total is the highest for an inside linebacker by a whopping $23 million. His $51 million in guarantees ranks first by $17 million.
And his $17 million annual average is $3.5 million ahead of the next player (Kwon Alexander).
It’s off-kilter. It’s a head-shaker. But like it or not, it established the marketplace, and the Seahawks are going to have to somehow beat it.
There’s nuance to that — they can beat the annual average without giving Wagner, who is two years older than Mosley, the same length of contract. That’s where reasonable minds have to come together — and hopefully do so before players disperse after minicamps in mid-June.
The Seahawks have been resolute in pushing sentiment aside in their decisions about who to move forward with. As I wrote earlier, you have to be ruthless sometimes, especially as age creeps in.
But there are times to tweak that mindset. Sure, it would be a risk to give such a lucrative contract to a nearly 30-year-old linebacker with so much mileage. The only thing riskier, in fact, would be to not do so.
Wagner is a transcendent player. When he plays, the Seahawks win, at a tremendous rate — the statistics back that up. And Wagner almost always plays — at least 90 percent of Seattle’s defensive snaps over the past four seasons.
Carroll last year called Wagner “a perfect Seahawk.” It’s a good time to bring him one step closer to being a lifetime Seahawk.