INDIANAPOLIS — Bobby Wagner’s return to the Seattle Seahawks is growing more plausible.
Multiple league sources told The News Tribune at the NFL scouting combine Tuesday the Seahawks are keenly interested in re-signing the 32-year-old Wagner to play again in the middle of their defense in 2023.
The Los Angeles Rams reportedly have given the six-time All-Pro linebacker permission to talk to other teams about a new contract, in advance of the Rams releasing him and becoming a free agent.
A short-term deal for Wagner with Seattle could happen soon after the free agent market opens with the start of the new NFL year March 15.
It’s going to take a few things to happen between now and then — with the team, and with Wagner.
Seattle’s top priorities this offseason are to re-sign Pro Bowl quarterback Geno Smith plus fix its defensive front seven that ruined most of what Smith did in his record-breaking 2022 season.
Coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider said Tuesday in Indianapolis contract talks with Smith are “positive” and that the team is closer to re-signing him before he could test free agency in two weeks.
That leaves the defensive front seven needing rebuilt through the draft plus whatever salary-cap space the Seahawks have left. That is, after spending the bulk of their available $24.4 million in cap room on Smith’s seemingly imminent, multiyear contract.
“I mean, it has a lot to do with it. Obviously, it’s when you’re signing a quarterback, there’s a cap tag in there that definitely takes other things out of the mix,” Schneider said.
“But we know where we have to be in order to be able to field a championship team. And you want to…it’s two-fold, right? You want to max out everybody’s opportunities for themselves (financially), and then max out the opportunity for the organization at every position, especially these positions that you feel you need to improve on.”
Carroll and Schneider were coy Tuesday when asked specifically about Wagner.
They both cited the fact Wagner officially is still under contract with the Rams, for now. Los Angeles has yet to officially release him. That means Carroll and Schneider remain subject to the league’s anti-tampering rules that prohibit one team’s leaders from commenting publicly on a player under contract with another team.
“We can’t talk about that,” Carroll said off his press-conference podium at the Indiana Convention Center.
“But I love Bobby, you know. He’s meant the world to us and our program and he played particularly well against us (last season, for the Rams).
“So you know, we’ll see what happens. But right now, I can’t really talk about that.”
Inside linebacker — the spot Wagner became the best the Seahawks have ever had at the position from 2012 through 2021 — is of particular need for Seattle.
Jordyn Brooks replaced Wagner as the Seahawks’ defensive signal caller last season, after the team released Wagner to save $16.6 million in cap space for 2022. Brooks is out likely into the coming fall. He had surgery for an anterior cruciate ligament injury in his knee he sustained Jan. 1 in Seattle’s win over the New York Jets. Those injuries often take at least nine months of recovery time.
Cody Barton, the other starting inside linebacker in the Seahawks’ new 4-3 scheme last season, has an expired rookie contract. He appears headed into free agency in two weeks.
“Well, it does bring a sense of urgency, and we have to address it,” Carroll said. “There’s a number of guys in free agency, if we need to go that way.
“Cody had a good finish to the season for us and nice job. But there’s some there’s some opportunities, and some options. So we’re wide open.”
That includes with Wagner. He’s available and, perhaps, at the right price.
Turning 33 before next season, he’s likely to be willing to sign a short-term contract loaded with incentives. That would be at a far more cap-friendly charge than that $16 million he was to cost Seattle in 2022, the final year of his old Seahawks contract.
How low of a salary Wagner will accept to play in 2023 will be the issue of whether he returns.
The Rams signed Wagner to a back-loaded contract last offseason. It was technically for five years and up to $50 million, with a $5 million signing bonus and $20 million in guarantees. He had been scheduled for a base salary of $7.5 million for 2023. Los Angeles had been obligated to fully guarantee all of that amount on March 19. That deal came was when the Rams were defending Super Bowl champions.
Times have changed.
The Rams are coming off a 5-12 season. They need to rebuild. Wagner would have cost them $11 million in cash and $12.75 million in salary-cap space for 2023.
When he was last with the Seahawks, he was coming off a late-season knee injury at the end of the 2021 season. He was entering the final year of his three-year, $54 million contract. His cap charge had been scheduled to be $20.35 million in 2022, second only to Russell Wilson’s $37 million.
The Seahawks traded Wilson and decided to release Wagner on the same Tuesday last March.
Seahawks co-captain and defensive leader Quandre Diggs has not been shy displaying his desire to have Wagner back as a teammate for 2023.
“12’s let’s tag @Bwagz and let him know WE want him back,” Diggs posted online on his Twitter account last week, when the news broke Wagner and the Rams had reached a mutual agreement to part ways.
Wagner piqued the curiosity of Seahawks fans online when he responded to Diggs on his own Twitter account with emojis of two eyes, watching.
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