Every sports fan operating off more than his or her medulla oblongata knows that a professional athlete’s prime time — except for golfers, bowlers and good quarterbacks — is short. But that truth stands little chance against the tsunami of sentiment that follows career’s end for a beloved local hero.
Seahawks fans in particular have had a steady weepfest over the departures of Marshawn Lynch, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, and most recently, Doug Baldwin. Even Jon Ryan, a punter, fercripesakes, was lamented in the manner of a long-lived parrot now pushing up daisies.
For all the obvious reasons, attrition in football is particularly odious. Yet it often startles more casual fans when they learn that just three Seahawks remain from the Super Bowl teams — quarterback Russell Wilson and linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright. The Patriots, whom the Seahawks met in the 2015 Game That Shall Not Be Uttered, started the 2018 season with 12 holdovers.
The casualty rate surprises even Wright. More surprising than that? He’s the perambulating contradiction.
“I didn’t see it happening,” Wright said Wednesday after practice. “I thought I’d be in a different-colored jersey.”
In 2018, the final year of his contract, Wright made no public attempt to extort the team for a contract extension, which at the time seemed to have worked out poorly.
A knee problem needing arthroscopic surgery kept Wright out the first six games. After a three-game return, he sat out two more weeks, before coming back for the final two games and the playoff loss at Dallas.
“Soon as I knew it was surgery, I was like, ‘Dang, this is not very good,’ ” he said. “Contract-year surgery, (playing) five games — all those signs saying, ‘Thank you for your services, gotta move on.’”
Yet shortly after free agency began, the Seahawks offered him a two-year, $15 million deal, although only the $8 million for 2019 is guaranteed.
For a guy who will be 30 in July and coming off a bum knee, that’s a handsome chunk. What happened?
“They love me here,” he told reporters, who erupted in laughter.
In the ruthless world of pro ball, love is not a concept taken seriously when it comes to money. But if it were ever to slip into the consciousness of general manager John Schneider, Wright would be the guy to have inspired it.
“I’m glad they love me,” he said. “They know what I bring to the table. I’m still a helluva linebacker making plays all over the field.
“There was a community effort — media, people in the building, fans — really pushing for me. Everybody was making it happen.”
While it’s true Wright is among the team’s most popular players, in-house and out-house, there was a more practical consideration. The Seahawks in 2018 were mediocre defensively, and Wright’s limited play was only a part of it. His return to health means one less position to worry about in the first full season without any members of the Legion of Boom, and minus top pass rusher Frank Clark.
On defense, the Seahawks have many question marks. Healthy, Wright is an exclamation point.
Or, as defensive coordinator Ken Norton put it pithily Wednesday, “His game film speaks for itself.”
In eight years, Wright, a fourth-round pick in 2011 from Mississippi State, has been a rock, a Scottie Pippen to Wagner’s Michael Jordan. He is replaced neither quickly nor easily, and is needed immediately.
“This is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business,” he said. “They don’t care about the past eight years; it’s what can you do for us going forward.
“Last year really put things in perspective for me — approach every game and practice with gratitude and thankfulness. You never know when something may happen. Could be your last play. Just have fun, enjoy it, and don’t sweat the small stuff.”
For now, during the padless practices of organized team activities, his task is to mentor his drafted successors — third-rounder Cody Barton of Utah and fifth-rounder Ben Burr-Kirven of Washington.
Wright praised both for their football intelligence.
“They picked up the playbook fast,” he said, drawing out the last word. “I was telling BBK about this formation (for D-line stunts), and he, like, took the words out of my mouth. I’ve never seen rookie linebackers like this.”
The coaching is a vital role for a linebacker who is 30, which is 40 in real life. And it’s representative of why the Seahawks felt another contract was worth the risk.
“Somebody told me I was the longest-tenured Seahawk,” he said. “It’s a blessing and an honor being with one program your whole career. It’s fun being in this position.”
As any survivor will tell you, any position beats the alternative. Health willing, Wright has a shot in his likely final season to own his place, running backs, and fans’ hearts all at once.
Art Thiel is co-founder of sportspressnw.com