RENTON — Seattle Seahawks middle linebacker Bobby Wagner was named as the NFC’s Defensive Player of the Week on Wednesday, an award he somehow has never won before.
But there was no way he wasn’t winning it this week after a highlight-loaded gem of a game against the 49ers on Sunday in which he returned an interception 98 yards for a touchdown, forced and recovered a fumble at Seattle’s 5-yard-line, stopped a San Francisco two-point attempt and had a sack.
“You can’t talk about this game unless you talk about Bobby Wagner,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said afterward. “He just had a phenomenal game. There’s not many more things the guy could do.”
That’s pretty much been the case all season as Wagner has been ranked as the best linebacker in the NFL almost all year by Pro Football Focus (he is No. 1 again this week).
In fact, PFF’s metrics portray Wagner as being about as consistent and well-rounded of a linebacker as is possible.
He has finished with a top-10 grade among all linebackers in five of 11 weeks (he missed one game, against Chicago). Wagner also ranks first among the 95 linebackers with enough snaps to be graded in pass coverage, run defense and pass rushing. He also ranks first in forced incompletions among linebackers with seven and first in coverage snaps per receptions allowed (11.7), and according to PFF also hasn’t missed a tackle all season.
If you prefer conventional stats, Wagner is good there, too — he ranks eighth in the NFL in tackles with 99, despite missing one game, and he is ninth in the NFL in passes defensed with 11, the most of any linebacker.
“I really think it’s extraordinary when guys continue to be really good,” Carroll said of Wagner, now in his seventh season after entering the league as a second-round pick in 2012. “It’s not that it has to be better than or have some other things happen that have never happened before — although it did. It’s just that they continue to be great. That’s really the mark of a great competitor and a great player and performer and all that, not just show once in a while that they can. He’s been so solidly consistent and I think it’s the consistency at the top of his game that is just remarkable.”
None of that will likely get Wagner real consideration for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. It seems hard to figure at this point that award won’t go to Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams, who has an astonishing 16.5 sacks, four more than anyone else despite playing defensive tackle.
But Wagner is undoubtedly on track for his fifth Pro Bowl invite (which would also be his fifth in a row) as well as a fifth straight Associated Press All-Pro honor (he was first team in 2014, 2016 and 2017 and second team in 2015).
And all of those stats and potential awards also spotlight a decision Seattle will have to make this offseason that has maybe gone a little under the radar — whether, and for home much and how long, to extend Wagner.
Like quarterback Russell Wilson — whose contract status has already been the subject of much debate — Wagner’s deal runs out following the 2019 season. He signed a four-year, $43 million deal in 2015, the day after Wilson signed a four-year extension.
Seattle’s usual routine during the Carroll era before this season had been to re-sign its core players before they enter the final year of their contracts. But things have changed over the past 12 months or so as the team has gotten older, with Seattle willing to move on from aging defensive players, and also making it clear that they view third contracts differently than they do second contracts.
As the Earl Thomas situation showed, the Seahawks were willing to let one of the team’s longtime core players, and a likely future Hall of Famer, play out his deal and see what happens.
Seattle isn’t likely to want to do that with Wilson, though there has already been some conjecture that the franchise tag could come into play (though it’s worth remembering that the team’s ownership situation is also in flux following the death of Paul Allen in October, and while the assumption is everything will be run business as usual until there is a sale, that uncertainty is at least a factor to consider, especially when it comes to really significant contracts).
Whether the Seahawks view Wagner as similarly indispensable as they surely do Wilson figures to be revealed with their actions this offseason.
Certainly, the role Wagner plays on defense could mean they consider him more indispensable than they did some of the vets they have let walk the past year.
The middle linebacker is the de facto quarterback of the defense, entrusted with relaying the calls from the sidelines and making sure the defense is set properly.
That’s something that has been more of a challenge for Wagner this season since he has usually had to play without longtime trusted confidant K.J. Wright at weakside linebacker. Recall that Wagner said during training camp he wanted to finish his career with Seattle, but was watching to see how the team would handle Wright’s situation.
Wright is entering the final year of his contract, and there was no sign the team was talking to him about an extension before the season, and before he then suffered a knee injury that required surgery and has caused him to miss nine games so far. That, combined with Wright’s age (he’ll be 30 before next season) might mean the team doesn’t have Wright in its plans.
As for Wagner, even if the future may be a little cloudy, his present is more well-defined than ever as the unquestioned leader of the defense in the wake of the departure of so many strong personalities from the past few seasons, and having proven he can work equally well despite now being in the middle of a defense with a lot of new faces.
“His voice is bigger than ever and he’s taken to it,” Carroll said Monday. “He’s embellished the role to become — he’s really the voice of our guys. He’s done a great job with handling that and he doesn’t look like he’s all by himself. He doesn’t look all lonely and stuff because the other guys aren’t there. He doesn’t act like that at all. He’s been very much a part of all of the newness that’s there and been a really great voice for the guys, not just in the rah-rah type of stuff, but just in how consistent he is and he performs. We’re able to hold him up to a standard the other guys say ‘this is what it takes’ and ‘this is what you can expect if you want to be a great player, it’s going to look like this’ and he’s having a great year.”