RENTON — Bobby Wagner wants to stay forever. He wants to retire a Seattle Seahawk.
And he’s still only 27 years old.
“I would love to play my whole career here. I have thought about it,” the two-time All-Pro and four-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker told The News Tribune Friday, following practice for Sunday’s regular-season finale against Arizona.
“You see guys like Ray Lewis (a seven-time All-Pro who played his entire career with Baltimore) and Brian Urlacher (a former four-time All-Pro middle linebacker who also played only for one team, Chicago), guys who spent a long time with one team. You hope that it happens.
“But you understand that it’s a business. You can’t control what’s going to happen. But I would like to be here.”
Everything the Seahawks have done for and around Wagner suggest that may happen.
As Seattle’s famed “Legion of Boom” secondary of Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman fade injured and turning or approaching 30 years old with uncertain futures, Wagner and $87.6 million quarterback Russell Wilson are now undeniably the pillars of the franchise.
Beginning this offseason, which could begin as early as Monday, it appears the Seahawks will rebuild around Wilson on offense and Wagner on defense.
They gave Wagner a $43 million contract extension in the summer of 2015, making him at the time the richest middle linebacker in league history. That deal has two years and $20.5 million in total base salary remaining on it.
This month, he was voted to the Pro Bowl for the fourth time.
Wagner’s value has shown most when he hasn’t been in the middle of the defense. A pulled hamstring knocked him out of one game earlier this month and in the next limited him to maybe half his normal, extraordinary lateral and closing speed that usually has him taking away every area of the field from offenses.
Wagner left the Dec. 10 game at Jacksonville early in the third quarter. The Jaguars scored 27 of their 30 points and won in the quarter-plus Wagner was out.
The next week, in the season-turning game against the Los Angeles Rams for the NFC West championship, Wagner convinced the team’s medical staff to start him despite not practicing all that week. With him severely limited and fellow Pro Bowl outside linebacker K.J. Wright out with a concussion, Los Angeles’ Todd Gurley steamrolled the Seahawks for 144 yards and three touchdowns — in the first half. The Rams won 42-7, the worst loss of the Pete Carroll coaching era in Seattle.
Gurley had rushed for just 43 yards in October against the Seahawks, when Wagner and Wright were healthy and Seattle beat the Rams in L.A.
Seattle allowed 67 points and two 100-yard rushers in the next five quarters after Wagner pulled his hamstring this month.
“You can’t deny,” the impact Wagner has, Carroll said this week.
That was the day before Wagner’s teammates voted him to receive this year’s Steve Largent Award. The annual honor goes to the player who best exemplifies “the spirit, dedication, and integrity of the former Seahawks wide receiver and Hall of Fame inductee.”
Kam Chancellor was the 2016 recipient, winning it for the second time in three years. Wilson won the teammates’ vote at the end of his rookie season of 2012. Largent won the first award the Seahawks gave in his name, in 1989.
“It was an extreme honor. Definitely one I’ve had my eyes on winning, because of what it stands for,” Wagner said. “Being voted on by your peers, it kind of shows how they view you and see you and respect you. It’s a huge honor. I am very grateful.”
When asked about his obvious status as one of the franchise’s two foundational players now — Seattle drafted Wagner in the second round in 2012, one round before the team selected Wilson in the same draft — Wagner thought for a moment.
“I mean, it’s more of an outside thing,” he said. “I feel like I kind of view myself that way, already. But that’s just the confidence that I have in myself. Obviously, it just shows the growth. It shows that people see the growth as a person, leader.
Sunday’s could be the last game of Seattle’s season. It would be the first of Wagner’s six NFL seasons — all with the Seahawks — that he didn’t play in the postseason.
Not that missing the playoffs would be Wagner’s fault. The only thing he’s done wrong all season — in many seasons — is get hurt.
Otherwise, he’s done it all.
“He is doing everything he can,” Carroll said. “Everything he can possibly do, he’s doing it.”
Illness in locker room
The Seahawks’ latest, potentially last challenge of this tasking season: a virus spreading through the locker room.
Three-time All-Pro Thomas and running back Eddie Lacy were the latest players quarantined by the team Friday, sent home and missing practice after getting sick. Two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Bennett and reserve offensive lineman Matt Tobin had that happen to them on Thursday.
Seattle’s good news: None of those sick four are on the official injury report for Sunday’s game.
“Earl got sick. Had to get him out of here,” Carroll said following Friday’s light workout indoors.
“You quarantine the guys that are sick. We send them home.”
Also not on the injury report: Wagner. Wagner started again last weekend in the Christmas Eve victory at Dallas, but still wasn’t at full speed.
“He is in good shape. He is ready to go,” Carroll said. “We did it the right way to get him through the week where this is the best he’s been. Like I said last week, he is better again. So we are in good shape.”
Last weekend, Wagner was beaten to the outside one on one in the open field by Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott. That doesn’t happen when Wagner’s legs are fully healthy and he’s at full speed.
“He’s got a little bit more. He’s got a little bit more to go. Yes, he is not quite to full speed,” Carroll said of Wagner to get to full health.
“We will see if he is this week. He is doing everything he can. Everything he can possibly do, he’s doing it.”
Left guard Luke Joeckel is listed as questionable with a foot injury he got in Dallas, but Carroll said Joeckel is “fine” and ready to start again against Arizona.
Luke Willson and Nick Vannett, the tight ends behind starter Jimmy Graham, are questionable. Willson turned his ankle in practice Thursday.
“It’s a minor sprain. We will see what happens,” Carroll said. “We got to give him a day here and we will see what happens on game day.”
The team added Vannett to the report as questionable with a back injury later Friday afternoon.
The Seahawks (9-6) need a New Year’s Eve win over the Cardinals (7-8) plus a victory by Carolina (11-4 and already in the playoffs) at Atlanta (9-6) at the same time on Sunday to advance to the postseason for the sixth consecutive January.
“Here we go. New Year’s Eve. A big, big matchup,” Carroll said. “It feels like a championship game. It felt like a championship preparation. Really excited to go out and play really well for the 12s at CenturyLink. Everybody is pumped up for it.
“You can tell these guys are jacked up and looking forward to it.”