Bobby Wagner’s contract with the Seattle Seahawks ends after the 2019 season.
But don’t worry, Seahawks fans, the All-Pro middle linebacker is not likely to leave the Northwest.
He’s already expressed a desire to remain in Seattle, and as the undisputed leader of the Seahawks’ defense, there is no successor for coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider to move on with into the 2020s.
So, at some point, Wagner and the team are going to be talking about a new contract. And when they do, Wagner will be represented by … Bobby Wagner.
In the past year, Wagner dropped his agent. He decided to represent himself in talks with the Seahawks on a third contract.
He has retained legal and accounting help — “my team,” he calls them — to examine the intricate details and legal aspects of his next contract, but he will be the one doing the negotiating.
Wagner said he’s been talking to and learning from former Seahawks teammates Russell Okung and Richard Sherman about how to do represent himself in negotiations with an NFL team.
Wagner has been impressed with the deals Okung and Sherman negotiated for themselves. Even more than that, he likes the principle of a player taking the time to learn the business side of the sport to better himself now and for the decades after football.
Going without an agent in the NFL remains rare, and it has produced mixed results recently.
Okung, Seattle’s former left tackle, negotiated his own deals with Denver and then the Chargers since he left the Seahawks following the 2015 season. He was widely criticized for the deal he signed with the Broncos. Okung had a base salary of just $2 million for the 2016 season, with few guarantees and many option clauses. His deal had a team option for 2017 that would have triggered a four-year contract worth $48 million with $20.5 million guaranteed. After one season in which he played through injuries and had costly penalties, the Broncos decided not to pick up the option. He ended up earning a total of $8 million in cash for his one season in Denver, including the bonuses and incentives he negotiated.
Players across the league see the contract Okung negotiated with the Chargers as a shining success story of going the no-agent route, an enticing example of the money a guy can make and agent commissions he can save by representing himself.
He got a $53-million deal for four seasons, with $25 million guaranteed and a $10 million signing bonus. He has earned $13.5 million and $12.5 million in cash the first two years of his Chargers deal. His base salaries of $12 million in 2018, $13 million in 2019 and $13 million in 2020 are the highest in his career. His previous high was $8.76 million with the Seahawks in 2014.
Okung did that last year at age 29. That’s how old Wagner will be in June.
Sherman represented himself after the Seahawks waived him in March. He was 29 and coming off a torn Achilles tendon. Seattle let him go to avoid paying the $11 million Sherman was owed on his contract.
The next day, Sherman struck a deal with San Francisco. It was a bet on himself, with big bonuses for making the Pro Bowl, being an All-Pro and for playing time.
In 2018, Sherman was not an All-Pro. That cost him a $2 million bonus. For the second time in six years he didn’t get named to the Pro Bowl. That cost him a $1 million bonus. He missed out on another $1 million because he failed to play 90 percent of the 49ers’ defensive snaps (he played 77.9, according to the San Francisco Chronicle).
So Sherman missed out on $4 million in performance bonuses. He earned $8.8 million for 2018. That was 21st among NFL cornerbacks, according to overthecap.com. It was his lowest-earning year since 2013, when he was still under his rookie contract as the Seahawks’ fifth-round draft choice in 2011.
Yet the 49ers love Sherman. They have said they are going to pick up the option he negotiated with them for 2019. That will pay him $7 million in base salary in 2019 with the chance for $2 million more in per-game roster bonuses, which he also had this past season.
Wagner stands to get perhaps $70 million or more in his new deal, up from the $43 million he got from Seattle in the summer of 2015. Wagner last week was named All-Pro for the third consecutive season and fourth time in his seven-year career.
Carolina’s Luke Kuechley, the only other middle linebacker mentioned to be remotely in Wagner’s class, got $61.8 million in a five-year extension he signed with the Panthers a month after Wagner got his second deal in August 2015.
When will it be Wagner’s turn to see what he can get on his own from the Seahawks?
“Would I like to be taken care of before the (2019) season? That’d be great,” he said. “If I’m not, that wouldn’t be the end of the world. I understand this is a business, and I am prepared for anything that happens.
“So if they sign me before then, cool. If they don’t, cool, too.
“But, you know, I want to be here. This is where I want to be for my career. This is an amazing city, amazing fans, amazing organization. So I would love to be here.
“I’m going to make sure the business takes care of itself.”