Seahawks’ Deal With Wagner Shows They’ve Solved the NFL’s Biggest Problem

When Russell Wilson signed his new $21.9 million a year contract, not everybody was over the moon about it. Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner assumed that Wilson’s new riches would cost him a spot with the team, sending him into the free agent market next offseason.

It turns out he was wrong.

What the Seahawks were doing is taking care of Wilson first and on Monday Wagner got the deal he wanted all along, a four-year extension worth $43 million with a $22 million signing bonus. Wagner is, as of right now, the highest-paid linebacker in the league.

Just this offseason the Seahawks not only worked out new deals for Wilson and Wagner, but also running back Marshawn Lynch and brought in tight end Jimmy Graham’s contract in a trade too.

Where are the Seahawks getting all this money?

Well, the thing is up until this year, they’ve barely spent any.

From the outside looking in you could think the Seahawks are making tough choices and sacrificing the ability to re-sign the next slew of players with expiring contracts and you’re right. The thing you need to realize is, the Seahawks do not care about that.

The team knows who their lynchpin players are; Wilson, Lynch, Wagner, Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. None of those guys can be easily replaced in the draft or via free agency And the only one of those guys without a new contract right now is Chancellor and don’t be surprised to see that one announced any day.

Everyone else on the Seahawks roster, down to a man, is replaceable and the team is making no secrets about that. Defensive end Michael Bennett isn’t going to get the contract he wants, because he’s not an elite pass rusher. They can plug anybody else in that spot and get the same production out of him. Can you say the same about Sherman? Lynch? No.

This is a fundamentally different way of doing NFL business and it’s the reason the Seahawks are going to stay good for a long time. You don’t haggle and piss off your stars, because players like Wagner and Thomas don’t come along every year. A guy like Cliff Avril or Brandon Mabane and even Russell Okung does. That’s why you can let them walk.

It’s the NFL’s version of “Moneyball” and it comes with its own rules. Identify the players you can’t replace and make sure you never have to replace them. Everybody else is considered spare parts.

If other teams worked this way, you’d never get a free agent like Derrelle Revis or DeMarco Murray hitting the market. The Cowboys couldn’t come up with $6 million to keep Murray on the roster? They’re paying Sean Lee 5.4 million and he hasn’t played football in two seasons. You don’t waste money on damaged goods. You don’t waste money on players you don’t need. If you can’t afford a luxury like Jimmy Graham, then don’t make the deal. It’s as simple as that.

What you sacrifice when you play this way is significant depth, but no one should care about that. You do your best in the draft, you sign the free agents that you need at the price you want and you take your chances. If Wilson, Lynch or Sherman get hurt this season, their Super Bowl chances go down the tubes anyway, so why pretend otherwise? Why nickel and dime a guy like Bobby Wagner because you feel like you need a back up that plays close to his level? You don’t. You need Bobby Wagner. So pay the man his money and worry about the journeyman, the back-ups and the practice squad later.

Teams like the San Diego Chargers and the Chicago Bears should learn from this. Each of those have key free agents coming up in 2016 and each will try to lowball them. In the case of the Chargers and safety Eric Weddle, they’ve all but guaranteed they’ll lose him by not negotiating an extension this offseason. The Bears are actually letting Matt Forte play out the final year of his contract in defiance of all sense. Is it worth keeping Danny Woodhead and Donald Butler to lose Weddle, Chargers? And for the Bears, is keeping Jimmy Clausen and Jonathan Bostic worth losing Forte to free agency when $8 million a year will sign him for life?

There’s a reason the Seahawks have made two straight Super Bowls and are the favorite to make it three. The rest of the NFL needs to take the lesson.

About Adam Greene

Adam Greene is a writer and photographer based out of East Tennessee. His work has appeared in USA Today, the Associated Press, the Chicago Cubs Vineline Magazine, and many other publications.

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