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'They know that I'm a baller': Will K.J. Wright start second decade with Seattle Seahawks?

K.J. Wright, seated, was the only defensive player in the NFL to register double-digit tackles for loss and passes defensed in 2020. Ross D. Franklin/AP
RENTON, Wash. -- K.J. Wright wants to stay with the Seattle Seahawks but enters the offseason not knowing if he will.
That's a story you've read before.
Twice, actually.
That was the situation this time two years ago, after Wright missed 11 games with a knee injury in a contract season.
And again last year, when he had bounced back with a career season in 2019 but wasn't a lock to return due to a $10 million cap number and a shoulder injury that would require surgery.
New year, similar uncertainty as the longest-tenured Seahawk heads back towards free agency after playing some of his best football at age 31. What made 2020 different from 2019 is that Wright did so at strong-side linebacker after an early-season move from his more familiar weak-side spot.
The strong side is what he'll play again if he's back for an 11th season with Seattle.
"When we put him back outside, he had a great year," coach Pete Carroll said. "He was a factor all year long in the running game, in the passing game, so many timely plays he made. He had a terrific season. He had maybe his best season. So I'm hoping he's coming back and playing for us and we've got a real clear-cut role for him. It doesn't matter how old he is, how many numbers he's got. It's how he plays and he played really good."
In Carroll's 4-3 defense, the strong-side linebacker (SAM) plays on the outside and often on the line of scrimmage, where his job is to set the edge. That means he's less free to run to the ball than the weak-side (WILL) or middle (MIKE) linebacker, who play inside the formation and off the line.
That's part of the reason why Wright was initially unhappy when defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. approached him about moving over after Bruce Irvin tore his ACL in Week 2.
And it might explain why Wright's tackles dropped from a career-best 132 in 2019 to 86 while playing in all 16 games each season. But his 11 tackles for loss and 10 passes defensed in 2020 were each the second-best of his career. He was the only player in the NFL with double digits in both. Wright also had a pair of sacks and an interception.
Two of his passes defensed came in the Seahawks' NFC West-clinching win Week 16, when his work on the edge helped neutralize the Los Angeles Rams' bootleg passing game as effectively as Seattle's defense has in four seasons against Sean McVay.

 

K.J. Wright has played 10 seasons with the Seahawks since being selected by Seattle in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL draft. Kiyoshi Mio/Icon Sportswire
"This season was everything that I hoped it would be," Wright said. "... I was balling, just looking good, making plays all over the field and it felt really, really good because a lot of people counted me out, a lot of people doubted that I could do it, and I proved to myself how good I am, I proved to the whole world how good I am."
After signing his two-year deal in 2019, Wright's plan was to play his 10th NFL season, then see what he wanted to do next.
"I got to 10, and 10 looked really good," he said. "So, OK, let's keep looking good. I'm having fun, I love this city, I love this team, so let's make it happen."
As always, general manager John Schneider and Carroll will factor in Wright's intangibles when determining how far to go to re-sign him. As always, they'll have other players to pay. They're hoping to extend strong safety Jamal Adams this offseason, but it could take a record-setting amount of money to do so. Cornerback Shaquill Griffin and running back Chris Carson are two other free agents who could command big deals.
Wright wants a deal commensurate with his recent production, according to a report from Josina Anderson. Translation: he's not interested in giving the Seahawks a discount from what other teams might offer him on the open market. Wright made $6.75 million per season on his 2014 extension and $7.75 million APY on his 2019 deal, which he maxed out by hitting a playing-time escalator for appearing in every game.
Here's where it could get tricky.
The Seahawks kept Wright on the field with Bobby Wagner in nickel situations this season, as they've traditionally done. That meant subbing out first-round pick Jordyn Brooks. Wright averaged 62 snaps per game (86% overall), according to Pro Football Reference. That was twice as many as Brooks did in 11 full games as a starter once he took over on the weak side.
The Seahawks' coaching staff valued Wright's experience over Brooks' speed and stuck with the veteran on third down. But they didn't draft Brooks No. 27 overall to keep him on the sideline for more than half of their defensive plays. If they want to play Brooks more in Year 2, that would come at Wright's expense and could impact how much they're willing to pay him.
"That's up to Pete and John," Wright said of his prospects for returning in 2021. "They know how much I mean to this team. They know that I'm a baller, they know I'm a great teammate, a great leader and it would be a great investment -- in my opinion -- if they invest in K.J. and to bring him back into the building. You get what you pay for and I bring a lot to the table still."
Wagner and Wright, the last men standing from Seattle's Legion of Boom-era defense, are respectively first and third in tackles in franchise history. Wagner has said more than once he wants them to end their careers atop that list. By the team's count, Wright is only 50 tackles behind Eugene Robinson for second place, so another season with Seattle and Wagner could have his wish.
"I think what he's been able to do has been extremely impressive," Wagner said. "I think he had a pretty crazy injury [in 2018], then to come back to have one of his best seasons and then to play even better the following year with his position change, things like that, I think it just shows his versatility, it shows how smart he is, it shows how much he cares about everybody in the building. He's just a great person, a great leader and definitely feel like he's somebody that needs to be back next year, and I look forward to seeing him back."
 

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