RENTON, Wash. - Is a standoff brewing?
Seattle middle linebacker Bobby Wagner reported to voluntary organized team activities this week but didn't participate in on-field drills with the rest of the team. The reason was simple. He doesn't have a new contract in place and has one year remaining on his current deal. No pay, no play.
"I will be here," Wagner said on Tuesday following the second of three practice sessions scheduled for this week. "That's my participation. I will be here helping the young guys, doing whatever I can. But yeah, I'll be here."
That's more than could be said for former Seattle safety Earl Thomas last offseason when he was nowhere to be found while holding out in the final year of his deal with no security. Thomas ultimately received the cash he sought from Baltimore this offseason so it all worked out for him in the end. But the standoff with Seattle at times became uncomfortable. Could the same situation go down between Wagner and the Seahawks? It's possible given that the team just doled out $140 million to quarterback Russell Wilson, traded away defensive end Frank Clark because he became too expensive and Wagner is representing himself while looking to break the bank with a new contract.
What could possibly go wrong?
But it's more than likely that both sides in this case will reach an agreement before negotiations turn sour.
All signs last season pointed toward Seattle being set on moving on from Thomas, which clearly angered him. Indicators exist now that Seattle has every intention of retaining Wagner, who will turn 29 in June. He is the clear leader of the defense with no successor in place. Plus, he is coming off of a fifth Pro Bowl season with no signs of slowing down.
Wagner, who is acting as his own agent, said discussions have taken place. He stated that he does not plan to participate in on-field activities until a new deal is in place, at least through organized team activities. He gave no indication as to whether or not that stance would continue into fall camp, which will start in late July.
"Obviously, I would like something to get done before the season," Wagner said. "We've had some communications so we know we have a plan and you've just got ot figure the plan out. I'm just being patient. I'm letting things happen..I'm not trying to turn this into some big drama thing."
Then he added: "It's a business. If it works out it does. If it doesn't, it's been cool."
That's not what anyone who wants Wagner in Seattle should want to hear. It wouldn't be "cool" at all if this doesn't work out because that would mean yet another member of Seattle's most recent Super Bowl teams would be out the door.
Wagner said any criticism of him for acting as his own agent is unwarranted. He pointed out that his last deal, which involved an agent, wasn't hammered out until August of 2015. That contract was for $43 million over four years. Wagner has taken the reigns this time because he said it's something he's always wanted to do and feels that nobody could serve him better than himself.
"At the end of the day me representing myself shouldn't be a big deal," he said. "They should look at it as any other deal."
However, one aspect of having representation is that the agent listens to any slights put forth by Seattle general manager John Schneider or coach Pete Carroll during negotiations rather than Wagner hearing the gory details about any misgivings they might have about him when it comes to writing check a big, fat check. In the end, it's all petty, but it's part of the process.
"There's a lot of people worried about them saying things and me being able to take criticism," Wagner said. "That's part of the game. You've got to be able to take criticism and at the end of the day you want the person to say something straight to your face about how they feel versus to somebody else. I don't need a third party."
A fair player comparison to Wagner would be former Baltimore inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, who this offseason received a five-year, $85 million deal from the New York Jets with $51 million in guarantees. Mosley, 26, has been to four Pro Bowls. Last year he had 105 tackles but has had a career-high of 151. Wagner recorded 138 tackles last season and has a career-high of 168.
Wagner likely wouldn't receive as much guaranteed money given the age difference but he should expect to receive in the neighborhood of the $17 million per season the Jets will pay Mosley. Wagner will make $10.5 million in base salary this season.
"The number's a number," Wagner said when asked if he expected a deal similar to Mosley's. "The market is the market. That's the top linebacker market. That's the standard. And that is the plan, to break that."
Break that? Oh, my!
That type of talk could lead to the back-and-forth between Wagner and the team to become dicey. Could you picture Wagner telling Schneider and Carroll that he is just as good if not better than Mosley while they tell him that he isn't as good as the Jets' linebacker and thus doesn't deserve equal compensation? That could become contentious in a hurry.
Carroll was asked about Wagner attending voluntary workout and he responded as expected, pointing out his middle linebacker's leadership skills and how much he has meant to the team over the years.
When asked about a new contract for Wagner, Carroll appeared to be optimistic.
"If you watched this as you have all throughout the off season, there's been a process of step by step and we're right in stride with the process," Carroll said. "Bobby's been great. Everything's going to come together in time. Everything's in order and we're in order of what we want to do and it feels very comfortable and very amicable and all of that. So everything's going just right."
Wagner doesn't need offseason on-field workouts to play well in the fall at this stage in his career. He vowed that he is working out everyday and that he will remain in shape and ready to go when the time comes. In the meantime, he will focus on being a leader to the defense.
"You want to send the right message," he said. "You want to be here to support the guys. I do feel like the quarterback of defense is pretty important so not having that piece would kind of put a damper on the defense. I just feel like it's important for our success and so I'm here."
Just not all the way there, yet. That's being worked out by his agent. Speaking of...could Wagner's venture into representing himself lead to a post-football career as a football agent?
"No," he said. "It's just the Bobby Wagner Agency and representing Bobby."
Seahawks fans should hope that this new agency is successful in keeping Bobby in Seattle.