Signing a lucrative third contract with the Seahawks was a victory for Bobby Wagner. Not so much because of the millions that the middle linebacker will earn over the course of this deal, but rather because of the fact that, a decade ago, he thought he was done playing football.
After his freshman year at Utah State, Wagner's mother, Phenia, passed away following a heart attack, and Wagner was ready to return to Ontario, California to be closer to family. Ultimately, however, it was his mother's wishes for Wagner to finish what he started that kept Wagner at Utah State, and kept him on the path towards becoming one of the best—and yes, best compensated—linebackers in football.
"I won," Wagner said. "Not even from the numbers perspective. Back when my mom passed, I thought about quitting football. I didn't want to play no more. So for me to be in this position on my third contract, something that statistically nobody gets to do, I'm grateful, I'm humbled, I'm blessed, and there's nothing that anybody can say to me that's going to take that away from me."
Asked how serious he was about walking away from football back in 2009, Wagner said, "I was very serious. I lost my mom—that was my support system at the time. I had my family. I was in Utah at the time. I don't know if anybody's been to Utah, but it's really a culture shock. I was out there by myself. At the time all my family was living in the same house. It's like you've got 11 people over here and this person over here. You felt like you were by yourself. I wanted to move back home but she didn't want me to move back home. She wanted me to finish what I started, so I gave her my word I would finish what I started. Looking at it today I think she would be proud. And I'm not done yet."
That "not done yet" part is of course why the Seahawks want to keep Wagner around for years to come. And it's not just Wagner's incredibly high level of on-field production that makes him worth investing in; it's also what he has meant to the team from a leadership standpoint and in the community over the past seven seasons.
"He has been such a treasure in so many ways," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "He has meant so much to our franchise, been an extraordinary player on the field, always, been a great competitor, been just tough as nails to always show up and always be there for us. Better than that, he's a great guy to have on your club and to represent your franchise, and if a guy is going to get paid, you want it to be a guy like this. He just stands for so much positive, so much good. I know our fans love him, and he loves being here. He'd like to spend the rest of his career here—I don't think he wants to move out of the area, all that. He has really bought into representing the Northwest. It's fantastic to get that done, it's a big boost to us."
One of the more interesting elements of Wagner's contract negotiation was that he served as his own agent, something that could have potentially caused problems between Wagner and the team given how contentious contract negotiations can be in some cases. That wasn't the case in this instance of a player representing himself, however.
"I don't think every guy can do it," Carroll said. "I think you have to have your wits about you in many ways. There are difficult conversations to have. I know John (Schneider), at the outset, tried to lay that out so that we could have a clear avenue to get to the truth, and then we get to the essence of things, and they just handled it really well. Everybody was very resilient, so we came to a great solution.
"He's so clear about who he is and what he represents that it's not hard for him to stay on track. He just knows himself so well and somewhere along the way of the self-discovery process that he went through has made it really clear for him and he's just been rock-solid consistent in all phases, and all aspects of everything that he does. He's a beautiful illustration and example of what you want a young man to be like."
Wagner, who counts Michael Jordan as the people he could turn to for advice in the process of representing himself, said that decision was not made because he has anything against agents, but rather because he wanted to challenge himself in an off-field endeavor because he knows his on-field career can't last forever.
"For me, it was just about education," Wagner said. "It was about thinking about life after football, because this is not going to last forever, and so I wanted to challenge myself in something other than football. I felt like this was something I wanted to do, something that I've kind of been preparing for for a long time, and I just wanted to challenge myself. Fortunately for me, I got to watch a couple guys do it before me and learn from what they did. But this was really just about challenging myself and showing players that it's an option. For me, it wasn't about agents and all that stuff. It was about challenging myself and showing players that there's another option, showing players that no matter what you do, whether you have an agent or you don't have an agent, it's really about educating yourself, educating yourself in the business that you perform in."
And with that process now in the rearview mirror, Wagner can shift his full attention back to football and to helping the Seahawks defense reach what he sees as its pretty high potential.
"I think it's awesome," Wagner said of Seattle's potential on defense. "Especially at the linebacker position, I feel like we've got really good depth. Everybody at the linebacker position is balling. I'm not trying to just be biased because the linebackers are dope, but I just feel like we have great depth at the linebacker position, we have a really, really good front, and a lot of the secondary, last year was their first year playing, so they were kind of just getting their feet wet. But now they have something under their belts, they know what to expect, and they had the chance to study the plays all offseason, so they're not coming in trying to figure out the league. Now they have a little bit of a taste of the league, and they know that you've got really, really good vets who give knowledge away. So you put all that together, I feel like we can be a really good bunch."
Photos from the third open practice of Seahawks 2019 training camp, presented by Safeway held on Sunday, July 28 at Renton's Virginia Mason Athletic Center