Bobby Wagner's decade-long tenure with the Seahawks didn't end the way he would have hoped. A future Hall of Famer, Wagner was released last offseason in a salary-cap related move, and as he expressed on Twitter afterwards, he also didn't like how he found out about the news, a miscommunication that general manager John Schneider later apologized for.
Jarran Reed, who spent five seasons in Seattle, was released two years ago, also for salary cap reasons, after he and the Seahawks couldn't agree to a restructured deal.
And yet, heading into the 2023 season, both are back with the Seahawks, any hard feelings left in the past, as a pair of key offseason additions who are expected to improve Seattle's defense this season, with both players referring to the Seahawks as home.
"I never really wanted to leave in the first place," Wagner said on Wednesday. "Obviously, business happened, and I had an opportunity to go play in the city I grew up in, and so I thought that was cool. And then I want to come back to the city I kind of matured in. For me, it was cool to be able to make that happen. Me being able to represent myself, I always thought it was cool when you had those agents out there that were able to get the player what he wanted, so I wanted to be home, and this was another home of mine, and I wanted to be back."
After he signed last month, Reed said, "This is home for me. I was drafted here, I played here for five years. I've been gone for a little bit, but now I'm back… It's family-oriented here. There's no place like home, and Seattle's definitely home for me."
Reed and Wagner aren't the first players to return to the Seahawks after playing elsewhere, but those two signings do help illustrate how the culture that Pete Carroll and John Schneider have built in Seattle. Because Carroll believes so strongly in having a relationship-based organization, he and just about everyone who is around players builds a connection that's rare in the NFL, and those relationships are strong enough to survive a few bumps in the road.
"We're a relationship-based organization," Carroll said last year. "It's all based on dealing with people and seeing them for who they are, trying to help them feel really comfortable in our environment. It's being conscious of really individualized evaluations and assessment, and caring—it has a tremendous amount to do with caring. We realize if we care for people and look after them, like you look after your children, then you're going to give them their best chance to be as good as they can be.
"It's based on relationships, but it's really understanding how valuable it is to truly care for people, then making the environment as good as you can for them to challenge them as much as you can, having the highest of expectations for them, and going wherever you've got to go. Because if you really love somebody, you'll do whatever it takes to protect them, that's basically where it goes."
As Carroll notes, building those relationships helps players perform at their best, so his approach isn't an altruistic one that ignores winning—he truly believes his teams will perform better if he connects with players in this manner. But while helping players be at their best, on and off the field, is the primary goal, another side of that approach is that it leaves a lasting impression on players, one that can overcome some short-term hurt feelings.
No, Wagner wasn't thrilled with how things went down last spring, but he's happy to be back. And no, Reed wasn't willing to agree to a restructured deal in 2021, instead taking his chances in free agency, eventually signing with Kansas City. But their years-long experience with the Seahawks was more meaningful than those endings were hurtful.
Richard Sherman, a man known in his playing days for taking any slight, real or perceived, and using it for fuel, was released by the team in 2018 while he was still recovering from a torn Achilles. If anyone figured to hold a lifelong grudge against his former team over that type of ending, it would be Sherman, yet there he was last year during training camp, working with cornerbacks, and particularly rookie Tariq Woolen, who went on to lead the NFL in interceptions and earn Pro-Bowl honors. And Michael Bennett, who was traded to the Eagles in 2018, was back with the organization last year using his wit and football insight to liven up the Seahawks preseason broadcast.
Few would have thought Marshawn Lynch, an all-time great Seahawk, but a player who sometimes clashed with Carroll and Schneider, would have ever returned, yet he did late in the 2019 season, and he has since been something of an unofficial ambassador for the Seahawks and Seattle sports as a whole, traveling to Munich for what ended up being a hilarious video series; taking part in an ad campaign for the Sounders' Champions League run last year; throwing out the first pitch at the Mariners opener; and just being an occasional visitor to the building.
Carroll has long taken pride in the way players stay connected with the team long after they're done playing, with so many former players staying in the area and close to the organization, including Doug Baldwin, Cliff Avril, Kam Chancellor, Sherman to name a few. But as the signings of Wagner and Reed illustrate, current players also feel the draw of the program Carroll and Schneider have built, even those who at one point may have been unhappy with that pair over a business decision.
"When you do what we do the way we do it, you invest," Carroll said at the NFL Annual Meeting. "You invest in yourself personally. And if our guys are going to do it right, they have to do that, too. And I'm calling for it and I would expect they should call on me to do the same. So what happens is you invest your time and your heart and your love for them, and you create a relationship, a real relationship, and that's what you're seeing. And if it's a real relationship where you really care about people, then there's going to be some ups and downs and some ins and outs and all, but if you really care, you'll be there at the end of it, and here's another example."
And as Schneider notes, the appeal of playing in Seattle has to do with a lot more people than just himself and Carroll, no matter how big of a hand they have in things.
"I think it's an awesome reflection of the culture that we've been able to establish here, and an even stronger reflection on support staff," Schneider said last week at the NFL Annual Meeting. "Guys like Dave (Pearson, chief communications officer) and Stu (McNabb, head chef) up in the kitchen, and EK (director of equipment Erik Kennedy) and Mo (Kelly, vice president of player engagement) and Sam (Ramsden, VP of health and player performance), the guys in video. The players feel like they're well taken care of; they have a legit support group. They miss when guys aren't here, they do miss going into EK's office and hanging out on his couches, or going into Mo's office and chopping it up with those guys. Coming in in the morning and Stu knows exactly what all of us would have for breakfast, all set for them and everything. I think it's pretty cool."
And in small part because of that culture so many people have had a hand in creating, Wagner is back with the Seahawks a year after leaving not on his own terms.
"Just the culture, the relationships that I've built over the years within the organization, outside of the organization, and just the love that I have for the city," Wagner said when asked about wanting to come back. "I just think that it was something that I wanted to get done, something I wanted to have happen. I've been around for a long time, so I saw guys leave this place and I also saw opportunities for guys like Marshawn who was able to come back. Sherm almost came back in different situations, so I just thought it was the right fit for me and the right fit for my family.
"I think it starts with Pete. I think it starts with him, his leadership, the way that he brings the best out of people, I think that's it. But then just the community not only inside the building, but outside the building. I mean, the fans are the best fans in the world, and they are behind you 100 percent. So just the whole thing, the players, the coaches, the energy, the vibe, kind of just all of it together."
Check out photos of Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner from throughout his ten seasons in Seattle.