PHOENIX—When Bobby Wagner became a free agent earlier this offseason, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll couldn't help but picture a reunion with the linebacker who built a Hall of Fame résumé during his decade in Seattle.
On Saturday, the two sides got the deal done, with the Seahawks signing the nine-time All-Pro after his one season with the Rams.
"It's such a win-win for everybody," Carroll said Tuesday from the NFL Annual Meeting. "Because Bobby wasn't here for a year, it doesn't have anything to do with our relationship, except for he played a great game against us down there, and it was good to get him back on our side. Over the years that we spent together, there's a real relationship that's a life-long relationship. Not just with me, but with people around the organization, with the people in the area, the fans. He lives in Seattle, his family's there, he raised his kids there. It was just a logical thing for us to work out. So in Bobby's mind and my mind and in John (Schneider's), we just had to get through it. It just took some time to get it done. But there was really never any thought that we weren't going to get it done in my mind."
And during the time it took for a deal to get done, Carroll was hearing from some of his players—Quandre Diggs among them, no doubt—who wanted to see Wagner return to Seattle.
"I know my players—there were a lot of guys who were really hoping he would rejoin us and all, and they were campaigning and clamoring, and I just kept laying low," Carroll said. "They were mad at me because I wasn't telling them anything, but the whole time we were trying to get it done. Really, there's a celebration to it, and we've already started that. Just having fun kicking it around with our guys and with Bobby and around the building and all that, it's already started."
General manager John Schneider mentioned that Wagner will bring to the Seahawks, "leadership, culture setter, he's been through it all," then added, "He'll forever be an icon, arguably the greatest defensive player in team history."
Carroll said Wagner's return to Seattle is "is going to be a real positive thing," but also noted that things aren't exactly the same as when Wagner last played for Seattle in 2021. For starters, the defense has changed quite a bit, schematically, and fellow inside linebacker Jordyn Brooks has matured and taken on more leadership of the defense as well.
"We're starting over with this thing, we're going about it in some new ways and with new thoughts," Carroll said. "He's coming in to compete and battle his tail off and help us be as good as we can possibly be. He's going to help guys. That's one of the cool things that leaders bring; they're going to help other guys play better, and Bobby will do that. That's part of the reason that our guys are really excited about him being back."
The hope is that the changes Seattle has made on defense, ones that in some ways are similar to what Wagner was doing in Los Angeles, will fit Wagner's game well.
"We're a little bit different," Carroll said. "We have added some stuff that I think will really fit. The fact that he was in a system that was similar will help the process and that transition. There's nothing that we can't handle at all. I'm excited for Bobby to do the stuff that we're doing now, how we've kind of tweaked it and cleaned it up and all that. He'll add to it because of our background also, because we're doing some of everything. It'll be a really cool process to watch how that goes."
Carroll said he has already had conversations with both Brooks and Wagner about what their partnership will look like, and noted that Brooks is in a different place in his career than he was when he last played with Wagner.
"I've already started that conversation," Carroll said. "Those guys have already talked. It's not the same as it was. Jordyn, he didn't know what we were doing when he came in before, and Bobby couldn't wait for him, he had to go ahead and lead our defense and do what he had to do and bring him along with him. I've said to Jordyn, this isn't the same thing, and I said it to Bobby as well. This relationship they have, they're both players, they've both been around now, they've both been through a lot. We're going to count on Jordyn a tremendous amount when he makes his return. I'm really anxious to kind of steward that and see how that goes, and make the very most of it for both guys. I don't want them to anticipate this like it was, because it isn't. it's different. And Devin Bush too, Devin coming in, this is a really important opportunity for Devin. So just to have that kind of competition brewing on the horizon, it's good for everybody. It helps everybody and it's going to make us better."
Schneider added that getting the most out of Wagner in 2023 may involve reducing his work load a bit from the role he has played in the past. For almost his entire career, aside from his rookie year when he came off the field in nickel packages early in the season, Wagner has been an every-down linebacker. Since 2013, Wagner has played at least 93 percent of his team's defensive snaps every season, including 98 percent or more in six of the past eight seasons. Wagner has also played more than 1,000 defensive snaps in six of his last seven seasons.
"I think Pete and (defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt) have a real cool plan so he doesn't have to be out there a thousand plays. He'll be able to see how he does and be able to manage the situation. Especially with new guys coming in like Julian (Love) and (Devin) Bush, how they're going to rotate all those guys. It'll be cool."
Check out photos of Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner from throughout his ten seasons in Seattle.