K.J. Wright thought his Seahawks career might have been over after his eighth season with the team that drafted him in the fourth round of the 2011 draft.
Wright, a mainstay in Seattle's defenses that helped lead the team to two Super Bowls, battled injuries in 2018 and appeared in only five regular season games, unfortunate timing seeing as that was the last year of a contract extension he had signed in 2014. The following spring, the Seahawks re-signed Mychal Kendricks, who had started in place of an injured Wright for much of that 2018 season, and Wright figured the writing might be on the wall. But not long after Kendricks re-signed, Wright signed a two-year deal of his own to stay in Seattle, keeping alive his goal to play at least 10 seasons in the NFL.
And now that Wright has accomplished that goal, and did so by having two of the best seasons of his career in Years 9 and 10, he's looking to continue his career and do so with the Seahawks.
"This season was everything that I hope it will be, just my 10th year with Seattle, 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," Wright said on Sunday. "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. So I'm proud of myself, I'm proud of my team for helping me get here… This season couldn't have gone any better.
"The goal was to get to 10 and then reflect and see what I wanted. Then I got to 10, and 10 looked really good. I'm having fun, I love this city, I love this team, so let's make it happen."
Wright didn't just put up great numbers in 2020, recording 86 tackles, 10 passes defensed, 11 tackles for loss, two sacks, one interception, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries, he did all of that playing much of the season at a position he hasn't played since early in his career. When Bruce Irvin went down with a torn ACL in Week 2, the Seahawks went to Wright and asked if he'd move from weakside linebacker, an off-ball position, to strongside linebacker, a spot that lines up on the line of scrimmage and is a bit more physically taxing. The move not only would give the Seahawks a good replacement for Irvin, it would also get rookie Jordyn Brooks into the lineup at weakside linebacker. Wright played the strongside spot early in his career and is versatile and talented enough to play any linebacker spot, but he was a little bit hesitant to make the move after spending so many years making weakside his home.
"When I had to change positions from Will to Sam, I can't lie, I wasn't happy in the beginning," Wright said. "But I knew that, 'OK, K.J. you're not going back to Will, so you've got to make this Sam position look really, really good.' So I just got with (defensive assistant Aaron) Curry and (linebackers coach John Glenn) and just found a way to master it, have fun with it and make the most out of my situation."
And while the position switch wasn't his first choice, the move seemed to only bring out the best in Wright's playmaking ability, and by the end of the year he was the only player in the NFL with double-digit tackles for loss and passes defensed.
"He had a great year," Seahawks coach Carroll said. "He was a factor all year long—in the running game, in 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."
Wright understands there's a business side of things and that even if he and Carroll both say they want to see him in Seattle in 2021, there are financial issues to sort out, but he's a firm believer in what he brings to the defense, and it's hard to argue with his logic after all he did in 2020.
"That's up to Pete and John (Schneider)," Wright said when asked if he'll be back for an 11th season. "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 would be a great investment in my opinion if they invest in K.J. to bring him back in the building. You get what you pay for, and I bring a lot to the table still, so they've got to choose wisely."
Linebacker Bobby Wagner, who has started alongside Wright for the past nine seasons, was an outspoken advocate for re-signing Wright after the 2018 season, and he is hopeful that one of the best linebacker duos of this era will be together again in 2021.
"What he's been able to do has been extremely impressive," Wagner said. "He had a pretty crazy injury, then to come back to have one of his best seasons, and then to play even better the following year, with his position change and things like that, I think he's just shows his versatility, shows how smart he is. It shows how much he cares about everybody in the building. He's just a great person and a great leader. I definitely feel like he's somebody that needs to be back next year, and I look forward to seeing him back."