K.J. Wright was, in his words, "being hard-headed" when the Seahawks medical staff told him after the season that he needed shoulder surgery.
Not wanting to deal with a long rehab process heading into this 10th season, Wright put off the surgery until eventually realizing it was the right move, a delay that in the spring looked like it might keep him from being ready for the start of the season.
Add to that the team's decision to draft linebacker Jordyn Brooks in the first round, and Wright's role for 2020, particularly early in the year, seemed in question. Wright, however, has been around long enough not to take personally something like a draft selection at his position—after all, he, like just about every other rookie, earned his starting job by taking it from a veteran—and he was able to attack the rehab process to the point that he was ready for the start of training camp. And now, heading into his 10th season with the Seahawks, Wright is ready to kick off another year as a starting linebacker, even as he also helps mentor the player who may someday replace him.
"I had my surgery late, and they were just telling me, 'K.J., you probably won't be out here 'til mid-September, mid-October," Wright said. "So all offseason, my mindset was working my tail off to get healthy to be ready for the first game. That was my mindset. And while you're injured, they drafted Brooks and so that was fine as well. I just knew that when I am healthy, I'm one of the best. So when they did it, that's the decision the organization want to go with, that was their choice, but I know that when I'm on the field, I got to do my thing as usual."
And it's not lost on Wright that he's in pretty rare company to be heading into his 10th season, let alone a 10th season as a starter for the same team. After an injury-plagued 2018 campaign leading into free agency, Wright's future with the team seemed in doubt, but he re-signed on a two-year deal, then appeared in every game last season, setting a career highs in tackles (132), interceptions (3) and passes defensed (11).
"That's big-time," Wright said of a 10th season. "I was talking to Coach (Ken) Norton yesterday, when I got drafted, this was the goal. And I've just had all kinds of crazy experiences, some good, some bad, met a lot of great people along the way, and just being on this team is special, because obviously we know it's not like this everywhere. I've heard some horror stories of other teams, and for me to be here for 10 years and to be happy to be playing and balling, I couldn't be more thankful and grateful. We've still got work to do this, Year 10, we've got to make this the best out of all of them. So that's my goal this year."
Coaches and teammate Bobby Wagner have praised Wright's 10th training camp, both for his on-field performance and also for his leadership, particularly with the way he's taken Brooks under his win even as Brooks competes to take his job.
"K.J. had terrific camp," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "We didn't know if he would be on (the physically unable to perform list) or not when he got here, but he did a fantastic job to get ready. He was able to do everything we asked to them and look great. He really took hold of leadership and did a fantastic job of mentoring Jordyn."
For Wagner and Wright, taking a young player under their wing is just how things are done, no matter what position that rookie plays.
"I don't think it's weird, because me and K.J. have been around long enough to know this is a business," Wagner said. "So we understand that it's a business, and from the moment in K.J. started becoming veterans, we've really been the same. My whole goal is to try to help somebody feed their family, so if I can help them feed their family that's my mindset. Jordyn is no different, I've given him all the knowledge that I have. Any question that he has for me, I'm helping him, and same with K.J. K.J. has been helping him as well, because we want to see everybody win. At the end of day, it's still bigger than football. (Brooks) made his dream come true and has an opportunity to provide for his family. And so if we can help him do that, we're all for that."
Said Wright, who is Seattle's longest-tenured player, "When I came in, first and foremost, Coach Norton, Brandon Mebane—I talked to Leroy Hill today, he actually texted me today, just guys just show me the ropes, motivate me throughout my career. It's definitely the culture here. It's a competitive culture, and we know that competition is everything. Everybody's competing to be on the field. Everybody wants to play, nobody wants to be on the sideline watching, so it's definitely competitive nature. But at the same time, you got to share what you know, share your expertise, share your knowledge of the game to help those coming behind you."
Everyone involved with the Seahawks hopes Brooks has a very bright future with the team, and can make big contributions right away, but Wright has shown this summer that that he is still a big part of the team's present.
"K.J. has just been a dream to coach," Carroll said. "He has been such great team guy, such a consistently competitive guy, such a smart player, so gracious with other players, the younger guys—the way he mentors them along. He's tough, he's physical. He had arguably his best year last year. He's just a really good football player with a lot of flexibility in his game—he can do a lot of stuff for us. Really, he has been one of my all-time favorites. He had a great camp, he made it through, recovered from the shoulder surgery and didn't miss a day. He just continues to be a real stud in this program, and we're lucky to have him."