When the Seahawks defense needed a play in Saturday night's playoff game, a player who had stepped up so many times throughout his career did so once again in a big moment.
Linebacker K.J. Wright, who was playing in just his sixth game of the year because of a knee injury, used his trademark instincts to sniff out a play, covered it perfectly and made a juggling interception in the end zone.
The Seahawks were unable to complete their comeback attempt and saw their season end in a 24-22 loss to the Cowboys in the Wild Card round, but the play was still vintage Wright on a night when he also had nine tackles, including one for a loss.
"It was a ridiculous play out of nowhere when we needed it most," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said.
Making Wright's performance all the more notable was the possibility that it was his last game in a Seahawks uniform. For the first time in his eight-year career, Wright is heading into free agency this offseason having played out the contract extension he signed late in the 2014 season. As much as Wright loves playing in Seattle and as much as the Seahawks love having him on their team, there's the business side of the game that means a certain level of roster turnover is inevitable every season. That doesn't necessarily mean Wright or other free agents won't re-sign, but he has been around long enough to know nothing is guaranteed this offseason.
"I want to end my career as a Seahawk, but it's a business," Wright said after the game. "… This is my first time, I never went through it before. We've just got to see when that time comes."
The Seahawks ended their season disappointed in Saturday's result, but also very optimistic about their future. But while players are excited about the team’s potential moving forward, there's also a lot of uncertainty every season when players clean out their lockers and say goodbye not knowing who will be back the following year.
"That's my brother, and I hope everything works out, but I understand it's a business," linebacker Bobby Wagner said in the locker room he has shared with Wright since 2012. "So I don't know what's going to happen."
While the Seahawks feel good about the nucleus of the team they have under contract, as is the case every season, a number of players just finished the final year of their contracts, most notably Wright, defensive end Frank Clark, and safety Earl Thomas, as well as starting guards J.R. Sweezy and D.J. Fluker. Asked about Clark last month, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has said on a couple of occasions that they have every intention of keeping the defensive end around after a season in which he piled up a team-leading and career-high 13.0 sacks, and Clark said after the game that he expects he'll be back.
"I think I am (going to stay in Seattle)," Clark said. "… I feel like they're going to take care of it. I don't really think about it. I haven't thought about it all season, honestly. I mean, of course it's something that's on the table but at the end of the day, I dedicated myself."
The Seahawks also have players heading into the final years of their contracts who could be candidates for new deals, most notably their captains on offense and defense, Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner. While both say it's too early to worry about potential contract extensions—both of them signed their previous deals heading into the final year of the rookie deals they signed in 2012—they both hope to stay in Seattle long term one way or another.
"I see myself being in Seattle, I love Seattle, it's a special place for me; I also understand it's a business," Wilson said Sunday. "For me, I love the game of football, I really do. What I do know is that my work ethic, the way I love the game and everything I want to lay on the line every day, that's going to be there every day no matter what happens. I hope it's here, I really do, but those decisions are way above my head."
Added Wagner, "I'll let the business side play out. I'm heavily involved in the business side. Would I like to be taken care of before the season? That'd be great. If I don't, that wouldn't be the end of the world. I understand this is a business and I'm prepared for anything that happens. If they sign me before then, cool. If they don't, cool too. I want to be here. This is where I want to be for my career. This is an amazing city, amazing fans, an amazing organization and so I would love to be here. We'll make sure business takes care of itself."
But while some uncertainty hangs over locker cleanout day every year, there was also an undeniable feeling of optimism for a team that surprised a lot of people by finishing 10-6 and making the playoffs in 2018.
"I think our future is very bright," Wagner said. "I think now it's on us older guys to kind of help them in their offseason program, understanding that you've got to go into your offseason humble, understand that although you did a lot of things well this season, there's still room to grow and not to be satisfied. I think that's just for everybody, even myself. I could still grow as a player, as a person, so I'm excited for that."
Wagner went on to say the potential of this team "is unlimited. If we go into the offseason, let this loss really set in with us and grow from it, and again, be humble and understand you have to room to grow, room to get better, and everybody approaches it that way, I think we could do some amazing things next year. Now they know what to expect. I know that feeling—after the first year you kind of know what to expect and you know how to prepare, and it's a little bit different. Everything's not flashing by you like it is your first year. So I'm excited, excited to see how everybody grows."
As he did before the season, during it and again after Saturday's loss, Wilson couldn't help but again point to the 2012 team that made the playoffs as a young team, then used that year as a springboard to much bigger success in 2013.
"It was a special season just with the growth of our guys and how young we were and how much fun we had—we had a lot of fun," Wilson said. "It makes you a little bit sick just to wake up this morning and realize you don't get compete with your guys today. But it's part of the journey. And I look at this season very similar—like I've said a hundred times over to you guys—like 2012 a lot. We weren't able to beat Atlanta at Atlanta, but coming off the field we felt like great things were in store. We feel like with this team great things are in store."
The Seahawks cleaned out their lockers and exchanged jerseys, helmets, and footballs with teammates at Virginia Mason Athletic Center on Sunday, January 6, 2019 following Seattle's Wild Card playoff loss to the Cowboys in Dallas to close out the 2018 NFL season.