Last season, as Bobby Wagner was in the midst of doing what Bobby Wagner has done throughout his career—playing middle linebacker at an elite level while providing leadership for the defense—Seahawks coach Pete Carroll summed up what the All-Pro linebacker has meant to his team over the past seven seasons.
"He has been the centerpiece of all of it on defense for years," Carroll said.
On Friday, the Seahawks made sure that the centerpiece of their defense would remain in Seattle for years to come, signing Wagner to a multi-year contract extension.
"We feel blessed that we were able to draft Bobby in 2012, keep him here on a second contract, and now to have him sign a third contract is a huge deal for us," executive vice president/general manager John Schneider said moments after Wagner signed his contract. "Everyone in the whole building is excited, I'm sure his teammates are going to be very excited. He exemplifies everything that we're all about, his professionalism, intensity, the way he handles himself off the field. There's no doubt in my mind that he'll go down not only as one of the greatest Seahawks, but also as one of the greatest middle linebackers in NFL history. It's a major deal for our organization moving into the future."
Said Wagner, "I'm really excited to have this done, excited that I get to be a Seahawk for a long, long time. Like I've always said, I want to play my entire career here, and I feel like today is a step toward that.
"It feels amazing being here. I've watched people stay, I've watched people go, and to have the trust from the organization to continue to let me lead this team, lead the defense, it's a great feeling. I'm excited to get back to work."
Wagner's contract extension comes two days into training camp, and a few months after Russell Wilson signed a contract extension of his own. With K.J. Wright also re-signing this offseason, the Seahawks feel good about the veteran leadership they'll have in place in coming years.
"Those are two pillars that we want to build a young football team around," Schneider said of Wilson and Wagner. "That was a primary goal for us as we entered the offseason, and knowing that we're going to be a young football team with great leadership on both sides of the ball—Bobby, K.J. and Russ—that's big for us."
With both Wagner and Wilson's deals, Jody Allen, Seahawks Chair and Trustee of the Paul G. Allen Trust, played an instrumental role in facilitating the process.
"Obviously Paul is definitely in our minds and in our hearts, but Jody has done a great job," Wagner said. "I'm thankful that she trusted me to be a part of this team and to help this team continue the success that we have had. She was amazing through this process, and we're grateful for having her here."
Said Schneider, "Jody has been instrumental in all of this. She has been very knowledgeable about the process and supportive."
On the day Wagner was selected in the second-round of the 2012 draft, he told reporters that prior to turning his focus to football, "I thought I was going to be the next Michael Jordan."
Wagner's hoop dreams didn't come to fruition, but he still has a chance to go down as one of the greats in another sport. As Carroll put it last year, "Bobby has put together a resume of really Hall of Fame stuff."
Wagner, a four-time first-team All-Pro—he also earned second-team honors once—and a five-time Pro-Bowler, is the first player in team history to record seven straight 100-tackle seasons, including a franchise-record 167 in 2016. Wagner's 914 tackles are the second most in team history, and he's on pace to surpass Eugene Robinson's record total of 984 this coming season. Wagner also has the second most tackles in the NFL since 2012 trailing only Carolina's Luke Kuechly. Along with Wright, Wagner has helped Seattle field one of the best linebacker duos in the NFL for several years.
But more important than the individual stats and honors is the success the Seahawks have enjoyed as a team and as a defensive unit with Wagner in the middle of the defense. Over the course of his career, the Seahawks have given up just 17.4 points per game with Wagner on the field, while they've seen that average jump to 20.9 in the nine games he has missed.
With Wagner helping lead the way, the Seahawks defense allowed the fewest points in the league for four straight seasons from 2012-2015, something never before accomplished during the Super Bowl era, and in Seattle's Super Bowl-winning 2013 season, the Seahawks led the league in scoring defense, total defense and takeaways during the regular season before limiting the highest scoring offense in NFL history to a single late-game touchdown in a blowout victory in Super Bowl XLVIII.
"He's just the glue," defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said last season. "When everybody knows Bobby is in there, everything is going to be all right. He's running, he's hitting, he's making his signal calls, he's checking defenses, he's calling different defenses and he's blitzing, he's covering, he's running down with the fastest receiver on the other team, he does it all. He's the complete package."
And while Wagner has always been an important player both before and after the snap—middle linebackers are often considered the quarterback of the defense because they make the defensive calls on the field—he has taken on a bigger role in terms of leadership in recent years as several veteran players have moved on over the past couple of offseasons.
"You kind of have to restart your thinking," Wagner said last year. "When I was a rookie and I came here, I was trying to figure out my voice within a lot of older established guys. Now, it's kind of reversed. It's trying to connect with the younger guys and try to find a way that I can help them and pass the knowledge that I have because that's what the guys did when I first got here. They were just giving me a lot of knowledge and I ran with it, so now it's my turn to pass that knowledge down."
Most recently that leadership has shown up in Wagner's decision to show up for voluntary offseason workouts and the initial two days of training camp while trying to secure the contract extension he eventually signed on Friday. Frequently, players seeking a new deal stay away from voluntary workouts and in some cases they even hold out during mandatory work such as minicamps or training camp, but Wagner didn't stay away because he felt it was important, new contract or not, to be present "helping the young guys, doing whatever I can… Just being a leader, you want to send the right message, you want to be here to support the guys. I do feel like the quarterback of the defense is pretty important, so not having that piece would kind of put a damper on the defense, so I just feel like it's important for our success, so I'm here."
Carroll called Wagner being present for offseason workouts a case of the linebacker "doing what he has always done. He has been leader. He has been an integral part of everything that we've ever been about and he's continuing to do that."
Wagner, along with Wilson helped give the Seahawks an all-time great draft class in 2012, and just as was the case heading into the 2015 season, both have signed multi-year extensions this year, ensuring that two of the best players in franchise history will continue their careers as Seahawks.
"We've played together for a long time," Wilson said Friday, hours before Wagner signed his deal. "Bobby and I have goals too, we're very similar... We want to win a Super Bowl together again, and a few more Super Bowls, and end it the right way. So I mean that's kind of the mentality."
Talking about Wagner last season, Wilson said, "He's the best linebacker in the game and nobody can argue that. He makes our defense tick, he does the right thing, he knows how to do it, and he prepares the right way. One of the things that Bobby and I will always say is don't get bored with consistency. He believes in consistency, he believes in his approach and how he prepares."
That consistency is something Wagner takes a lot of pride in more so than any one standout game or season during his career. And his desire to be the best year after year after year is just one reason why Seahawks fans should feel good about Wagner sticking around in Seattle.
"I talk about consistency all the time," Wagner said in 2017. "I just want to be player who, whenever I'm done, people look back and say, 'He was very consistent and very productive.' That's kind of an unwritten goal for me to reach (100 tackles) each year. It's good, but there's more to be done.
"It's just wanting to be great, wanting to understand, trying to be better, not being satisfied with what I've done. I just keep pushing forward. I feel like each year you can grow, each year you can get better, you can find something in your game. I feel like that's how players like Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher, all those guys, they lasted so long—they never were satisfied with what they were doing at that moment."
Wagner didn't end up becoming the next Michael Jordan, but by the end of his now extended Seahawks career, he has a real chance to go down as one of those greats.