Of course to only discuss Wagner's intellect and leadership leaves out the more obvious physical skills that have made him a five-time first-team All-Pro—the speed, the strength, the massive shoulders and traps that swallowed his neck years and years ago, the tackling ability, the lateral movement. And when you add it all up, those physical skills along with the instincts and intelligence, you have not just a great player, but one who is almost universally respected around the league.
"Bobby Wagner, I've always had such high respect and always admired his play," said Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy, who saw Wagner numerous times over the years while he was the head coach of the Packers. "He hasn't missed a beat. He's probably one of our favorite players on another team on the defensive side of the ball. He goes sideline to sideline, he runs the defense, he's very instinctive. His instincts and awareness of what you're doing conceptually on offense, he's always done a great job there. He's an impact player."
A week earlier while getting his Patriots ready to face Seattle, Bill Belichick raved about what Wagner brings to the game.
"He's a great football player," Belichick said. "Super productive, got a great nose for the ball, very instinctive, runs well, anticipates plays well. There's just no price, you can put on that, just knowing what's going to happen or anticipate what's going to happen and then being able to get there to make the play when? right in the middle. You're a bull's eye for somebody on every play. There's no plays where you're not blocking 54. You're accounting for him on everything, and still he continues to have tremendous production in the running game, the passing game, he's a good blitzer, always good on outside plays, he's got good instincts on the inside runs, he's quick, he can escape blockers, he can also take them on. He's a good tackler, really understands the coverages that they play. He almost plays like a safety around a line of scrimmage in some of the things that they do where he has to carry the over route and things like that. It's a very difficult position to play in that defense, and he's exceptional."
And just because Wagner has accomplished so much already, including setting the franchise record for career tackles, earning first-team All-Pro honors a franchise best five-times, leading the NFL in tackles twice, including last year, and most importantly, helping anchor an all-time great defense that won a Super bowl, none of that means he plans on slowing down anytime soon.
At 30 and with Hall of Fame credentials, Wagner is still challenging himself to get better, and this offseason one of the big goals to improve in pass coverage. Last year, the Seahawks asked more of Wagner in pass coverage than ever, and while he by no means played poorly, he didn't feel like he played up to his standard.
"I think I've obviously been able to get my hands on a little bit more footballs," Wagner said of his pass defense. "I feel like every offseason you go into the offseason figuring out what part of your game you can improve, and I felt like that was something that I want to improve on, so I worked on it, and I feel like I'm recognizing routes a little bit better, and I want to continue to grow in that aspect."
So what happened after Wagner spent an offseason focusing on pass defense? He opened the 2020 season by breaking up multiple passes over the middle of the field and playing what Carroll called his best game of pass defense.
"I thought the first week was the best game he's ever played in pass defense," Carroll said. "He's had more tight coverage, more breakups, good hits and stuff, because he's seeing routes and concepts well, using the coverage well. It seems like this is the best he's been, which is understandable because you keep getting better as you go. The numbers pass defense-wise aren't showing that because we've seen a lot of throws. I'm really able to count on him to totally understand what he's doing and take advantage of stuff and make breaks, get balls knocked on the ground and all more so than ever. I'm really fired up about the next step he's taking."