It sucks when your favorite team parts ways with one of its franchise players. It sucks even more when that player then goes and signs with a division rival. It sucks even more when that division rival is coming off winning a Super Bowl. That is the plight of being a Seattle Seahawks fan right now.
Legendary linebacker Bobby Wagner was released by Seattle this offseason in a move to save cap space. It was a very sad day for Seahawks fans because it was also the same day they traded star quarterback Russell Wilson. But unlike Wilson, who went to the Denver Broncos in the AFC West, Wagner is staying very close to home after signing in the same division.
Wagner was scooped up by the Los Angeles Rams as they look to bolster their defense for a Super Bowl defense. He signed a five-year deal worth $50 million plus even more with incentives. This was a great move by LA because it shores up one of the few weaknesses of the roster. A lot of people might counter and say that the Rams’ defense is completely fine with Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Donald, which is true. But there are nine other players on the field for the defense and some of those positions needed an upgrade.
Despite winning the Super Bowl last season, the Rams’ linebacking group was not as strong as one might think. The outside linebackers were great. Leonard Floyd played extremely well and Von Miller was a perfect midseason acquisition. But the inside backers were not nearly on the same level.
Troy Reeder and Ernest Jones were the two most targeted linebackers on the Rams last year and they allowed completion percentages of 80.7 and 74.4, respectively. Even with stars on multiple levels of the defense, the linebacking play still gave opponents an area to attack. That was especially true in the playoffs where Reeder gave up an 84.6 percent completion percentage. Reeder and Jones also had issues in the run game, posting missed tackle percentages of 14.2 and 6.2, respectively.
Wagner will come in and immediately stabilize that group. Whether it is because he is providing more reliable snaps or because he is able to help the younger players develop and improve, the Rams will surely get better play from that group this year. Even though he didn’t have his best season in 2021, Wagner still extended his All-Pro streak to eight straight years. His tackling is still up there with the best in the league, even if his pass coverage has suffered a bit. But even this version of Wagner will be the best option for the Rams in the middle of their defense.
We also don’t know how to fully predict what kind of impact the rest of the Los Angeles defense will have on Wagner. He has never played with a player like Donald (few have) and hasn’t played with a top-tier corner like Ramsey in a while. Getting on the field with those types of players can reinvigorate a veteran player like Wagner.
Another factor to monitor for Wagner this year is how staying in the NFC West will impact him. He could have signed with any team he wanted to yet choose to remain in the same division as his former team. Will he be vengeful and try to prove to Seattle that they made the wrong choice in releasing him? Will his familiarity with the teams and offenses in the division (including playing the Seahawks for the first time ever) lead him to a better season than he would have elsewhere? These are questions we won’t know the answer to for a while but will certainly have a huge impact on his performance in 2022 and beyond.
But really this move is more than just a player getting a couple of chances to play his former team. This move is about a defending Super Bowl champion trying to do everything they can to hoist the trophy again. The Rams have clearly shown a philosophy of mortgaging the future for the present. Signing Wagner didn’t cost them any picks but it is still a win-now move. The deal they signed Wagner to will have them paying him quite a bit of money when he is in his mid-thirties. With an average annual value of $10 million a year, that would mean a 36-year-old Wagner would be making that much money in 2026. That deal could look ugly by then but if it earns them another Super Bowl over the next five years it will be worth it.