Seattle Seahawks

K.J. Wright to KJR: “I thought I was gone,” details he must prove himself in new Seahawks deal

K.J. Wright on being Seahawks’ nominee this year for NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award

Pro Bowl linebacker K.J. Wright on being Seahawks’ nominee this year for NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award.
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Pro Bowl linebacker K.J. Wright on being Seahawks’ nominee this year for NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award.

K.J. Wright thought he was gone. Done in Seattle.

Then the Seahawks gave one of their two longest-tenured players a new offer: a two-year contract guaranteed for the first half but not the latter.

He accepted it—and that he’s going to have to earn that second year.

That’s the upshot of Wright’s appearance Friday with his former Seahawks teammate Cliff Avril and co-host Jason Puckett on Seattle’s KJR-AM radio.

Wright detailed his new contract to which he agreed Wednesday night and signed Thursday: The Pro Bowl veteran linebacker gets a $5 million signing bonus and $1.5 million in guaranteed base pay this year. He will earn another $1.5 million in a roster bonus. That’s $8 million for 2019, with the Seahawks’ salary-cap charge at $5.5 million (the team can and will per NFL rules prorate the cap charge for $5 million signing bonus over both years of the contract, $2.5 million each year).

The remaining $7 million in the deal for 2020 isn’t guaranteed. That’s not usual for an NFL player entering his 30s, especially one coming off a knee surgery and setback in recovery that cost him 11 of 16 regular-season games in 2018.

Wright must earn that non-guaranteed second year in 2020 by staying healthy this year—and playing like he did in the playoff loss at Dallas on Jan. 5 when he was the best defensive player on the field. Last year was the first one of his career that Wright missed extended time because of an injury or surgery.

“Looking at the first year, it’s all guaranteed. Salary, signing bonus, and going from there,” Wright told KJR. “Signing bonus is five (million). Salary is 1.5, then roster bonus is 1.5. That gets us to eight.

“It’s a one-year deal. And if the Seahawks decide to move on, then I don’t get the other seven (million).”

Until Thursday, Wright had made earned $23.1 million in his NFL career. He made $7.2 million last season. It was the most money in one season of his career.

Wright, who turns 30 in July, thought he wouldn’t play another game for Seattle after this past, injury-filled season and his contract ended in January. He and his agent began shopping for free-agent offers from teams at the league’s scouting combine in Indianapolis two weeks ago.

Then, when the market officially opened Wednesday, Wright thought he was gone again. The Seahawks re-signed Mychal Kendricks for 2019 for $4 million up to $5.3 million, contingent on a hearing the former Super Bowl starting linebacker for Philadelphia has April 4 in Pennsylvania for pleading guilty to insider trading. Kendricks played for Wright at weakside linebacker in Seattle’s 4-3 defense last season when Wright remained out following his knee surgery.

“I thought ‘(I’m) toast,’” with the Seahawks, Wright told KJR about Kendricks re-signing.

“I honestly thought I was leaving. I thought I was gone. I was prepping my family,” Wright said. ”But they found something to make me happy, and I was like, ‘This is a perfect fit for me. Let’s get rollin’!’

“To be with one team (for nine years) is special. ...

“It’s just a blessing, to be a multimillionaire and set up your family, for life.

With the Seahawks committing potentially $13 million to Wright and Kendricks this year, it’s not unfathomable coaches will find ways to get both them and All-Pro middle linebacker Bobby Wagner on the field together in 2019. Perhaps by using more base defense with three linebackers than the nickel (five defensive backs and two linebackers) Seattle has employed the last two seasons. That was with productive Justin Coleman as the nickel back.

Coleman is gone now, to Detroit in free agency this week with the richest deal a nickel defensive back has ever received ($9 million per year).

Wright has played some strongside (“Sam”) linebacker for Seattle previously, but he told KJR Friday “I’m not going to Sam.”

Perhaps Kendricks could be the strongside linebacker. He was an effective press-the-edge linebacker and pass rusher at times with the Eagles from 2012-17. The Seahawks normally have their strongside linebacker closer to the line of scrimmage to rush and blitz more than the weakside linebacker. Think Bruce Irvin on the strongside for the Seahawks in their Super Bowl seasons of 2013 and ‘14.

About that “perfect fit” in Seattle: Wright says it has been that way for him since he arrived as the team’s fourth-round draft choice in 2011. He, his wife Natalie and their young family have fallen in love with the Puget Sound region. Wright reiterated he wants to end his career as a Seahawk and retire here.

The feeling around the Pacific Northwest is mutual. Wright is one of the most beloved athletes in the region. He was the Seahawks’ nominee for the 2018 NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year award, after building homes for the less-fortunate in South Seattle and pledging thousands of dollars to build wells for clean water in the villages of Kenya he visited a year ago, last offseason.

Pro Bowl linebacker K.J. Wright pledging $300 per tackle this Seahawks season to build wells for clean water in Kenya, in a town he visited this past offseason that captured his heart.

“He’s an incredible part of our program,” coach Pete Carroll said last season.

Wright told KJR he believes his popularity with fans and the media around Seattle after eight years, his entire pro career, and a Super Bowl title with the team put some pressure on general manager John Schneider and his top contract negotiator Matt Thomas to get a deal done, to keep Wright instead of leaving in free agency to play for another team.

““It’s more than just tackles and touchdowns,” Wright said.

Gregg Bell is the Seahawks and NFL writer for The News Tribune. In January 2019 he was named the Washington state sportswriter of the year by the National Sports Media Association. He started covering the NFL in 2002 as the Oakland Raiders beat writer for The Sacramento Bee. The Ohio native began covering the Seahawks in their first Super Bowl season of 2005. In a prior life he graduated from West Point and served as a tactical intelligence officer in the U.S. Army, so he may ask you to drop and give him 10.