K.J. Wright smiled. But he wasn’t laughing.
The longest-tenured Seahawks player had already made it clear that he wanted to play 10 years in the NFL with the same team and then assess what’s next.
After his 10th season as Seattle’s multi-talented outside linebacker was one of his best, Wright made it clear on an absolutely unexpected locker-cleanout day he wants to play an 11th season. That is, beyond his contract ending with Seattle’s wild-card playoff loss at home to the Los Angeles Rams.
And he wants it to be with the Seahawks.
“You know, that’s up to you know Pete and John,” Wright said of coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider. “They know how much I mean to this team. They know that I’m a baller. They know I’m a great teammate a great leader.”
Wright couldn’t have been more clear if he had hung a banner from the top of the Space Needle.
He even went third-person in his proclamation.
“It would be a great investment, in my opinion, if they invest in K.J., and to bring them back in the building,” Wright said.
“You get what you pay for. And I bring a lot to the table still.
“So they’ve got to choose wisely.”
His best friend on the team, All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner, doesn’t think there should be a choice.
“He’s just a great person a great leader.,” Wagner said. “And, you know, definitely feel like he’s somebody that needs to be back next year.
“And I look forward to seeing them back.”
Hesitantly, Wright said Sunday he’d be open to playing elsewhere next season if the Seahawks don’t step up with a new contract.
But it’s to obvious end his career with and live the rest of his life with his young family in Seattle. He’s said that more than once. He even proposed to his wife in a Boeing factory during a tour.
About 2½ years ago Wright was shopping for a new home—out of the Pacific Northwest. The Mississippi native’s contract was up in Seattle. The team that drafted him in 2011 let his deal expire. Free agency was beginning. Wright was exploring his first move within the NFL.
After briefly shopping, he was excited to sign a two-year contract worth up to $15 million to stay with the Seahawks.
“This is home,” he said in the spring of 2019.
But only the first year of that new deal, 2019, was guaranteed. He knew he’d have to earn the second and final year of his contract. This year.
He said he’d assess where to go from there.
He did much more than earn 2020. At age 31, Wright has earned the choice to stay in Seattle — and to play as long as he wants.
“He’s playing terrific football, and maybe even to his surprise, a bit, that he’s been so active playing outside,” Carroll said.
Last summer, there were some people wanting the Seahawks to release Wright to save his $11 million salary-cap charge for 2020.
Those folks were ignorant of Wright’s deeply rooted value to Carroll. To the Seahawks’ locker room. To All-Pro and best Seahawk friend Wagner. To their former linebackers’ coach Ken Norton Jr., the team’s defensive coordinator. And to the Pacific Northwest. He was Seattle’s 2018 nominee for the NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year Award for his work building homes for needy families, for investing in new wells for drinking water in a Kenyan village he and his wife visited.
Last week, Norton called Wright “a coach’s dream.”
“He’s a special, special player,” Norton said.
Wright began the 2020 season as he always has in Seattle, in the weakside, “Will” linebacker spot outside in Carroll’s 4-3 scheme. That’s where he won a Super Bowl and made a Pro Bowl with the Seahawks. The weakside linebacker plays off the ball. In Carroll’s scheme, when the play goes away from him, the ‘Will’ linebacker shifts to basically a middle one, next to Wagner.
As this season progressed and Brooks returned from injury, the Seahawks wanted to get the rookie first-round draft choice’s speed onto the field. So they didn’t ask but told Wright he was moving to strongside linebacker, a more rugged place on the opposite side and on the line of scrimmage.
Wright played there briefly in 2012, his second NFL season in Seattle. But Bruce Irvin, whom Carroll says is the prototypical “Sam” linebacker for his defense, had his season end after just two games. Irvin had reconstructive knee surgery.
Brooks was too fast to play on the line. The rookie’s long-term future is at weakside and middle linebacker for the Seahawks.
So Wright moved to the other side. To a new job, in the same city.
He had the same, fantastic results.