Wag­ner rep­re­sent­ing self, will­ing to wait for new deal

The News Tribune - - Sports - BY GREGG BELL [email protected]­new­stri­bune.com

The Sea­hawks have a new core upon which they in­tend to build cham­pi­onships.

Richard Sherman, Kam Chan­cel­lor, Michael Ben­nett, Cliff Avril and now Earl Thomas aren’t in it any­more, of course.

Bobby Wag­ner and Rus­sell Wil­son ab­so­lutely are.

For­get that Wag­ner’s and Wil- son’s con­tracts end after the 2019 sea­son. That the $43 mil­lion All-Pro mid­dle line­backer and $88 mil­lion fran­chise quar­ter­back don’t have new deals yet, and may not be­fore next sea­son be­gins in Septem­ber.

They are un­de­ni­ably the pil­lars upon which the en­tire fran­chise’s fu­ture rests. There are no Plan Bs for lead­ers of the de­fense and of­fense, no suc­ces­sors for coach Pete Car­roll and gen­eral man­ager John Sch­nei­der to move on with into the 2020s.

Wag­ner and Wil­son are the team’s foun­da­tion stars that aren’t go­ing any­where.

THIS IS WHERE I WANT TO BE FOR MY CA­REER. THIS IS AN AMAZ­ING CITY, AMAZ­ING FANS, AMAZ­ING OR­GA­NI­ZA­TION.

Sea­hawks line­backer Bobby Wag­ner

But about those con­tracts ...

Wil­son said the day after this sea­son ended with the wild-card play­off loss at Dal­las he would be will­ing to play the 2019 sea­son as a fi­nal year in his con­tract, with­out a new deal, “if that’s what I’ve got to do.”

Does Wag­ner feel the same way?

“Yeah,” Wag­ner said last week. “I mean, that’s some­thing that I let the busi­ness side play out.

“I’m heav­ily in­volved in the busi­ness side.”

Way more than most play­ers.

In the last year Wag­ner has dropped his agent. He has de­cided to rep­re­sent him­self in talks with the Sea­hawks on a third con­tract.

He has re­tained le­gal and ac­count­ing help, “my team,” he calls it. They are with him on a con­sul­tant ba­sis, to con­firm all the in­tri­cate de­tails and le­gal as­pects of his next con­tract.

There are for­mer Sea­hawks prece­dents in do­ing this, rep­re­sent­ing them­selves in ne­go­ti­a­tions with an NFL team: Rus­sell Okung and Sherman.

The per­cep­tion is that self representation may not be the best way to go. But Wag­ner has stud­ied the deals Okung and Sherman have ne­go­ti­ated with other teams the last three years. Wag­ner has been im­pressed. More than that, he likes the prin­ci­ple of a player tak­ing the time to learn the busi­ness of the sport to bet­ter him­self now fi­nan­cially, and for the decades of his life after foot­ball.

Go­ing with­out an agent in the NFL re­mains rare, and it has had mixed re­sults re­cently.

Okung ne­go­ti­ated his own deals with Den­ver and then the Charg­ers since he left the Sea­hawks fol­low­ing the 2015 sea­son. He got widely crit­i­cized for the deal he signed with the Bron­cos. Okung had a base salary of $2 mil­lion for the 2016 sea­son, with few guar­an­tees and many op­tion clauses. His deal had a team op­tion for 2017 that would have trig­gered a four-year con­tract worth $48 mil­lion with $20.5 mil­lion guar­an­teed. After one sea­son in which he played through in­juries and had costly penal­ties, the Bron­cos de­cided not to pick up the op­tion. He ended up earn­ing a to­tal of $8 mil­lion in cash for his one sea­son in Den­ver, in­clud­ing the bonuses and in­cen­tives he ne­go­ti­ated for him­self.

Play­ers across the league see the con­tract Okung ne­go­ti­ated with the Charg­ers as the lone, shin­ing suc­cess story of go­ing the no-agent route, an en­tic­ing ex­am­ple of the money a guy can make, not to men­tion the se­condary issue of sav­ing the agent com­mis­sions.

Okung got a $53 mil­lion deal for four sea­sons with $25 mil­lion guar­an­teed and a $10 mil­lion sign­ing bonus he col­lected when he signed last year. He has earned $13.5 mil­lion and $12.5 mil­lion in cash the first two years of his Charg­ers deal. His base salaries of $12 mil­lion in 2018, $13 mil­lion in 2019 and $13 mil­lion in 2020 are the most in his ca­reer, by plenty. His pre­vi­ous high was $8.76 mil­lion, from the Sea­hawks in 2014.

Okung did that at age 29 last year. That’s how old Wag­ner will be in June.

Sherman was rep­re­sent­ing him­self when the Sea­hawks waived him in­jured in March, when he was 29 and com­ing off a torn Achilles ten­don. The next day Sherman struck a deal with San Francisco. It was a bet on him­self, with big bonuses for mak­ing the Pro Bowl, be­ing an All-Pro and for playing time.

In 2018, Sherman was not an All-Pro. That cost him a $2 mil­lion bonus. For the second time in six years he didn’t get named to the Pro Bowl. That cost him a $1 mil­lion bonus.

He didn’t have an in­ter­cep­tion for the first time in his ca­reer, as he played through in­juries re­lated to the Achilles in­jury and surg­eries he had after his last game for the Sea­hawks in Novem­ber 2017. He missed out on an­other $1 mil­lion be­cause he failed to play 90 per­cent of the 49ers’ de­fen­sive snaps (he played 77.9, ac­cord­ing to the San Francisco Chron­i­cle).

So Sherman missed out on $4 mil­lion in performance bonuses. He earned $8.8 mil­lion for 2018. That was 21st among NFL cor­ner­backs, ac­cord­ing to over­the­cap.com. It was his low­est-earn­ing year since 2013, when he was still un­der his rookie con­tract as the Sea­hawks’ fifth-round draft choice from 2011.

Not ex­actly what Sherman had in mind when he bet on him­self with his self-ne­go­ti­ated deal in March.

Yet the 49ers love Sherman. They have said they are go­ing to pick up the op­tion he ne­go­ti­ated with them for 2019. That will pay him $7 mil­lion in base salary with the chance for $2 mil­lion more in per-game ros­ter bonuses, which he also had this past sea­son.

Wag­ner stands to get per­haps $70 mil­lion or more in his new deal. Wag­ner last week was named All-Pro for the third con­sec­u­tive sea­son and fourth time in his sev­enyear ca­reer.

Carolina’s Luke Kuech­ley, the only other mid­dle line­backer men­tioned in Wag­ner’s class, got $61.8 mil­lion in a five-year ex­ten­sion he signed with the Pan­thers a month after Wag­ner got his second deal in Au­gust 2015.

When will it be Wag­ner’s turn to see what he can get on his own, from the Sea­hawks?

“Would I like to be taken care of be­fore the (2019) sea­son? That’d be great,” Wag­ner said. “If I’m not, that wouldn’t be the end of the world. I un­der­stand this is a busi­ness, and I am pre­pared for any­thing that hap­pens.

“So if they sign me be­fore then, cool. If they don’t, cool, too.

“But, you know, I want to be here. This is where I want to be for my ca­reer. This is an amaz­ing city, amaz­ing fans, amaz­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion. So I would love to be here.

“I’m go­ing to make sure the busi­ness takes care of it­self.”

Wag­ner knows the Sea­hawks have to re-sign lead­ing sack man Frank Clark be­fore free agency be­gins March 13. He knows the team then has a $30plus-mil­lion-a-year issue in get­ting Wil­son re-signed.

Wag­ner will, of course, have a siz­able ad­van­tage rep­re­sent­ing him­self over what Okung and Sherman had in get­ting their own deals the last few years. Wag­ner will be ne­go­ti­at­ing not with a new team but with the same gen­eral man­ager and coach that drafted him, with the team for whom he has starred and won a Su­per Bowl over the last seven years.

Make no mis­take, this is ab­so­lutely Wag­ner’s team and de­fense now.

Not only are Sherman, Thomas, Chan­cel­lor, Ben­nett and Avril all gone, Wag­ner’s lineback­ing part­ner K.J. Wright is no sure thing to re­turn in 2019; that’s per­haps a 50-50 propo­si­tion at this point.

Wag­ner could en­ter mini­camps in May as the only re­main­ing mem­ber of Seat­tle’s Su­per Bowl de­fenses of the 2013-14 sea­sons.

Then again, Wag­ner’s been feel­ing this has been his de­fense since the day he got here seven years ago.

“I think that’s more of an out­side thing. I’ve al­ways felt like as soon as you call me the mid­dle line­backer of the team it’s my team,” he said. “So the per­cep­tion of the out­side didn’t get to that point un­til after ev­ery­body left, so it’s not some­thing I pay at­ten­tion to.

“I just want to do the best I can to run this de­fense and make sure it’s per­form­ing at a high level.”

CHAR­LIE NEIBER­GALL AP

Kansas City Chiefs wide re­ceiver Tyreek Hill (10) scores a touch­down over In­di­anapo­lis Colts safety Clayton Geathers dur­ing the first half Satur­day in Kansas City, Mo. The Chiefs won 31-13 to ad­vance to the AFC cham­pi­onship game.

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