And he considers the chance to play his old team twice a year a nice bonus to signing with the Los Angeles Rams, even if it wasn’t the reason he joined Seattle’s division rival.
“A lot of people think that it went into my decision, being able to play the Seahawks,” Wagner said Monday via Zoom in his introductory news conference with the Rams. “I don’t have that much hate in my heart. I think I really wanted to be happy and I wanted to be close to home and stay on the West Coast. That was important to me. But playing the Seahawks twice a year was a cherry on top, and I’ll make sure they see me every time we play them. They’ll know where I’m at and I’ll make sure I tell them. It won’t be a quiet game for me.”
Wagner spoke with reporters for the first time since agreeing to a five-year, $50 million contract with the reigning Super Bowl champions last week. A source told ESPN that the deal, which Wagner negotiated himself, includes $20 million in guarantees as well as incentives that give him the opportunity to earn up to $23.5 million through the first two seasons.
Wagner, 31, became a free agent for the first time in his career when the Seahawks released him last month, ending a 10-year run in Seattle that included eight Pro Bowls, six First Team All-Pro selections, a Super Bowl championship and a franchise-record 1,383 tackles.
And one messy breakup.
The Seahawks informed Wagner that he was being released before ESPN’s Adam Schefter broke the news, but Wagner had already caught wind of the team’s plan to move on with younger players at inside linebacker. He voiced his indignation via Twitter and to the team directly.
Coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider both took the blame for mishandling the communication. Carroll said he was holding out as long as possible, hoping there would be a way for Seattle to keep Wagner. Schneider said the organization owed Wagner better while noting one complicating factor in the situation — that he didn’t have the usual “buffer” an agent provides between team and player since Wagner represents himself.
The Seahawks did not discuss a new contract with Wagner.
“Personally, I think after 10 years, I think it’s just a simple communication,” Wagner said. “I don’t think it had to be that difficult. I watched their interview. I saw their apology and I’m grateful. But when they said it was because I represented myself, I felt like that part was weak. … Whether I had an agent or whether I didn’t have an agent, I still feel like that was a conversation they could have had. That’s kind of where I stand with it. I’m not going to dwell on it. … They’ve already moved on. I moved on, so it is what it is at this point. I just think that after 10 years, it could have been a simple conversation, even if they wanted to go in a different direction. I don’t think me representing myself played any part on my end. It’s more on their end. Maybe they didn’t want to do it, didn’t want to kind of burn that bridge. But I feel like through this process and the last process [negotiating his record $54 million extension in 2019], I’ve shown the capability of handling the tough conversations that we’ve had, the tough conversations throughout my 10-year career there. So it’s easy to just pick up the phone.
“I shouldn’t have had to find out the way I found out. But like I said, it is what it is. I ended up in a great place.”
Wagner, a second-round pick by the Seahawks in 2012, said he never thought he was going to leave Seattle and “always wanted” to be there. As soon as the Seahawks released him, he had to separate the emotions he was feeling as a player from the job he knew he had to do as his own agent.
“The player kind of took it personally but the agent just went to work,” he said. “So I just started calling teams and reaching out to teams. I think a lot of teams didn’t know that I represented myself. So I got in contact with teams to make sure that they knew that I was the person they were going to reach out to directly and just kind of started the process from there. It was definitely stressful because like I said, you’ve been in a place for 10 years and there was this idea that you didn’t think that you were going to leave and unfortunately it didn’t work out that way, but I ended up in a great place, closer to home and I’m excited.”
Wagner is from Ontario, California, about 50 miles east of SoFi Stadium. He still has family in the area, including a nephew who’s a senior at his alma mater, Colony High School.
General manager Les Snead said the Rams “weren’t really planning for the opportunity” to sign Wagner. When they found out he was interested in playing in Los Angeles, Snead said they had internal discussions about how they could get Wagner and fellow inside linebacker Ernest Jones on the field together, not wanting the up-and-coming Jones to lose playing time. Snead said they encouraged Wagner to take the time he needed to talk and visit with other teams, and told him they’d be patient on their end.
Snead had long considered Wagner the one who got away. The Rams wanted to draft him in the second or third round in 2012 under then-coach Jeff Fisher, who was a big fan. Seattle beat them to the punch. That missed opportunity gave way to a new organizational philosophy of being more aggressive for draft prospects that they really want. They call it “The Bobby Wagner Rule.”
“About a thousand tackles later,” Snead said, “we get Bobby Wagner.”
Wagner joins receiver Allen Robinson II as big-name additions to the roster that won Super Bowl LVI in February. But the Rams have suffered plenty of significant subtractions as well. Coach Sean McVay said part of the appeal with Wagner is that he helps fill the leadership void created by the departures of left tackle Andrew Whitworth (retirement), outside linebacker Von Miller (to the Buffalo Bills in free agency) and safety Eric Weddle (retirement).
“There’s a couple guys in this league that you get a chance to go to after games because you respect their body of work, the way they approach it not only physically but also mentally, and Bobby has always been one of those guys,” McVay said. “Just a lot of respect for everything that he’s been asked to do in that defensive system. It’s definitely a benefit not having to play against him. He’s one of those guys that can fit in any sort of system.”
Wagner was asked whether he thinks his relationship with the Seahawks will be mended eventually.
“At some point,” he said. “I have no hatred towards Seattle. I have no hatred towards the Seahawks. I think Pete, John, [Jody Allen, the team’s de facto owner]. All those guys, they’re amazing. They treated me well while I was there. So like I said, I have no hate in my heart. Did I not appreciate how they handled that? I texted them. I let them know I didn’t appreciate how they handled it. So it is what it is. It’s not something that I’m going to sit here and use as motivation. Regardless of whether I play somewhere else or play there, I’m a motivated person. I don’t need extra motivation.
“But that game in Seattle will definitely be interesting, for sure.”