As All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner remained unsigned more than three weeks after his release from the Seattle Seahawks, the Los Angeles Rams looked like a fit that made too much sense to not happen.
Consider all the reasons why Wagner and the Rams were a match made in Hollywood:
For starters, the Rams need to get better at inside linebacker, one of the few lean spots on an otherwise strong defense that helped them win Super Bowl LVI. They built that championship roster by acquiring one big name after another — a necessary approach for a team still trying to build its fledgling fan base in a city that only cares about stars — and had lost one of them when Von Miller signed with the Buffalo Bills.
Despite Miller’s departure and some other free-agent losses, the Rams still look like one of the favorites in the NFC and arguably give Wagner his best chance at winning a second Super Bowl to go with the one he won in Seattle in 2013.
They also give him the chance to return home — or at least close to it. Wagner, a dyed-in-the-wool Los Angeles Lakers fan, grew up about 50 miles east of SoFi Stadium in Ontario, California.
And the Rams give Wagner one more thing that neither the Baltimore Ravens nor Dallas Cowboys nor most other teams that might have been interested in him could have: a chance to stay in the NFC West.
If getting to play the Seahawks twice a year wasn’t a factor in Wagner choosing the reigning Super Bowl champions, then it’s a nice cherry on top of the five-year, $50 million deal that he negotiated himself.
Given the way his time in Seattle ended, it would be naive to think otherwise.
Wagner felt disrespected by the way the Seahawks handled his release, expressing his indignation both on Twitter and in private. It remained even after coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider took public blame for their roles in the matter, saying Wagner deserved better given everything he had done for the franchise over his decade in Seattle.
The Seahawks in fact told Wagner that he was being released before ESPN’s Adam Schefter broke the news, but Wagner had already caught wind of the plan. Schneider’s comments implied that Wagner might have heard the rumblings through the course of serving as his own agent, which can complicate team-to-player communication.
Either way, Wagner is ticked at the Seahawks. And he now gets to face them twice a year, adding a unique layer of intrigue to their rivalry with the Rams. Russell Wilson’s return to Lumen Field as a member of the Denver Broncos won’t be the only revenge game worth circling when the 2022 schedule is announced.
The Rams are getting a highly motivated player in addition to a highly productive one. The 31-year-old Wagner recorded 170 tackles in 15 games last season — breaking his own franchise record, only to have it broken again by teammate Jordyn Brooks — before suffering a knee injury on the first play of Week 17. They’re also getting a player who, before that injury, had been a model of durability, only missing one other game since the start of the 2016 season.
But the Seahawks moved on from Wagner because they felt he was no longer impacting games enough to warrant the $16.6 million he was scheduled to make in the final year of his contract. While he hasn’t made as many splash plays as he did when he was a yearly fixture in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation, there were some in 2021, like his third-down sack of Ryan Tannehill in Week 2, his interception of Jimmy Garoppolo in Week 14 and his tip of a deep ball against Washington in Week 13 that led to a Jamal Adams pick.
Wagner gives the Rams a massive upgrade over Troy Reeder, who didn’t play well enough in 10 starts last season to get tendered as a restricted free agent. And Wagner gives them a veteran presence at a spot that has been manned by younger players in recent seasons.
“He’s a really special guy,” coach Sean McVay told reporters at the owners’ meetings, according to the Los Angeles Times, before the deal was finalized. “He’s a guy that, obviously, [we’re] very familiar with playing him a couple [of] times a year, and three times in 2020. Just as impressive as I thought when you get a chance to spend some elongated periods of time together. … If we can get it worked out, I’d be fired up.”
Once it was worked out, Wagner posted to Instagram a mock-up of himself posing in a Rams jersey. He referenced his messy departure from the Seahawks in the caption, writing that while “it didn’t end in a positive way,” his love for Seattle will never change. He expressed his appreciation for the city but did not mention the team by name.
“I’m excited to be able to come back where it all started and join the LA Rams!” he wrote.
“This is going to be fun for a lot of reasons.”