With the new league less than a week away, the Seattle Seahawks shook up the NFL landscape with a pair of transactions on Tuesday. The first was a blockbuster deal involving shipping off their nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback to the Denver Broncos. The second was the release of eight-time All-Pro inside linebacker Bobby Wagner.
While the Russell Wilson trade can’t be made official until 4 p.m. EST next Wednesday, Wagner is free to sign with any team he wants immediately, whenever he so chooses. He was due to have a cap hit of $20.35 million in 2022 on the final year of his contract and the move frees up $16.6 million in cap space with his release.
As a salary cap casualty, Wagner won’t impact the compensatory pick formula for any team that he signs with, which is music to the ears of the Baltimore Ravens and General Manager Eric DeCosta. They are a franchise that historically prefers to sign unrestricted free agents that were released by their teams instead of just outright hitting the market.
A player like Wagner, one of the most elite defenders of his generation and universally recognized as one of the best linebackers in the league, rarely becomes available. He is exactly the type of player that the Ravens should pounce on. They did this last year with veteran offensive guard, Kevin Zeitler, signing him just days after he was released by the New York Giants.
Just like in Zeitler’s case in 2021, the Ravens have young players at the position Wagner plays with potential. They recently spent moderate-to-high draft capital at inside linebacker. However, they didn’t let that stop them from improving a position group that doesn’t rank among their top offseason needs but could still use an upgrade.
The Ravens have a pair of athletic young inside linebackers in Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison, who they drafted in the first and third round of the 2020 NFL Draft. But, the middle of their defense has been inconsistent and underwhelming at times. This has been true for stretches ever since they lost four-time Pro Bowler C.J. Mosley in free agency following the 2018 season.
In each of the past three years, they’ve relied on journeymen veterans like L.J. Fort and the ageless wonder Josh Bynes to rescue and stabilize the position.
Wagner would bring stability and consistency to a position that has been lacking in both areas. Also, he would bring with him a wealth of knowledge, clutch playmaking ability, and a natural feel for the passing game — which almost looks like ‘spidey sense’ sometimes.
As fast and physical as Queen and Harrison are, Wagner is the finished product with all the rough edges chiseled off. For a team with Super Bowl aspirations looking to compete in an ultra-competitive AFC conference, he’d be an invaluable asset.
Wagner has been to a pair of Super Bowls and lifted a Lombardi trophy. He was a key part of a legendary defense, has been voted to eight Pro Bowls, and has recorded over 100 tackles every year of his career, including leading the league twice.
His presence on the Ravens defense would give them a dynamic duo like they haven’t had since Daryl Smith and Moseley in 2014. Or, some would argue, not since the great Ray Lewis was the face of the defense and paired will several notable partners. Queen would be allowed more time to hone his skills at the WILL spot while being groomed next to Wagner, who is just 31-years-old and still in his prime.
Given that the Ravens were already in decent salary cap shape prior to it rising to $208.2 million for 2022, they should have enough resources to sign Wagner. Not only him, but perhaps even another perennial Pro Bowl defender or two.
There is a certain free safety in Kansas City slated to test the free-agent waters and a familiar pass rusher in Green Bay that might be joining Wagner in the ranks of the salary cap casualties.