Bobby Wagner was an All-Pro in 2022, but that doesn’t mean he’ll break the bank in NFL free agency. The 11-year veteran will be playing for his third team in the past three seasons, and a change in defensive scheme and philosophy could mean very different results.
Tremaine Edmunds’ contract was expensive, but he’s a 24-year-old athletic phenom who went to a team with more money to play with than the federal reserve. Bobby Okereke could only manage $10 million in annual value, and the rest of the linebacking crop in free agency has seen little return so far in the process.
Wagner is still a good player. He’s an intelligent coverage defender and a strong downhill run defender. However, there is no denying that the 32-year-old isn’t quite as quick as he was in his prime.
Bobby Wagner Landing Spots
It wouldn’t be free agency over the past two cycles if the Cowboys weren’t flirting with the veteran linebacker. However, Dallas re-signed Leighton Vander Esch on a two-year, $8 million deal. NFL Network reporter Jane Slater said, “As for Bobby Wagner, I’m told that’s probably out with the LVE deal done this evening.”
But that doesn’t mean the Cowboys should be out on the veteran linebacker. Stephon Gilmore is 32. Trevon Diggs will be searching for a contract extension shortly, and there’s no guarantee that Dan Quinn will make it through another head coaching cycle as the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator; 2023 is as good a year as any to go all out.
Damone Clark miraculously returned from spinal fusion surgery to play football in 2022. Still, he didn’t show enough promise late in the season to preclude Dallas from looking at a short-term option besides Vander Esch. Wagner has a history with Quinn and has already shown to be a fit in different systems in the NFL.
Could there be a potential reunion in Seattle for Wagner? ESPN’s Ed Werder confirmed the Cowboys’ interest before re-signing Vander Esch and also said, “Seahawks interested too. Source tells me Wagner decision not imminent as both seek to determine his current value.”
Seattle already saw Cody Barton leave in free agency, and they did not place a tender on Tanner Muse. Wagner was a cap casualty for Seattle a season ago, but in a dried-up linebacker market, the last remaining member of the Legion of Boom defense could return home.
MORE: Remaining 2023 Free Agents by Position
After signing with the Rams, Wagner said, “I felt like we had a lot of good years. I was committed to not only the organization but to the city. So it’s unfortunate that I won’t be one of those guys who said they played their whole career with one team.” There was no bad blood between Wagner and the organization, so a return is within reason.
Losing Edmunds was a significant loss for a talented defense that took a significant step back in 2022 following a hot start coming off an incredible 2021 season. Adding Wagner, retaining Jordan Poyer, and getting a healthy Von Miller back for 2023 could be exactly what the doctor ordered.
Losing Leslie Frazier for the year will be an adjustment, but Sean McDermott has always played a significant role in the Bills’ defensive structure. He’s even taken over defensive play-calling at times for Buffalo.
Wagner could be a relatively cost-effective solution that could actually improve the team’s defense in 2023. While Edmunds is being paid the big bucks for what he should bring the Chicago Bears in the future, it’s not crazy for someone to believe that Wagner could provide a similar or better return at a fraction of the cost.
The rest of Philadelphia’s defense is nearing AARP status. Why not add to the pile of elderly NFL statesmen? Howie Roseman has made like a bandit over the past few offseasons hitting on veteran signings and trades on the defensive side of the ball. After losing T.J. Edwards and Kyzir White, adding Wagner starts feeling more like a necessity and less like an opportunity.
Nakobe Dean will hopefully slide in as one half of the starting equation, but it would behoove Roseman to add a veteran opposite of him to sift through the trash and be a plus player in coverage.