Bobby Wagner was somewhat of a surprise cut for the cap-strapped Los Angeles Rams and had just come off of a season proving he wasn’t yet over the hill, playing like a top-five linebacker at the position. Given that he doesn’t impact a team’s compensatory-pick formula as a cut free agent rather than one whose contract ended, there is some additional value there for an NFL team looking for an instant upgrade.
In a weak linebacker draft class, one would think that a star like Wagner would be able to find a team to land on. However, many of the LB-needy teams have already secured their key players this year. The New York Giants signed Bobby Okereke, the Houston Texans signed Cory Littleton, the Pittsburgh Steelers signed both Cole Holcomb and Elandon Roberts, and the Seattle Seahawks signed Devin Bush.
Thus, Wagner remains one of the top NFL free agents available. A few teams reached out to Wagner early in the process. According to Jane Slater of NFL Network, the Dallas Cowboys had reached out to the former All-Pro. The Score’s Jordan Schultz further indicated that the Seahawks and Los Angeles Chargers talked to Wagner. But since those reports in mid-March, the landscape has changed.
As of now, which teams are most likely to sign Wagner?
Who Will Sign Bobby Wagner in Free Agency?
The Cowboys Could Amplify Their Defense With Bobby Wagner
The Cowboys were one of the teams connected to Wagner, which makes sense. Not only were they in a spot to potentially lose a recently resurgent Leighton Vander Esch, but their young corps had difficulty stepping up after Micah Parsons transitioned from off-ball to EDGE.
While Dallas can continue to hope that Jabril Cox and Damone Clark develop, Dallas does have some urgency to take advantage of the excellent window their incredible defense has provided by signing Wagner, especially given his familiarity with Dan Quinn.
The Cowboys currently have over $16 million in cap space, per Over the Cap, which should be enough to sign the veteran linebacker. That calculated space doesn’t yet include the release of Ezekiel Elliott, which would clear up about $10.9 million more.
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Dallas even has some flexibility, with the ability to clear up cap space by replacing Tony Pollard’s franchise deal with a long-term contract or restructuring some of the contracts for the players they’ve traded for.
This, of course, would be well within Dallas’ wheelhouse. They’ve committed to win-now-type moves, potentially at the cost of developing young talent. Trading for both Stephon Gilmore and Brandin Cooks — while very smart — signals a clear intention toward a particular path. Signing Wagner would allow them to double down on that approach.
Wagner Could Finally Solve Linebacker for the Chargers
The Chargers just added veteran linebacker Eric Kendricks, so they may not be in the market for another veteran. But they lost Drue Tranquill to the Kansas City Chiefs and have a serious liability opposite Kendricks in Kenneth Murray.
Wagner has experience with Staley-style offenses from his time with the Rams and could lead an all-star LB corps with Kendricks to support a struggling defense that has some exciting pieces in Joey Bosa and Derwin James.
Like the Cowboys, the Chargers have over $16 million in cap space and can clear up a little bit more with restructured deals for Corey Linsley, Austin Johnson, and a few others. After the Chiefs modified their passing game to attack over the middle much more often, finding ways to take that away could be LA’s top priority.
Raiders Could Use Wagner To Shore Up a Weak Middle
The Las Vegas Raiders signed Robert Spillane already but should probably not rely on Divine Deablo to be healthy after his injury history. As the Raiders find their new identity under Josh McDaniels, they could do with the presence of someone like Wagner. There’s a lot of roster churn on both sides of the ball, so it wouldn’t be outside the normal operating procedure of the team at the moment as they begin to establish their team culture.
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Wagner would be a big upgrade for a defense that lost what little interior run-stopping power it had when Andrew Billings left for the Bears in free agency. Wagner, meanwhile, still demonstrates high-level coverage capability. Just like the Chargers need to be wary of the Chiefs’ ability to exploit the middle of the field, the Raiders need to be worried as well.