Bobby Wagner interrupted another mundane drill for linebackers running through padded bags with … handstands?
His blue Seattle Seahawks helmet on, chin straps unsnapped, he turned his All-Pro, $43 million body upside down and began covering the practice field’s grass with his hands instead of his feet. When he got back upright, the centerpiece to the NFL’s best defense the past three seasons began dancing those hands from side to side, hula style.
“Just having fun, man,” he said after Wednesday’s practice, his sideshow ending the 20th and final day of Seattle’s training camp at team headquarters. “Camp is a grind, so gotta do something to have fun.
“You definitely want to get the learning down, but you’ve got to have the right balance to grindin’ and having fun. It makes practices not seem as long. Whether it’s shooting basketballs or playing pingpong or doing handstands, just have fun.”
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He’s having fun. But he’s definitely not content.
On Aug. 1 he signed a $43 million, four-year extension with nearly $22 million in guarantees. It made him the NFL’s highest-paid middle linebacker, to go with his reputation as the best one.
Wagner, who was guaranteed $2,158,753 with his rookie contract in 2012, received a whopping raise of almost 10 times the guaranteed money with his new deal. Now he's getting $21.977 million in guarantees through the 2019 season. That’s a 918 percent raise.
Yet Wagner, who turned 25 in June, said his “simple” life hasn’t changed in these first days since an $8 million signing bonus entered his bank account this month. Really, he insists nothing is different.
No big purchases?
“Nothing. Just chillin’,” Wagner said with a grin. “Nothing, other than … I can’t really say much has changed. I live a pretty simple life. It’s just been chill — and focused on football.”
What exactly is keeping him grounded? Why does he say the money hasn’t and won’t change him?
It is not just the memory of his Seahawks blowing their chance to win a second consecutive Super Bowl on the 1-yard line in the final seconds Feb. 1 against New England.
It’s Wagner’s burden of knowing he could have helped prevent Malcolm Butler and Ricardo Lockette from becoming internationally known stars of the most mind-numbing ending to a Super Bowl.
Seattle led 24-14 with 8 minutes left Super Bowl 49. Then its historic defense allowed Tom Brady to throw two touchdown passes in the 28-24 loss most will remember for Butler intercepting Russell Wilson at the goal line.
“You know, as much as everyone puts it on the offense for not running the ball at the 1-yard line, we could have stopped them and not even put the offense in that position,” Wagner said Wednesday.
“So we’ve got a lot of talented guys who are going to continue to work hard and grind. I think we have a lot of room for improvement. That’s great. And we feel like we’ve improved so far.”
He’s in the middle of perhaps the least-dramatic position group in Seattle’s preseason. Though Kevin Pierre-Louis was sharing first-team time in practice until injuring his shoulder last week, all three starting linebackers are back: Wagner, flanked by recently re-signed K.J. Wright and Bruce Irvin, who is ultramotivated entering the final year of his contract.
The linebackers’ mantra has stayed constant even as new position coaches Michael Barrow and Lofa Tatupu have replaced Ken Norton; Oakland hired Norton, the man whom Wagner credits for his development, to be its defensive coordinator this spring.
“Outhit everyone. Make sure you outhit everyone,” Wagner said. “And get the ball.”
Relatively soft-spoken with a life that’s as simple as his linebacker credo, Wagner remains the central key to Seattle’s defense and thus the team’s core. The Seahawks were scuffling at 6-4 last season as Wagner was finishing a five-game absence because of a turf-toe injury. Immediately upon his return Seattle won eight consecutive games to make another Super Bowl.
His status as indispensable has only increased this month while team leader and strong safety Kam Chancellor continues his holdout that has no end in sight.
That’s the source of what Wagner sees as perhaps the only change in his life this month.
“I feel like I’ve always had the respect from the league, from other players. So for me, nothing has changed. I have this mindset,” he said.
“Maybe I just speak a little more (with the contract and Chancellor gone). But nothing’s changed on my end.”
Friday at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, in the second exhibition game, Wagner’s fun will continue. It’s one of three remaining chances to tackle someone before the games get real on Sept. 13.
“We take every game pretty seriously,” he said. “You can just tell looking at our film and everyone else’s. Even the starters, we don’t just go out there like it doesn’t matter that much, or whatever. We still prepare like it is a regular game. We prepare like we are going to be in there all the game.
“We get a chance to go out there and actually tackle guys, so I think of it more as just fun.”
Wagner echoed what Carroll said last week, that Seahawks starters honestly don’t know how long they are going to play entering each exhibition game. Carroll wants his key guys training their minds as if these games are real, for when they start becoming that on Sept. 13.
“You just go out there and play,” Wagner said, “until they take your helmet from you.”
And you keep staying in that team training camp hotel until they finally let veterans check out. That was on Wednesday.
That alone was worth a couple handstands. Oh, and the one item on which Wagner has apparently splurged.
“Ain’t got to stay in that hotel no more!” he bellowed. “That’s the most exciting part of camp. We get to go home and actually sleep in our beds that we paid a lot of money for, and chill.”
FRIDAY: Exhibition, Seattle at Kansas City, 5 p.m., Ch. 13, 710-AM, 97.3-FM