K.J. Wright is coming back.
Two league sources told me late Wednesday night the veteran Pro Bowl outside linebacker, one of the most popular and longest-tenured Seahawks, has agreed to return to Seattle on a two-year contract instead of signing elsewhere. That decision comes after he shopped in his first chance at NFL free agency.
Wright told The News Tribune Thursday he will get “up to” $15 million for the next two seasons.
Wright and Doug Baldwin, Seattle rookies in 2011, will remain the longest-tenured Seahawks on the 2019 team.
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“I’m very happy,” Wright told the team’s website after signing his new contract Thursday at Seahawks headquarters in Renton.
“This is home, and it feels good to make it 10 years with one organization. ...
“I’m thankful to be back.”
Just when it appeared the man coach Pete Carroll calls “an incredible part of our program” may be leaving.
Earlier Wednesday, the Seahawks agreed to a one-year contact to bring back Mychal Kendricks, for up to $5.3 million. Kendricks plays the same position as Wright, weakside linebacker in Seattle’s 4-3 defense. Seattle signed Kendricks in September, weeks Wright had knee surgery. While Wright’s knee issue lingered into November, Kendricks played in four games for Seattle last season, until his season-ending knee and leg injuries in early December.
The money they gave Kendricks, contingent on his sentencing hearing April 4 in Pennsylvania for insider trading, suggested he and not Wright would be the Seahawks’ weakside linebacker in 2019. But now there is a possibility the team tries playing Wright and Kendricks at the same time in base defense, flanking All-Pro middle linebacker Bobby Wagner. Kendricks conceivable could be a candidate for the strongside-linebacker spot Barkevious Mingo played most of last season.
Wright’s re-signing makes Mingo a candidate to be released. The Seahawks could save $4.1 million against their 2019 salary cap by releasing Mingo before June 1. None of his $3.4 million base salary for this year is guaranteed. His cap number for this year, the latter one of his two-year contract, is $5.2 million, and Seattle could save $300,000 in per-game roster bonuses by releasing Mingo.
Wright ended up missing 11 of 16 games last regular season because of the knee surgery then setbacks trying to return from it. But in the wild-card playoff game at Dallas on Jan. 5 he was flying around sideline to sideline pressuring Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, tackling running back Ezekiel Elliott and even wide receivers. He had a remarkable interception in his own end zone he tipped to himself, keeping the Seahawks from falling behind by two scores in a game they ultimately lost 24-22.
Wright also had a key pass-interference penalty of 6 yards and an automatic first down for Dallas with 7 minutes left, arriving early for a pass on third and 8.
He said after that game he felt ready to play every down, and his best since the surgery that kept him out into late October, and then again into December. He had regenokine, blood-spinning injection treatment in California to accelerate the healing, while the Seahawks tried to replace him with rookie Shaquem Griffin, Kendricks and backup middle linebacker Austin Calitro (whom the team tendered an offer for 2019 on Wednesday as a exclusive-rights free agent).
“When he did he played really, really well,” Carroll said two weeks ago. “He’s an incredible part of our program. He’s such a tremendous asset, leader, performer, personality--everything about him, you. It’s great to have him around.
“Hoping we can keep him. We will try to.”
The belief inside the Seahawks locker room in the minutes then days after that season-ending loss in Dallas into March had Wright returning as a 50-50 proposition, at best. He said then the Seahawks had not yet approached him with an offer on a new contract.
He’d seen what the Seahawks did to veterans ending second contracts about to turn 30 years old. They never gave three-time All-Pro safety Earl Thomas the top-of-the-market extension he wanted, then Thomas broke his leg in October. Thomas signed with Baltimore as a free agent earlier Wednesday.
“I want to be here” Wright said in the Seahawks’ quiet visiting locker room in Arlington, Texas, Jan. 5. “I’d love to be here. I love playing with this team, with (defensive coordinator Ken) Norton, with Bobby. And I believe it would be in the team’s best interests if I stay here.
“I’m heading to free agency. We’ll see how that goes.”
Wagner is going to be thrilled his great friend is staying. Wagner, who joined the team and defense a year after Wright did, publicly lobbied for the Seahawks to re-sign Wright, injury or not. He said last year the Seahawks should reward Wright for always doing things the right way, for instance: not holding out last spring and summer while Thomas did and both were wanting extensions on expiring contracts.
Through all that, Wright kept saying he trusted the contract stuff would take care of itself.
But he absolutely knew that missing all but five games of the 2018 regular season because of the knee is not the optimal way to show his team it should re-sign him into his early 30s.
“When I got hurt it did cross my mind like, ‘Damn, this is the worst timing,’” Wright said a couple months ago.
“But when you get hurt and you miss some ball, all you care about is football. And the contract stuff will handle itself.
“I just want to play. The money is the money. Whatever.”
Those were the words of a husband and father who has made $23.1 million in his NFL career. One who is earning $7.2 million this year. It’s the most money in one season of his career. He was the Seahawks’ nominee for the 2018 NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year award, after building homes for the less-fortunate in South Seattle and pledging thousands of dollars to build wells for clean water in the villages of Kenya he visited a year ago, last offseason.
All the while, Wright believed Seattle was the right place for him.
“I want to be here,” Wright said, before he, in fact, stayed. “But this is a business. They have decisions to make. They are going to whatever they think is best for their team.”
The Seahawks decided what’s best for them in 2019 is more K.J. Wright.