THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — As Los Angeles Rams linebacker Bobby Wagner prepares to return to Seattle to play his former team, he admitted Wednesday there would be “a lot of emotions” facing the Seahawks at Lumen Field on Sunday.
One of the reasons, he said, is that playing the Seahawks is “playing the organization that you felt gave up on you.”
Wagner felt disrespected by the way the Seahawks handled his release in March, expressing his indignation both on Twitter and privately to the team. He remained upset even after Seattle coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider took public blame for their roles in the matter, saying a few weeks later that Wagner deserved better given everything he’d meant to the Seahawks during his decade in Seattle.
The team had, in fact, told Wagner that he was being released before ESPN’s Adam Schefter broke the news. But Wagner had already caught wind of its plans to move on and go with younger players at inside linebacker.
“Yeah, that’s on me. I own that,” Schneider said at a March news conference.
Carroll interjected to take the blame himself, but Schneider continued: “No, it really is [on me]. I wish I could have handled things better in that regard from a communication standpoint. I owe it to him. The organization owes it to him.”
One factor in the mishap, according to Schneider, was that Wagner represents himself. Not having the buffer of an agent made the Seahawks wary of the potentially awkward dynamic of bringing Wagner back after telling him directly that they might move on. Carroll, who has final say in Seahawks personnel decisions, was in favor for much of the offseason of keeping Wagner and was holding out as long as possible, hoping to find a way.
Arguably the best defensive player in Seahawks history, Wagner owns the franchise’s all-time tackles record, and he made eight Pro Bowls and was named a first-team All-Pro six times. He was the last remaining player from the “Legion of Boom” defense that led Seattle to its lone Super Bowl title in 2014 and a captain of that unit six times.
“Too much respect to have something like that happen,” Schneider said in March. “We did speak with him. We did talk to him together. We walked through things. So it wasn’t like we didn’t speak with him. It was just the timing.”
In his introductory news conference with the Rams, Wagner said he had “no hatred” toward the Seahawks but lamented how they handled his release. He also took issue with the notion that not having an agent was a factor, calling that a “weak” explanation. He said the chance to play the Seahawks twice a year wasn’t his primary motivation in signing with the Rams, but it was “a cherry on top.”
In the teams’ first matchup in Week 13 — a 27-23 victory for Seattle — Wagner had his best game of the season, with two sacks and an interception. Afterward, Wagner went over to the Seahawks locker room, catching up with former teammates as well as Carroll.
“He’s had a great season, especially the first time we played him,” Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf said Wednesday. “It looked like he was all over the field, making sacks, catching picks.
“I know this is going to be a big game for him just to be back up here playing in Seattle.”
Wagner said that when he is on the field in Seattle, he’ll allow himself to feel “the energy,” “the crowd” and “the moments that I had there.”
“It’s going into a stadium I’ve been thousands of times, played hundreds of times,” Wagner said Wednesday. “And to be in a position to spoil their playoff hopes is always a good position, something worth playing for. And it will be fun to go back there, be back in front of those fans that I spent so much time [around]. And it should be a fun game.”
Wagner’s final game with Seattle at Lumen Field came in Week 17 last season, when he injured his knee on the first play. He missed the rest of that contest as well as the Seahawks’ season finale at the Arizona Cardinals with the injury.
“For me, my last time I played there wasn’t a great one,” Wagner said. “So, I’m just blessed to be able to have an opportunity to not have that be my last play at that field.”
Rams linebacker Ernest Jones, who has spoken at length about how much he has learned from Wagner since the veteran signed in Los Angeles, said Monday that being able to help Wagner beat the Seahawks would mean a lot. The Rams came close in Week 13 but lost after Geno Smith threw a touchdown with 36 seconds remaining.
“It means everything for me,” Jones said. “That Seattle game, I really wanted that for him because I just know, for somebody to be in a certain situation for as long as they were and mean so much to a city and a team like that. … The way he was let go, I felt like wasn’t right. So for me, I definitely want to get him this win.
“I definitely want him to get the last say so, get that last ‘ha-ha’ against Seattle. So for me, this is a big week, bigger than most because it’s Seattle.”
When asked Wednesday how he hoped Seahawks fans would welcome Wagner in his return, Carroll said, “I think they’re going to welcome him back.”
“I just think that’s what’ll happen, and then if he makes a tackle or something, maybe they don’t give him as much love,” said Carroll, who coached Wagner in his first 10 seasons. “I don’t know. He’s going to make some hits in this game. He’s playing good ball and doing good stuff. They’ll do the right thing. Whatever it is, they’ll do it.”
Not only can Wagner and the Rams spoil the Seahawks’ playoff hopes, Wagner also can break the Rams’ single-season record for tackles if he tallies 10 on Sunday. He has had at least 10 tackles in a game four times this season.