Today the Seahawks extended K.J. Wright on a contract that were he to play on it to its completion would pay him $27 million over the course of four years. The deal is the largest in the NFL right now for what OverTheCap.com considers a 4-3 outside linebacker, a position that has become interchangeable in some contemporary defenses.
This deal comes in the middle of a season that followed on offseason in which the Seahawks extended Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman. It comes before the offseason in which the Seahawks will have their first opportunity to extend Richard Sherman, Bobby Wagner, or perhaps even J.R. Sweezy. All of these players are candidates to remain part of the core of this team, a core that already includes Michael Bennett, Russell Okung, Max Unger, Kam Chancellor, and perhaps Zach Miller, though injuries probably mean that Miller’s time in Seattle is over.
It’s also worth pointing out that the Seahawks extended a 4-3 outside linebacker considering the presence and near-free-agency of Bruce Irvin, and the presence but relative ineffectiveness of Malcolm Smith this year. Wright probably isn’t as important to the Seahawks defense as Bobby Wagner, but he got a contract commensurate with his actual position. He’s not a 3-4 edge rusher, and his contract doesn’t pay him like one.
The 2015 salary cap is expected to be around $140 million, the Seahawks had $106 million already allocated to their 2015 roster. These things can change, but this cap situation is the reason why the Seahawks have ostensibly explored the idea of cutting or trading Marshawn Lynch after this season, and why Russell Okung, Brandon Mebane, Zach Miller, Tony McDaniel, aren’t locks to be on the 2015 roster. Russell Wilson figures to take up a substantial chunk of that $34 million in cap room, and Bobby Wagner will also be cutting a pretty large piece of the pie for himself.
Wright has been mostly healthy in his career as a Seahawks linebacker, missing only four games in his career, and he played more than 70 percent of the Seahawks defensive snaps in 2013, second only to Wagner. In 2014 however, Wright has played 95.9 percent of the team’s snaps, which has been particularly necessary considering the time that Wagner has missed.
Ultimately the Seahawks ability to keep Wright is largely a product of the team cutting ties with Percy Harvin, who would have been extremely expensive heading into 2015. The team missed out on the opportunity to retain Golden Tate, so they didn’t come out of the Tate acquisition without scars on their roster, but the team has made strong commitments to keeping a historically great defense together. The linebacker position didn’t seem like a position they’d be able to afford to allocate a bunch of resources at, but then again, Wright has been very good and is being paid a contract that bucks the trend of 4-3 outside linebackers being overpaid to extremes.