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Seahawks 2023 free agents: Cody Barton is no Bobby Wagner
Should Seattle stick with Barton or go back to what worked? Seaside Joe 1453
The contrast in the departures of Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner last year and their subsequent relationships in Seattle can be adequately summarized by my favorite Michael Scott quote.
“I think the main difference between me and Donald Trump is that I get no pleasure in saying the words ‘You’re fired.’ ‘You’re fired. Ugh, you’re fired.’ He just makes people sad and an office can’t function that way. No way. ‘You’re fired.’ I think if I had a catch phrase it would be, ‘You’re hired. And you can work here as long as you want.’”
Michael Scott gets no pleasure in saying ‘You’re fired’ but I get no pleasure in re-hashing storylines about Wilson a year after he stopped being a member of the team that we cover and follow. That’s why I haven’t acknowledged any Wilson stories unless they relate back to the current Seattle Seahawks in some way and that’s never been the case. It will never be the case.
But I wrote about Bobby Wagner’s pending release from the Los Angeles Rams on Thursday because there is still a chance for him to be reunited with the Seahawks. That’s the only reason I would write about a former player, as Seattle’s obsession with talking about Wilson every few months is merely drama and high school era gossip.
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If there’s any Seahawks-related storyline to actually grab from The Athletic’s piece on Friday it’s the one that nobody is talking about: The Seahawks are hard committed to Pete Carroll and John Schneider. Any thought that the ownership group was even mulling a change can be put to rest and it speaks to the probabilities that Pete and John will still be in charge when the team is put up for sale (with Jeff Bezos as the prime suspect, if he is unable or uninterested in buying Washington’s franchise) in 2024.
We figured this was the case already after the Seahawks kept Pete Carroll around following a 7-10 season and now seven straight season finishes shy of the NFC Championship round, but the franchise is expecting upward momentum and further progress in 2023 prior to a probable bidding war to be the next ownership group of the Seattle football team.
That 2023 improvement could still involve Wagner and yes, the two sides had their emotional breakup that neither the linebacker or the regime has denied, but it’s been a year. Wagner still has a lot of friends on the team, in the organization, and in the city. Who’s the first person to text Bobby Wagner on Thursday, if not Tyler Lockett?
There is also the reasoning that Wagner wasn’t as dominant in his final season with the Seahawks as he was during the prime stretch of a Hall of Fame career, which is fair. Let’s now consider differences between Seattle’s 2021 defense and today:
New Defensive Coordinator / New Defense
Seattle didn’t have Tariq Woolen then
Seattle didn’t have Uchenna Nwosu then
Seattle may well use 2 1st round picks on D
Seattle knows it needs DL upgrades
Seattle may have a hole at LB & Wagner may cost fair value
We can and we should talk about Bobby Wagner’s disappointing season in coverage in 2021, but playing the majority of a season behind Aaron Donald and the entire season with a defensive weapon like Jalen Ramsey, Wagner had his best campaign in years.
To debate Cody Barton’s value to the Seahawks defense is simply that: A debate. “Well, he does this well” and “He doesn’t do this well” and “That was a bad play” and “That was a play that most linebackers don’t make”.
The fact that the same people pounding the table for Barton are often also the ones saying that Geno Smith deserves whatever contract he asks for is at worst very telling, and at best, a sign to me that narratives on Barton are doing more for him than the actual evidence.
The Seahawks went from eighth in run defense DVOA in 2021 to 25th in 2022. From second in yards per carry allowed to 26th. From two games with more than 150 rushing yards allowed (one of which was 152 yards) to nine such contests. This isn’t all to be attributed to the change from Wagner to Barton, but as they say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Conversely, if it is broke…
If Bobby Wagner has mended fences a year after the release—which a reasonable Wagner would understand is partly a fallout from acting as his own agent, a personal decision that often has negative consequences and has yet to prove a worthy endeavor for the likes of players like Russell Okung and Lamar Jackson—think of what he could be coming back to: A defense that is positioned to be better than the one he was cut from in 2022.
And certainly one that needs to upgrade Cody Barton. Who, if we’re being fair, is simply a Wagner contract away from having spent his entire four-year rookie contract as a backup, in which case we’d be talking about Barton in the same breath as Ben Burr-Kirven instead of along the likes of…Bobby Wagner.
For three years after he was a reasonably high 88th overall pick, Barton was a reserve on Seattle’s defense. This isn’t merely out of being blocked by Wagner and K.J. Wright. The Seahawks also made the decision to use a first round pick on Jordyn Brooks in 2020—a sign that they didn’t think they struck day two gold—and that year he was 24th on the team in defensive snaps. In 2021, Barton was 22nd on the defense in snaps, his third year in the NFL.
I hesitate to get hyped for NFL Draft prospects who don’t see the field for three years, similar to Tyree Wilson and Will Levis in the 2023 class. It doesn’t mean that we fully know the story or that better days aren’t ahead, but for a defense that ranked 26th, 22nd, and 28th in yards allowed from 2019-2021, Pete Carroll wasn’t in the position to keep talent off of the field. Either Barton lacks versatility or talent, but Pete was actively taking steps to find other players he could play instead of him, and other schemes that would keep him off of the field.
Finally the team defaulted to Barton after releasing Wagner, only bringing in special teamer Iggy Iyiegbuniwe as competition in training camp. Clint Hurtt praised Barton’s coverage skills as a former safety:
"His effort and energy (stand out)," defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt said. "He's really, really good in the pass game, he's always had a great awareness for that—he's got background being a safety growing up, and then obviously working his way down into the box. So you see some of those things where there's awareness and picking up pass routes, and communication with guys on the back end. I'm really excited for him for the opportunity for him it's just the opportunity being there. The effort and the attention to detail for Cody has always been a part of it, but now he has a great opportunity, and he's really had a really nice spring so far."
Perhaps Hurtt was so complimentary of Barton’s coverage skills because he was so afraid that someone in the media would ask him about his run defense. Though Barton was perhaps the surest tackling linebacker in the NFL by the numbers (136 made tackles, only one missed according to Pro-Football-Reference) alongside Wagner, opposing offenses never had any issues in knowing how to run away from and around Cody Barton.
And I think the coverage aspect is not as valuable as some are leading you to believe. Ultiamtely, teams completed 44 of 51 passes thrown at Barton, per PFR, and that’s because it’s really difficult for any linebacker to completely shut off the valve for those easy throws across the middle these days. That’s where so many QBs are eating their breakfast now.
But Barton is no Fred Warner.
Though he playd in almost 100-percent of the snaps from Weeks 1-3, Barton played in only 62%, 77%, 39%, 63%, 51%, 43%, 80%, and 73% of the snaps from Weeks 4-12. Carroll was especially hesitant to play Barton against the Cardinals, two of Seattle’s best defensive performances of the season. Only Brooks’ torn ACL early in the win over the Jets in Week 17 led to Barton playing the rest of the snaps through the Seahawks’ wild card loss to the 49ers.
A game with 181 rushing yards allowed and Brock Purdy tearing through Seattle’s defense.
As I’ve said in the past and will continue to say with regards to this upcoming class of free agent quarterbacks, I’ll defer somewhat to what the league—and the $$$—says about the value of individual players. The “market” gets it wrong a lot, we’ve seen that every offseason and ensuing regular season, but does the NFL view Cody Barton as anything more than a default replacement linebacker?
During the season, I made the comparison to Broncos linebacker Josey Jewell in terms of contract value. Jewell signed a two-year, $11 million contract last offseason with a $4.5 million signing bonus. Jewell had missed all but two games the year before his contract, but had a Barton-esque season in 2020 after riding the bench for two years.
If the Broncos don’t cut him, Jewell will carry a $7.1 million cap hit in 2023. He had a $3.75 million hit in 2022.
After signing a five-year, $50 million contract with the Rams in 2022, Wagner’s first cap hit was only $2.5 million. Essentially, Wagner signed something more like a one-year, $10 million contract (though it seems he’s getting his $3.5 million bonus to make it $13.5 million) that was spread out over five years to lower his 2022 cap hit. It is not like Seattle to do that kind of contract for Wagner, but whether they could get him for less than a $4 million cap hit in 2023—that seems plausible.
Given how comparable that is to a probable Cody Barton contract, I’d only have one thing left to say to Bobby Wagner:
You’re hired. And you can work here as long as you want.
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