If K.J. Wright has indeed played his final game as a Seattle Seahawk, he finished his tenure in style.
As one of the few bright spots in Seattle’s 24-22 Wild Card defeat to Dallas, Wright finished second on the team with nine tackles and recorded a highlight-reel interception in the fourth quarter. Moving better than he has in two seasons and flying all over the field, it seemed like his name was being called on every play in some capacity.
“I don’t know what his numbers were and all that, but having K.J. back was so valuable to us.” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll told reporters after the game. “He’s such a great player and a great leader and mentality. He gives other people strength just being around him and he’s unbelievably valuable.”
Wright missed 11 regular season games battling recurring knee problems after undergoing arthroscopic surgery during the preseason. When he returned for three games in the middle of the season, he simply didn’t look healthy, struggling to hold up in coverage and execute run fits due to lack of mobility. He looked like a shell of his former Pro Bowl self.
But after missing four additional games to continue rehabbing his knee, Wright returned for the final two weeks of the season to help the Seahawks wrap up a playoff berth with victories over the Chiefs and Cardinals. Without even glancing at his stats, it was apparent his health had improved dramatically since his first comeback attempt earlier in the year.
Able to get his feet back under him, Wright used those final two regular season games to find his groove heading into the postseason and it showed on Saturday. He moved well laterally, quickly deciphered plays as he’s done throughout his career, and came through in the clutch time and time again for the Seahawks.
Among his notable plays, Wright snuffed out an end around by speedy receiver Tavon Austin, blowing up the play for a three-yard loss. He also hauled in an acrobatic interception while covering tight end Noah Brown that gave Seattle life in the fourth quarter when Dallas looked to be on the verge of breaking the game open.
Wright indicated that the Cardinals scored a touchdown against the Seahawks on the same play in Week 17, allowing him to get a quick jump on the football and create a critical turnover.
“The Cardinals ran that play last week. Larry Fitzgerald on the fake crunch and go. I knew it was coming. It was just a big play and the team really needed it at that moment. I wish we could have capitalized on it.”
Unfortunately, Seattle didn’t take advantage of Wright’s heroics, as the ensuing offensive possession fizzled out due to penalties against D.J. Fluker and Justin Britt. Dallas quickly got the football back and drove 63 yards on 11 plays before Dak Prescott scored on a quarterback sneak from the goal line.
The game-sealing touchdown drive put Dallas in front 24-14 and was prolonged by two penalties by Seattle, including a pass interference call against Wright while covering receiver Michael Gallup. The veteran linebacker didn’t object the call, admitting he held onto the receiver a bit too long.
“I should have let go a little early. I knew I grabbed him… Those calls down the stretch really hurt us. That long quarterback draw by Dak hurt us as well. We have to finish better than that last drive.”
While Wright’s penalty came at the worst of times, it doesn’t offset the fact that he arguably played his best game in two seasons. Now, the Seahawks must decide if he’s still valuable enough to re-sign as the 29-year old linebacker prepares to become a free agent in March.
Prior to this injury-plagued campaign, Wright had been a model of consistency in Seattle, recording 108 or more tackles in four consecutive seasons. Often overlooked in a defense full of stars, he finally earned Pro Bowl recognition in 2016 after being snubbed on several occasions.
He’s also highly-respected in the locker room and not bringing him back would draw the ire of Bobby Wagner, who has openly campaigned for the Seahawks to re-sign his teammate and close friend multiple times over the past few months.
There’s no question Wright can still play when healthy, but as the Seahawks showcased last offseason, they won’t have any reservations about severing ties with long-time defensive starters, especially if the price isn’t right. After earning $7.5 million in the final year of his current contract, Wright will be hard-pressed to get similar money from Seattle in a new deal considering his age and recent injury history.
Wright stated after Saturday’s loss that there haven’t been any discussions between the Seahawks and his representatives, but he hopes to continue his playing career in the Pacific Northwest.
“I want to be here. I would love to be here. I love playing for this team. I believe it would be in the team’s best interest if I stayed here.”
Over the next couple of months, we’ll see if the Seahawks share similar sentiments.