LA Rams will face this former star twice in 2023
By Bret Stuter
I won't lie. I truly enjoyed cheering for one of the NFL's more respectable players for the 2022 NFL season. He was a Steady-Freddie of defensive production, even as the defense around him seemed to fall to untimely injuries or fail to make the plays that fans were accustomed to. He was a throwback to the NFL glory days on the football field, an inside linebacker who always seemed to be at his best when tackling someone, even if that someone was a stray activist who ran onto the football field. He was a mentor to younger players, and a calming voice to nervous veterans.
And when the news broke that the LA Rams would be parting ways with All-Pro inside linebacker Bobby Wagner, we all knew what that meant. The Seattle Seahawks would push hard to bring him back to the fans whose hearts were broken to see him play in horns for one season.
Now that the shoe is on the other foot, I can sympathize a bit. It will break my heart a little to see him compete for the Seattle Seahawks once more. Worst of all, the LA Rams will face him twice in the 2023 NFL season:
The Seattle Seahawks fans will have the chance to cheer for their prodigal son once more. And I understand that some transactions in the NFL have to be done, despite the business impact of those moves.
NFL salary cap playing large role in Rams re-whatever
Of course, the NFL is a business. It's a business of entertaining sports fans, and it's a very big business. Right now, as sometimes happens in business, the LA Rams are downsizing to align their current and future payroll expenses with the projected annual NFL salary cap. In the process, the Rams' entire organization weighed in and had to agree to regroup in 2023. The Rams' payroll expense had gotten so completely out of hand by pushing today's players into tomorrow's salary cap that the Rams were exhausting future cap dollars with only a third of their roster under contract.
After shedding over $60 million in payroll expense, and with just 26 players under contract in 2024, the LA Rams have just under $39 million of available cap space. That's why the LA Rams had to cut their payroll here and now.
At just 44 players, the Rams will likely target as many as 40+ rookies to add to their roster in the off-season. Regardless of how many rookies are drafted, (the Rams enter the 2023 NFL Draft with 11 draft picks), the team will most likely round out the balance of their roster by signing undrafted rookie free agents after the conclusion of the 2023 NFL Draft.
Wagner was worth his contract
Let's be clear, though. When the LA Rams signed All-Pro inside linebacker Bobby Wagner to a five-year $50 million contract, he was worth every penny. In his first and only season with the LA Rams, he lead the team in tackles with 140, he was second in quarterback sacks with 6.0, he was tied for third place on the defense with two interceptions, and he was tied for third place on the defense with five passes broken up.
In the end, the LA Rams paid him a fraction of his contract's value. It was not a failure on his part. Rather, it was an agggregate effect of find and sign more and more elite talent to a roster that continued to spend more on players than the salary cap would allow.
Wagner delivered as well or better than the LA Rams could have hoped for. His rock steady presence, while not perfect, was a grand sight better than anyone the LA Rams had at the inside linebacker position under LA Rams HC Sean McVay's tenure. Not only was he a leader in production, but he was gifted with an ability to rally players around him and fire them up as well. Unfortunately, his play coincided with a season in which the Rams offense suffered a couple of flat tires.
The Rams balloon payment came due.
The Rams have been 'leasing' expertise on the football field for several years, getting the benefit of elite NFL players while managing to push their costs to another team (OLB Von Miller) or to the future (Bobby Wagner). Imagine leasing a vehicle, and optimizing the most that you could afford to lease, without realizing that a huge balloon payment came due at the end of the five-year lease. Well, that is a fairly good analogy for the LA Rams, and the balloon payment came due.
For now, the days of fine dining among the NFL's elite playmakers appear to be over, temporarily. The Rams will be eating Costco hotdogs in terms of NFL Free Agency, and will have to grow their own players in what appears to be a huge influx of NFL rookies in 2023. It will be a slow and somewhat frustrating process at times. And it will not make everyone happy.
Bobby Wagner is not foolish. He knows that his NFL playing days are limited. However else the story may or may not have transpired, one thing is clear. In facing a future with the LA Rams, or a more uncertain future in free agency, hoping to return to a now NFL Playoff bound Seattle Seahawks, he has chosen to sign with the Seahawks for one year.
Of course, the NFL is a business. It's a business of entertaining sports fans, and it's a very big business. And just as businesses reduce their workforce in tougher times, the best employees will opt to leave voluntarily, seeking to land a career opportunity with an organization that is growing, not shrinking. This has nothing to do with performance, personality disputes, or playoff runs. In the end, it's just business, and Bobby Wagner's decision to return to the Seattle Seahawks is just good business sense.