How NFL star Bobby Wagner negotiated his $65 million contract with the Rams

Bobby Wagner #54 of the Seattle Seahawks interviews after practice at training camp on July 29, 2021 in Renton, Washington.

Alika Jenner | Getty Images

NFL linebacker Bobby Wagner wanted another challenge as he prepares for life after football. He therefore represented himself on the free agent market in 2022 after being released on an economic move by the Seattle Seahawks.

On Monday, Wagner, 31, agreed to a five-year contract with the Los Angeles Rams that could reach $65 million. The deal includes team- and player-based incentives that Wagner says are “achievable.” He called it “a win for me and a win for them”.

In an interview with CNBC on Monday night, Wagner discussed his new contract and explained why he negotiated the terms again without using an agent. It’s not the first time Wagner has opted out of the performance, but he admitted this time was more difficult.

“But,” he said, “I’m always looking to challenge myself, not just on the football pitch, but off the football pitch.”

Put aside emotions

“It’s crazy about the whole thing,” Wagner tweeted on March 11, “I played there for 10 years and didn’t even hear from them that I wasn’t coming back.”

This Twitter response came days after reports surfaced that the Seahawks would release the eight-time Pro Bowl linebacker. This hard-fought decision saved the team $16 million. The club, which plays in the NFC West alongside the Rams, is rebuilding. They also traded their Super Bowl-winning quarterback Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos. Head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider were blamed for the lack of communication with Wagner.

On Monday night, Wagner explained his frustration with how the Seahawks handled the deal.

“I never intended to leave,” Wagner told CNBC. “I planned to play my whole career there. So when it happened you get frustrated, and then you add how you found out about it, you get even more frustrated.” Wagner added that he “took a minute to let the feelings out and then locked himself away.”

Asked for a request for comment on the matter, a Seahawks spokesperson emailed CNBC, “Awesome player, wish him the best.”

The Seahawks drafted Wagner in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft. He has represented himself in contract negotiations since 2015, when he landed a $43 million contract with the Seahawks.

This time, however, was different.

“The first time was a bit easier because I knew the team, the general manager and the history of the club,” Wagner said. “This time free agency was a bit different because you have to reach out to all the GMs – that was another challenge I wanted to take on for myself.”

The NFL Players Association maintains a list of general manager contact information. Wagner got the list and “started texting and emailing reminding teams that I represent myself, and that’s how they can reach me if they want my services,” a- he declared.

Jeremy McNichols #28 of the Tennessee Titans is tackled by Bobby Wagner #54 of the Seattle Seahawks during the fourth quarter at Lumen Field on September 19, 2021 in Seattle, Washington.

Abbie Parr | Getty Images

Inside the $65 million deal

Wagner said he looked at past contracts, player stats and current NFL offers for linebackers to help determine his worth. Another stigma he had to overcome was age.

Wagner said older linebackers aren’t rated properly because of their age because teams favor younger players. But he referenced other Pro Bowl linebackers who played “well beyond 31,” including Baltimore Ravens icon Ray Lewis who retired at 37. played until age 38, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks played until age 35.

“There’s this idea that you can’t play as long as you want,” Wagner said.

Teams including the Ravens and Dallas Cowboys have reached out. During negotiations, the teams had to overcome “the idea that if they send something low or send something that maybe I don’t like, it’s going to be offensive,” Wagner said.

“I felt like I was in a good place where I knew how to deal with my emotions and what stage of my career I was at,” he added. “I just wanted to get the right deal for me.”

The Rams offered this deal.

Wagner’s contract is actually a five-year, $50 million deal that can go up to $65 million if he gets incentives. They include Wagner playing 90% of defensive snaps; the Rams advance to the playoffs and finish in the top five defensively. Other extras include nearly $10 million in roster bonuses and another Pro Bowl selection, according to Spotrac, a website that tracks sports contracts.

“These are very achievable incentives,” he said. Wagner added that he needs to study the salary cap space of teams to “know which team you’re working with. Some teams don’t have cap space, and some don’t have the flexibility. to work with the numbers. So ultimately you have to create your market.”

The deal with the Super Bowl-champion Rams also met other criteria: Wagner, a native of Los Angeles, can play close to home. And he also plans to keep a residence in Seattle.

Wagner also said he had a real flirtation with the Cowboys. “It was a real thing. We had conversations. I love it [Cowboys defensive coordinator] Dan Quinn and I have a lot of respect for him. But between their needs and what they were willing to spend, we disagreed. But there was a mutual interest,” he said.

“Between the Rams and the Cowboys, these are teams that have been around for a long time and have a lot of history,” Wagner added. “Being able to be part of one of these franchises boosts your notoriety. And I landed on one.”

Bobby Wagner #54 of the Seattle Seahawks stretches before a game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on September 10, 2017 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Joe Robbins | Getty Images Sports | Getty Images

Wagner aims to be NFL team president

When discussing the decision to represent himself, Wagner asked to end the narrative that there is “animosity or I feel negative” about the use of NFL agents. “At the end of the day, I’m not doing it to say I’m an agent. I’m doing it for the growth.”

Additionally, Wagner said he was able to build more relationships with NFL team executives and learn more about football business. The objective here is to position yourself as a future team president.

Wagner would be one of the few black team presidents in NFL history if he achieved that goal.

The NFL added its first black team president to Washington Commanders executive Jason Wright in 2020. The Ravens hired the second in February 2022, bringing in the NFL team executive and of the NBA, Sashi Brown. And throughout professional basketball, the NBA has gone from seven black team CEOs, a league high in 2007, to just three now. And MLB lost its first black general manager after Miami Marlins CEO Derek Jeter resigned.

Wagner noted that most players turn to coaching or the media after their careers. But he aims higher.

“It’s the box people put you in,” Wagner said. “I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, but that’s the box we’re put in. They put us in this box where we can’t be president or CEO, and it’s like, ‘Why can’t I if I understand the business?”

He further explained, “What happens with gamers is that we get stuck in our bubble. We get stuck in our world, and it doesn’t matter how long you play – three years or 10 – we’re so stuck and think the world is a certain way. And then when we go out into the real world, we haven’t experienced anything outside of just being on a football team.”

Wagner added, “If I start where I started, if I understand the business and if I understand what’s going on in the locker room, for me, that makes me more valuable.”

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