"We find out sometimes like y'all find out," Wagner, the All-Pro middle linebacker, told 710 ESPN Seattle in May, by which point the Seahawks had released Richard Sherman and Cliff Avril and traded Michael Bennett. "We find out on ESPN or we find out on our cell phones; you get the alert pop up. ... Every time my phone alerted it was somebody getting cut, somebody getting traded. And it's just like, 'Oh man, I've gotta call him, I've gotta' -- you know what I mean?"
What Wagner and everyone else watched unfold was the remaking of a roster, particularly a defense that had served as the backbone for the greatest stretch in franchise history.
With Sherman, Bennett and Avril gone, plus Kam Chancellor injured, Seattle's defense has lost a combined 12 Pro Bowl appearances. That's not counting the six that belong to Earl Thomas, whose holdout has no apparent end in sight.
And in Chancellor specifically, the Seahawks lost their foremost defensive leader, the guy who set the tone not only on the field but also inside the Virginia Mason Athletic Center, a three-time team captain who wasn't always the first player to speak up but who would command everyone's attention whenever he did.
As one of the last men standing on that side of the ball, it's a role that is falling on Wagner's shoulders now more than ever.
"I don't think there's any doubt," coach Pete Carroll said. "Yeah, I don't think there's any question that he has been a focal point for this football team. So the eyes are looking to him, yeah. He's just a great leader. He has always been that. Now there's more focus because he is really the voice."
'He's just a natural leader'
Before the end of that same radio interview in May, Wagner gave an unprompted shoutout to Thomas, who had been absent all offseason in protest of his contract situation.
The two had gone at it in a public tiff following a blowout loss to the Los Angeles Rams last season, but there was no sign of lingering hard feelings on Wagner's part when he extended the interview to heap praise on Thomas and make it known that teammates appreciate him as a player and a person.
If you were looking for any early clues as to which of the remaining veterans on defense was going to fill Chancellor's leadership void, this was an obvious one.
And the first of a few.
It was Wagner who took on the role of team spokesperson when he met with reporters at the podium after the first practice of training camp -- the only player to do so -- and did his best to quash the sky-is-falling assumptions that have become popular among those observing the Seahawks from afar.
It was Wagner who, when linebacker Shaquem Griffin got beat badly by a tight end in a pass-coverage drill, made a beeline toward the rookie so he could coach him up on what he did wrong.
"They are so helpful," Griffin said of Wagner, who's entering his seventh season, and fellow linebacker K.J. Wright, who's entering his eighth. "They make sacrifices that a lot of vets that you see on other teams wouldn't do. They come to the rookie meetings, they sit by us, they ask us questions, they tell us to go to the board. They make sure they ask us when we're on the field, why are we thinking this way, why are we making this decision. So, they kind of stay on top of everything."
Said Wagner, already twice a captain: "I think my role changed from the standpoint of being a guy that guys come and ask questions to and being more of a leader. When I was a rookie, I was kind of just flying, trying to make plays. We had guys like Red Bryant and those guys who we looked up to, but that role has changed."
Leadership in NFL locker rooms is often misconstrued or oversimplified. It isn't always about the guy who gives the fiery pregame pep talk. For the soft-spoken Wagner, it's rarely about that at all.
"He's not going to do a whole lot of that," Carroll said. "He's not going to give speeches and stuff like that, but ... I know how to call on him and give him his opportunities, just knowing him over the years. He has a great perspective and so that's what's important for me, to make sure that the players know where he's coming from. I'm talking about the new guys, young guys. In time, and as we've been going through it, they're learning and he's doing his part.
"In the locker room, he's just a natural leader. He doesn't need a lot of help. He's great at it."
'Linebackers run the show'
Wagner, Wright and new defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. don't quite agree with the notion that Seattle's linebackers are taking on a greater importance given all the key departures from the other two levels of Seattle's defense.
In their eyes, they've always been the ones in charge by virtue of the position they play. It's why Norton, a Pro Bowl linebacker in his playing days who also coached the Seahawks linebackers from 2010 to '14, has constantly reminded them that "linebackers run the show."
"I feel like it's always started up front with us," Wagner said. "You got to get the plays, you got to get the call."
True, but the strength of Seattle's defense has shifted toward the middle. A secondary once loaded with potential Hall of Famers has plenty of promise and some proven starters, but no one who has made a Pro Bowl.
Wagner has made first-team All-Pro three times, most recently a year ago, when he produced one of the best seasons of his career. His 518 tackles over the past four seasons are the most in the NFL. Wright has a Pro Bowl on his résumé and would have more if voting weren't so skewed in favor of the guys who rack up sacks.
Linebackers, Wagner in particular, will run the show for Seattle's defense more than ever, on and off the field.
"Yeah, [the Legion of Boom] had the name, they got a lot of the attention and now the attention may shift to the linebackers," Wagner said, "but we pride ourselves on being the guys that lead this team and that has been my mindset since I stepped in. I had Coach Norton teach me the way. It has always been about the guy in the middle. So for me, it's not no different because that's how I look at it, but from the outside maybe it is different because those guys are gone and you guys are looking for someone who is going to be that leader.
"Y'all ain't got to look. You looking at the guy right here. I will be that guy and we going to be fine."