RENTON, Wash. -- When K.J. Wright traveled to East Africa this summer with a group of former Seattle Seahawks teammates, it was, in his words, "just to have a good time." He wanted to take a safari, see the Indian Ocean and experience a new place.
He left there feeling a calling to help the community he visited in Maasai Mara, Kenya -- and with greater life perspective.
"It shows you how fortunate you are, how blessed you are, how good you have it compared to other places in the [world]," the eighth-year linebacker said. "Those people are just still so happy and so blessed with what they do have, smiles on their faces. They're not worried about the little things that most people worry about."
A lot of NFL players would be worried about the rather significant matter of not having a contract for next season. Wright was one of those players back in 2014, when he played out the final year of his rookie deal before signing a four-year, $27 million extension in December of that season. But while he says he wants to finish his career with the only team he has ever known, he insists that he is at peace with the uncertainty as he nears the end of his second contract.
On one hand, he has been among the steadiest members of an all-time great defense, someone who is almost always in the right spot on the field and who comports himself well off of it. He's also about to turn 30 this summer and just missed almost half of his contract season because of a knee injury.
For anyone who assumes the Seahawks' recent decisions to cut Richard Sherman, trade Michael Bennett and not extend Thomas are collectively a sure-fire sign that the team no longer has any use for 30-something players, consider a few things:
1) The team gave Duane Brown a $34.5 million extension in July, a month before the veteran left tackle turned 33.
2) Moving on from Sherman and Bennett was just as much, if not more, about their attitudes than their play. They had become problems the team grew tired of dealing with, a reality that Pete Carroll loudly hinted at when he said "it was time for these guys to move on."
3) As for Thomas, he had a year left on his contract. An extension wouldn't have been out of the question had he made it through this season with his health and his relationship with the team intact.
While Thomas held out all offseason, Wright handled his impending free agency in a different way, showing up to every practice and taking rookie Shaquem Griffin under his wing, even though the Seahawks drafted Griffin as his potential replacement at weakside linebacker.
Bobby Wagner noted the contrasting approaches during training camp as part of a larger point that the Seahawks would be making a mistake by not re-signing Wright, the longest-tenured defensive player on their roster now that Thomas is on IR.
"You definitely have to appreciate guys like K.J. because he's been here, he hasn't missed a practice, he's been available, and he's letting that play out," Wagner said. "But there's also a side to that. If you don't get the deal done, you give a guy like that an opportunity to walk away. So it's like, as a team, you have to figure out what you want to do and who do you want to pay?
"That comes from the guys upstairs, but when you have certain situations where you've got guys that hold out, but then you've got guys that stay and do all the right things and is a leader in the room, is a guy that everybody looks up to, you can't let a guy like that walk away. For me, if you let a guy like that walk away, it would be telling."
That was two days before Wright twisted his knee during warm-ups before a preseason game against the Vikings. He had arthroscopic surgery, then suffered a setback in his recovery that delayed his season debut until Week 8. Recall that Wright was among the Seahawks who traveled out of town in summer 2017 for Regenokine treatment, also for an issue with his knee.
The Seahawks will have the cap space to re-sign Wright this offseason. But they'll no doubt need to be convinced that he is healthy to make that a priority.
"It's just fun because it's still football, and I'm just out there having fun and doing what I love to do," he said of being unsigned beyond 2018. "No worries on my end."
With or without a Seahawks contract, Wright plans to go back to Africa this offseason. He's donating $300 for every tackle he makes this season to raise money to build two wells for a school in Maasai Mara.
"The young ladies have to walk many miles twice a day just to bring back water, and when they do get the water, it's not even clean," he said.
"To get a well built in this community would take a lot of stress off of a lot of people," he said. "You just go there, get water that you can drink, that you could clean clothes with, that you can bathe in. It'll be a beautiful thing once we do get it done."
Wright took to heart a Swahili name he was given by a local following a fireplace dinner. It translated to "the one that gives hope."
Talk about having a lot of incentive to finish the season strong.