Seahawks' Bobby Wagner: Defensive players 'just as important'

RENTON, Wash. -- Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner said Wednesday that he wishes Earl Thomas was with the team while also going to bat for the All-Pro free safety and the other defensive players who are holding out for new contracts.

"Honestly, I really don't know," Wagner said when asked if he could imagine Thomas not reporting for the start of the season. "It's an interesting thing. You want him to be here. I want him to be here. But at the same time too, there's a business side of this thing, and sometimes that takes over what you should be doing.

"I think you see it a lot right now from the defensive side. You have amazing players that are not getting paid ... and I think at some point you have to make a stand."

Thomas, who's made the Pro Bowl six times in eight seasons and has been named a first-team All-Pro three times, has stayed away from the Seahawks all offseason while seeking a new deal and has publicly called for the team to trade him if it isn't going to extend him.

Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald -- for the second straight year -- and Oakland Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack are the two other star defenders who are holding out.

"Every year, they're making the game harder and harder for a defensive player to play," Wagner said. "You've got this new helmet rule that they don't even know how to officiate right now. We're doing our best to adjust.

"I just think that defensive players are just as important as offensive players. If you don't have a defense, this league doesn't exist. So I feel like defensive players do need to kind of stand their ground just to show like, we're just as important. You see all the offensive guys getting paid. We're just as important."

The 29-year-old Thomas is entering the final year of the four-year, $40 million extension that he signed in 2014, which at the time made him the NFL's highest-paid safety in terms of annual average. He has since fallen to sixth, with Kansas City's Eric Berry atop the list at $13 million per season and Seattle teammate Kam Chancellor ($12 million APY) also among those who have surpassed him.

"It's hard to really tell somebody like that what to do because does he deserve to get paid? I mean, look at him," Wagner said of Thomas. "All Pro, Pro Bowls, best safety in the league. Not many safeties like him. So at some point you've got to do what you've got to do business-wise because our years are numbered.

"He's been in the league eight, nine years. You don't know how many more years you've got. So you've got to make sure you take care of the business side. And unfortunately sometimes that comes in the way of playing on the field."

Thomas' contract includes an $8.5 million base salary for 2018. He's subject to more than $1 million in team fines already for missing mandatory minicamp and the first three-plus weeks of training camp.

"At the end of the day, you've got to know your worth. You've got to know your value," Wagner said. "You can't let somebody else set your value, so I think from that standpoint, you know your value and you know what you're willing to play under and what you're not. It's always that thing.

"When they want you to take a pay cut, it's like 'We have to make that decision,' but when you ask for more money, it's a big deal. So the business side of things is interesting."

Thomas' holdout followed an offseason of change for the Seahawks, particularly on defense as Seattle released Richard Sherman and Cliff Avril and traded Michael Bennett. Kam Chancellor and Avril are unlikely to play again because of neck injuries.

While Wagner defended Thomas' decision to hold out, he also lauded fellow Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright -- another long-time teammate -- for how he's taken a different approach to a similar situation. Wright is entering the final year of his contract and saw the team draft a potential replacement in fifth-round pick Shaquem Griffin.

Wagner made it clear that he thinks Seattle would be mistaken not to re-sign Wright at some point.

"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."

Wagner has two years left on his contract and said he doesn't think about his future in Seattle beyond that.

"I think once you're thinking about it, it takes away from your game," he said. "I'm not really thinking about it. I'm here. I want to be here for my whole career. That's a goal of mine. I also understand the business. Hopefully I play with K.J. my whole career. That is a goal of mine as well. For me, I just kind of let things play out. But we'll see."