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Why the Seattle Seahawks plan to move on from K.J. Wright

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'We're still friends' Russ interrupts Pete Carroll's news conference (0:43)

Russell Wilson interrupts Pete Carroll's news conference to let the world know they are still friends after trade rumors. (0:43)

RENTON, Wash. -- Jordyn Brooks, the Seattle Seahawks' first-round pick in 2020, is part of the team's post-K.J. Wright succession plan at linebacker. He doesn't feel pressure in replacing a franchise legend, but he knows those are some big shoes to fill.

"K.J. had an outstanding career here," Brooks said last week. "He set the bar high, for sure."

Yes, had.

Brooks' use of the past tense with regards to Wright's time with the Seahawks caught the attention of some fans still holding out hope that he's re-signed for an 11th season in Seattle, but it's an accurate reflection of where things stand. While a return is not entirely out of the question, Wright, a free agent, is not in their plans -- even after he continued to play some of the best football of his career last season at age 31.

It's only partly about money.

It's mostly because the Seahawks want their top two draft picks from 2020 -- Brooks and Darrell Taylor -- to join All-Pro veteran Bobby Wagner as starters in their 4-3 defense.

Brooks is taking over full-time on the weak side, where Wright played for most of his career before moving to the strong side when Bruce Irvin went down with an ACL injury early last season. The way Brooks played after returning from a knee sprain and settling into a starting role had some in the organization wishing he was on the field earlier and more often, as he was usually subbed out in passing situations.

Wright was highly productive on the strong side, but the Seahawks want someone in that role who doubles as a pass-rusher. It's why they put Irvin there in 2013, signed Barkevious Mingo in 2018 and brought Irvin back last year. And it's why they're giving Taylor every opportunity to win the job after he lost his rookie season to injury.

The Seahawks are adding strong-side linebacker to Taylor's duties after drafting him as a Leo end in the second round, the same thing they previously did with Irvin.

As it stands now, there isn't a spot for Wright, at least not in Seattle's starting lineup. And given everything he's accomplished during his decade with the Seahawks -- a Super Bowl, a Pro Bowl, more than $45 million in career earnings, the third spot on the franchise's all-time tackles list -- would Wright really want to come back for anything other than a starting role and starter money?

He made it clear in February that as much as he wants to return to Seattle and finish his career with the team that drafted him, he wants to do so on a market-value contract.

Hard to blame him. Wright was the only player in the NFL last season to hit double digits in both tackles for loss (11) and passes defensed (10). He also had a pair of sacks and an interception as he continued his late-career resurgence. Wright set several career highs in 2019 after an injury-plagued 2018.

As well as he's played the past two seasons, the Seahawks want to get younger and faster on defense -- which team doesn't? -- after believing they looked slow at times last year.

"I'm hoping that everything still works out and we're able to get him back," Wagner said last week. "I think he's a tremendous player, a tremendous person, someone that anyone would love to have on their team. So we'll see what happens. I've had conversations with him. I think he's kind of waiting for the right opportunity and I know he'll get it because he deserves it. To have a guy that's coming off [two] of his best seasons that he's had, it would be a shame if he didn't end up on a team that he wanted to be on."

General manager John Schneider said before the draft that the Seahawks thought Wright would have signed elsewhere by then given all the former Seattle defensive assistants who are on other NFL staffs. The Cowboys (Dan Quinn) were linked to Wright, but they drafted a linebacker in the first round in Micah Parsons, moved Keanu Neal to linebacker and return Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith.

The Jets (Robert Saleh) and Raiders (Gus Bradley) appear set at linebacker. The Saints (Kris Richard) have a question mark there but not much cap space.

"We have the utmost amount of respect for him," Schneider said of Wright. "He's done a ton for this organization, he's a great person, great leader."

The play for Wright may be to sit back, wait for a need to arise and sign somewhere closer to the start of the season. Most 10-year veterans aren't dying to take part in minicamp or training camp, anyway.

It sounds like the Seahawks will be patient when it comes to evaluating whether to make a significant personnel move.

"We're still working it, figuring out the roster and how it's going to go," coach Pete Carroll said late last month. "Until we get on the field and can see how things are starting to come together, there won't be major changes in what's going on because we're pretty committed at this point. That doesn't mean that we're not tuned into all of the options and the opportunities that are out there, because we are.

"But K.J. is OK at this point. He's doing fine. If we get a chance to call on him, we'll go after it and see if we can put something together."

So the Seahawks haven't completely shut the door on Wright. But it would seemingly take an injury and/or Taylor not grabbing hold of the strong-side job for them to bring him back.

Wagner was asked to identify the most important thing Wright, his close friend and teammate for nine seasons, brought to the Seahawks.

"Besides his smarts, the way he prepared and definitely the way that he brought people together," Wagner said. "I think that was the biggest thing was the way that he was the glue and he was the person that anybody can count on. He always took time to talk to everybody, so he had a relationship with everybody. He was just a guy that you can look to and count on and trust."

Note the past tense.

Information from ESPN NFL Nation reporters Rich Cimini, Todd Archer, Mike Triplett and Paul Gutierrez was used in this story.