Seattle Seahawks release longtime defensive captain Bobby Wagner

SEATTLE -- The Seahawks officially released All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner on Wednesday.

"This is an extremely difficult day for the organization," general manager John Schneider said in a statement. "Bobby has been at the center of our defense for the past 10 seasons and always represented our organization with class. He is a special player and person, and we are forever grateful. Bobby will always be a Hawk."

Wagner thanked the franchise in a tweet, writing that Seattle "will forever be my home."

The news comes a day after ESPN's Adam Schefter's report that the Seahawks have agreed to trade quarterback Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos. The two franchise cornerstones who were drafted on the same day in 2012 now depart Seattle on the same day 10 years later.

In releasing Wagner, the Seahawks are moving on from their longtime defensive captain and another player who was among the most impactful in franchise history.

"Bobby is one of the great Seahawks of all-time. His leadership in the community, locker room, and on the field is a tribute to his character and consistency. Bobby set an incredible example for all to follow, and we will continue to follow him all the way to the Hall of Fame," coach Pete Carroll said in a statement.

The move will save the Seahawks $16.6 million in cash and salary cap space while leaving a massive hole in the middle of their defense. And it comes as no surprise given Wagner's contract, age (he'll be 32 in June) and the noncommittal comments Carroll and Schneider made at last week's NFL scouting combine.

Wagner himself wondered aloud about his future as the Seahawks were winding down a disappointing 7-10 season that led to several changes on Carroll's coaching staff. Among them was the firing of defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr., Wagner's former position coach and one of his strongest supporters in the organization.

It's not clear whether a return to Seattle on a less expensive deal is in play.

For now, only defensive end Benson Mayowa -- who left Seattle and returned in 2020 -- remains from the 2013 Seahawks team that won Super Bowl XLVIII. Wagner, selected with Wilson on the second day of the 2012 draft, was the last remaining member of the star-studded defenses that led Seattle to its lone world championship and a return trip to Super Bowl XLIX after the 2014 season.

Wagner will become a free agent for the first time in his career. That comes with an interesting twist, as he continues to serve as his own agent, which he did when he negotiated his three-year, $54 million extension in the summer of 2019. The megadeal set a record for off-the-ball linebackers at $18 million per season and served as perhaps the best success story of a high-profile NFL player handling his own contract talks.

Two and a half years later, that contract has helped lead to his release.

Wagner, the Seahawks' all-time tackles leader, was entering the final year of the deal with a non-guaranteed $16.35 million base salary and another $250,000 available in per-game roster bonuses. His $20.35 million cap charge was an unwieldly figure even with the Seahawks in OK cap shape -- and even with Wagner coming off a 170-tackle season that earned him his eighth Pro Bowl nod in 10 seasons.

Wagner posted that personal best despite missing all but one snap of the final two games with a knee sprain; Carroll said it would not require surgery.

Asked about Wagner last week in Indianapolis, Carroll gave a conflicting answer that ultimately reinforced the uncertainty over whether he'd be back in 2022.

"We expect to play with Bobby," Carroll said. "We love playing with Bobby. He's been a great player, had another great season. At this time of the year, there's a lot of guys that are in a position where we've got to figure out where everybody fits together. Bobby's been such a steady part of it and we'd love to be able to play with him, so we'll work towards that. If we can do that, we'll do it."

Wagner's release leaves behind $3.75 million in dead money.

The most logical in-house candidate to replace Wagner is Cody Barton, a 2019 third-round pick who has made five starts in three seasons. Barton started in Week 18 after Wagner hurt his knee on the opening play the week earlier when his foot slipped as he tried to plant it on the wet turf at Lumen Fiend.

Before his injury, Wagner hadn't missed a single snap in 2021. His 170 tackles entering Week 17 were leading the NFL and had broken his own single-season franchise record from 2016. Teammate Jordyn Brooks (184) broke the record in Week 18 with Wagner on the sideline.

While Wagner didn't make as many impact plays as in some of his best seasons, he recorded an interception, a sack, a forced fumble and five passes defensed in 2021 en route to a second-team All-Pro selection.

In 2020, Wagner was one of 22 defenders named by the Pro Football Hall of Fame to the All-Decade Team for the 2010s. His Hall of Fame-worthy résumé also includes six first team All-Pro selections, two second team All-Pro selections and eight Pro Bowls nods, which are tied for second most in franchise history.

By the team's count, Wagner's 1,381 career tackles top the franchise's all-time list by nearly 400. He leads the NFL in tackles by more than 150 since the Seahawks drafted him in the second round out of Utah State in 2012.

In late December, Wagner answered in the affirmative when asked whether he wondered about his future in Seattle.

"You think about it," he said. "You think about what the next year looks like and what the future holds because this was a season that I don't think we all planned for. We didn't plan for the season to go this way, so obviously there's going to be some changes and whether or not I'm part of those changes, I don't know."

In that same news conference, Wagner made it clear that he wasn't considering retirement. A week later, he struck a more hopeful tune about remaining with the Seahawks.

"I understand there is a business side to this, but there is a lot of optimism on my end that I'll be back," Wagner said in early January. "So I'm not worried about it. Obviously, I can't control everything. I can only control my part. And my part on this is I feel like I love this city. I love this team. I love the Seahawks. So I always wanted to be a part of a franchise's good times and bad times and every time. So this is a team that I would love to be able to be a part of for a very, very long time.

"So on my end, that's where I'm at, that I'm a Seahawk until they tell me I'm not. So that's my mindset. So I don't see it as that was my last game or this next game could be my next game."

Wagner was asked what gave him optimism that he'd be back.

"I would like to say that I'm a pretty good businessman and I would like to say I have a lot of respect here," Wagner said. "So I'm just going to go into my businessman mentality and work some stuff out."