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Sunday, September 24, 2023
Sept. 24, 2023

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Homecoming: LB Bobby Wagner agrees to 5-year deal with Rams

Longtime Seahawks defensive star joins NFC West rival


LOS ANGELES — Linebacker Bobby Wagner agreed to a five-year deal Thursday to join his hometown Los Angeles Rams.

The Super Bowl champions outmaneuvered several suitors for Wagner, one of the NFL’s top inside linebackers after his decade with the Seattle Seahawks. ESPN reported Wagner’s deal contains $50 million guaranteed and could be worth up to $65 million.

The Seahawks released the six-time All-Pro anchor of their defense on March 9. Just over three weeks later, Wagner agreed to join Seattle’s NFC West rivals, providing the force at inside linebacker that the Rams have lacked for several seasons.

Wagner was born in Los Angeles, and he graduated from high school in suburban Ontario, California.

Wagner joins receiver Allen Robinson as the most prominent offseason additions to the Rams, who have once again proven their adeptness at fitting stars under the salary cap. Los Angeles lost a handful of starters and key contributors to free agency, retirement and a trade over the past month, but also managed to retain two key offensive linemen while adding Wagner and Robinson as veteran playmakers.

Although Wagner plays a markedly different linebacking role, his arrival will assuage some of the Rams’ disappointment at losing midseason acquisition Von Miller, who took a slightly higher offer from the Buffalo Bills rather than running it back in Los Angeles.

Wagner has been selected to the past eight consecutive Pro Bowls, and he has racked up 1,383 total tackles — the most by any active player. He set a career high last season with 170 tackles for struggling Seattle.

The only active player with more first-team All-Pro selections than Wagner is Aaron Donald, Wagner’s new teammate.

Wagner was released by the rebuilding Seahawks because he would have cost them $20.6 million against the salary cap this year in the final season of his contract. He also turns 32 in June.

But Wagner had no shortage of teams eager to pick him up after his departure from Seattle. The Baltimore Ravens were the most prominent among the other teams who avidly pursued Wagner in free agency, but the Rams closed the deal a week after Wagner visited the team’s training complex in Thousand Oaks.

Wagner should step in immediately to help a defense that has put together two outstanding years despite lacking a versatile, hard-hitting linebacker in the middle of its scheme. A linebacker hasn’t led the Rams in tackles since 2019, when Cory Littleton parlayed his breakout play into a free-agent deal with the Raiders.

The Rams largely used unsung Troy Reeder and rookie Ernest Jones as inside linebackers last season. While both are respectable tacklers, the relative weakness of the duo’s pass coverage skills was obvious to opponents with the patience to throw the ball regularly to the middle of the field.

Jones, whose late-season improvements were interrupted by injury, is likely to be alongside Wagner in the middle of LA’s 3-4 scheme under defensive coordinator Raheem Morris this fall.

Rams general manager Les Snead has admired Wagner since the linebacker’s college career at Utah State. Snead still regrets passing on Wagner in the 2012 draft when he elected to trade back for more picks rather than selecting a player he knew would be a star.

Snead no longer makes that mistake in drafts, calling it his “Bobby Wagner Rule.”

The Rams’ offseason business also included a new contract for quarterback Matthew Stafford, and the team has confirmed it is working on a new deal for Donald.

Los Angeles hopes to re-sign midseason acquisition Odell Beckham Jr., but the receiver’s upcoming lengthy recovery from knee surgery complicates any deal.