RENTON, Wash. — When Bobby Wagner decided a few years ago that he wanted to eventually serve as his own agent, part of his reasoning was that he wanted to gain some “real-world experience” while he was still playing so he’d be better prepared once life after football began.
And as the All-Pro middle linebacker was negotiating what turned out to be a three-year, $54 million extension with the Seattle Seahawks that was completed two days into training camp, he was armed with advice from a handful of people he had leaned on while representing himself.
Michael Jordan was one of them.
Speaking with reporters Sunday, two days after signing a deal that makes him the NFL’s highest-paid inside linebacker, Wagner recalled his conversations with the six-time NBA champion and owner of the Charlotte Hornets. They happened earlier in the summer during a trip to France that Jordan had organized for several Jordan Brand athletes, including Wagner and former Seahawks teammate Earl Thomas.
“We got a chance to really sit down and just have a conversation with him,” Wagner said. “We talked about his playing days, talked about his mindset — tried to steal some of his mindset — talked about training, talked about a bunch of different things. I asked him how he would feel if one of the players came and tried to negotiate a deal. What would be different? How would he see it? We just talked about a lot. It’s just really cool to have a guy like that in your corner and have a guy like that willing to take the time to speak to you and take the time to give you that knowledge, pass the knowledge down. I felt like I could have asked him anything.”
Wagner wore white and navy cleats with the Jumpman logo on the tongue while jumping back into action during his first practice of the offseason, which included snaps in team drills. Wagner had shown up for everything, including voluntary OTAs, but didn’t do any on-field work so as to not risk injury while he was still negotiating his deal.
He called it a “taxing” process that he’s relieved to be done with.
“It’s a focus,” he said. “Just like when you play in football and playing during the season, it’s a certain level of focus that you want to be great that you want to apply, so trying to get a deal done there was a certain amount of focus that I had to have to ultimately get the deal done. But I felt like you had a guy who wanted to be here, you had a team who wanted him here, there was respect on both sides and that’s always a good recipe to get a deal done.”
Still, Wagner said there were moments when he felt like it wouldn’t happen. Once it was finished, Wagner’s deal surpassed the $17 million in annual average that C.J. Mosley got from the New York Jets in March, which at the time made him the league’s top-paid inside linebacker by that measure. Wagner called that a “dope” distinction but downplayed the degree to which that was a priority. The deal includes $40.2 million fully guaranteed, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Wagner, 29, couldn’t help but laugh when asked if he’ll represent himself in his next negotiation.
“Yeah. I mean, I ain’t going to hire an agent now,” he said. “Shoot, I think I did all right.”
Wagner said previously that he decided to represent himself even before seeing ex-teammates Russell Okung and Richard Sherman ditch their agents while they were in Seattle. He made it clear his decision wasn’t the result of a soured relationship with his former agency, Athletes First, which he complimented.
“It was about challenging myself and showing players that there’s another option, showing players that no matter what you do, whether you have an agent or you don’t have an agent, it’s really about educating yourself, educating yourself in the business that you perform in,” he said. “We know the statistics. We know that whenever you’re done, a lot of us tend to go broke or don’t take good care of our money and I feel like it’s because we don’t educate ourselves while we’re here. We wait till we get done playing football and then try to figure it out. So this was me trying to educate myself before I get out there in the real world and actually have some real-world experience. Not everybody’s going to sugarcoat stuff, not everybody’s going to tell you stuff that you want to hear and you’ve got to be able to handle that.”
A typical negotiation involves frank conversations in which a team tells an agent why it thinks a player isn’t worth a certain amount of money. The agent then gives the player the filtered version. Wagner was the one having those conversations with Seahawks general manager John Schneider and vice president of football administration Matt Thomas, who handles the team’s contract negotiations. He welcomed it, figuring he’d rather hear “all the bad stuff” from the team than from an agent.
“I wanted them to say it to my face,” he said. “I could take it. Shoot, especially nowadays, you got Twitter, somebody telling you you’re trash every day. It can’t be worse than Twitter.”
Head coach Pete Carroll said Wagner did “an excellent job” representing himself and noted the rapport he maintained with Schneider and Thomas throughout negotiations. In Carroll’s view, not every player has the makeup to act as his own agent.
“He’s been such a treasure in so many ways,” Carroll said. “He’s meant so much to our franchise. He’s been an extraordinary player on the field always, been a great competitor, been just tough as nails to always show up and always be there for us. Better than that, he’s a great guy to have in your club and to represent your franchise and if a guy is going to get paid, you want it to be a guy like this.”
Wagner said he took a page out of Kawhi Leonard‘s playbook and decided along with the team to not say much publicly about the state of negotiations as to keep things amicable and drama-free. The Los Angeles native and Lakers fan made a reference to his favorite team when asked if he wants to represent players when he’s done with the NFL.
“I love business and I love to get into different investments and things of that nature,” he said. “I envision myself negotiating deals down the line and, so, I told myself [if] I wasn’t willing to risk challenging myself with my own money and my own cash then I’ll never take that risk down the line. That’s why I was focused on it. I’m trying to be like Magic [Johnson] when I get out of here. Magic, come holler at your boy.”
Wagner’s $54 million extension is the latest accomplishment in a career that is on a Hall of Fame track. His résumé includes five Pro Bowls in seven seasons, four first-team All-Pro selections in that span and a Super Bowl championship — all of which came close to never happening. Wagner seriously considered quitting football when his mother died after his freshman year at Utah State, a difficult period in his life upon which he reflected Sunday.
“That was my support system at the time,” he said of his mother, who had suffered a severe stroke before her fatal heart attack in 2009. “I had my family. I was at Utah at the time. I don’t know if anybody’s been to Utah but it’s really a culture shock. I was out there by myself. At the time all my family was living in the same house. It’s like you’ve got 11 people over here and this person over here. You felt like you were by yourself.
“I wanted to move back home but she didn’t want me to move back home. She wanted me to finish what I started and so I gave her my word I would finish what I started. Looking at it today, I think she would be proud. And I’m not done yet.”