At one point within the last year or so, linebacker was one of the Buccaneers’ strongest positions. All of a sudden, that’s not the case anymore. Kwon Alexander tore his ACL in October and missed the rest of the season. Now, he’s a free agent. Kendell Beckwith suffered a bad ankle injury in a car accident last offseason and missed all of the 2018 season. That’s two of the team’s top three linebackers who are either coming off of severe injuries or, possibly in Alexander’s case, not coming back to Tampa Bay at all.
With that in mind, we’re taking a look at K.J. Wright, an outside linebacker who could be a nice addition to a Buccaneer defense that will look to be running a hybrid 3-4 scheme under new coordinator Todd Bowles.
K.J. Wright’s Career
Wright was drafted in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks. He has spent the first eight years of his career with Seattle, racking up 723 tackles (466 solo), 11.5 sacks, 10 forced fumbles, seven fumble recoveries and 49 stuffs. The Mississippi State product helped the Seahawks to a Super Bowl XLVIII victory in the 2013 season and was a Pro Bowl selection in 2016. He had never played fewer than 13 games in a season until 2018, when he was limited to five games due to a nagging knee injury.
Why The Buccaneers Need Him
As described above, Tampa Bay’s linebacker situation is an issue right now. Considering the team is believed to be running a 3-4 with the new coaching staff, that situation needs to be fixed fast. Lavonte David is the only sure thing the Bucs have coming back at the position as of right now. Beckwith missed a full season last year, so it’s not a certainty that he’ll return to his previous form. Even if Alexander is back, he’s also coming off a major injury. On top of that, 2018 sixth-rounder Jack Cichy, who stepped in due to injuries last year, is also making his way back from a torn ACL.
Bringing Kevin Minter back might help, but the Bucs are going to need to make some other moves in free agency and/or the draft to get the position group back to where it was before. Signing a guy like Wright, who has played 112 games in his career and has considerable playoff experience, would be a nice step if the team is sure that the knee injury that he struggled through last year is gone.
What Will Wright Cost?
Wright just finished a four-year, $27 million deal with Seattle. His cap hit was north of $8 million in 2018. Even though he only played five games last year, he can still be expected to be a reliable player at 30 years old. Pro Football Focus has him ranked as the No. 4 linebacker in this free agency cycle, noting his consistency and the fact that he has only had double-digit missed tackles in one of his eight NFL seasons. That kind of reliability will be rewarded this offseason, though his age might prevent him from getting big-time money.
There aren’t really any projections out there for what he’ll get. He said himself that he doesn’t have a number in mind, but wants to be “respected.” He might be around the $7 million-$9 million range as a free agent. That would mostly line up with what he’s gotten throughout the last few years of his career, though a bump up to $9 million would be a minimal raise for the veteran.
Will It Happen?
With his experience, consistency and persona off the field (he was a Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year nominee in 2018), Wright would be a welcomed addition to Tampa Bay. However, I wouldn’t put money on him being with the Bucs in 2019. He has been clear that he wants to finish his career with the Seahawks, so a return to the team that drafted him wouldn’t be surprising. They hadn’t offered him a contract as of early January, leading him to say that he would test the market. Despite that, I’d still consider a return to Seattle as the most likely landing spot for the veteran. Even if he leaves the 12s, a more established contender would probably be able to reel in his services before the Bucs could.