Ravens Named Immediate Landing Spot for Recently Cut All-Pro Linebacker

Ravens Bobby Wagner

Getty Former Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner celebrates a touchdown during a December 2019 game.

While the Baltimore Ravens are thought to be filling positions of need in free agency, general manager Eric DeCosta might not be able to pass up the opportunity to land an All-Pro linebacker.

With the Seattle Seahawks releasing Bobby Wagner on March 8 following the Russell Wilson trade, per Heavy’s DJ Siddiqi, the Ravens will now have an opportunity to bolster their front seven by signing one of the best inside linebackers in recent league history.

The Ravens were even listed as a top destination for Wagner shortly after he was cut, with Bleacher Report’s Doric Sam arguing that, despite other free agent targets, Wagner should jump to the top of Baltimore’s list.

“While Baltimore may be focused on addressing key free-agent defensive linemen Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams,” argued Sam on March 9, “the team would also be wise to pursue Wagner.

There’s absolutely no question about the level of play that Wagner would bring to Baltimore. He’s earned selections to both the Pro Bowl and the Associated Press All-Pro team in each of the last eight years, including six first-team All-Pro nods. Wagner led the NFL in tackles in 2016 and 2019 and even finished the 2021 season as the league’s third-leading tackler with a career-high 170 tackles in his age-31 season. But simple tackling statistics hardly encompass Wagner’s true value; he’s the rare inside linebacker who can contribute to every part of the defense.

“Pairing Wagner with former first-round pick Patrick Queen would help improve a unit that ranked 22nd in sacks (34) last year,” wrote Sam, though Wagner does not have a reputation as a blitzing inside linebacker. He’s only reached 100 pass-rushing snaps twice in his career, though he has recorded a quarterback pressure on 22.7% of those snaps, per Pro Football Focus. That’s a solid return for a player whose focus has primarily been stopping the run and dropping into coverage over the last 10 years.

That might work in the Ravens’ still-aggressive defense, even with the departure of blitz-happy defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale. His replacement, Mike Macdonald, was no stranger to sending blitzes while he was the defensive coordinator for the Michigan Wolverines in 2021, so Wagner’s pass-rushing skills would be put to good use in Baltimore.

Still, most of Wagner’s value comes from his ability to defend against the run and the pass at an extremely high level. His PFF grades have fallen from their 90.0+ levels in 2017 and 2018, but his last three seasons have proven that he’s still a top-tier linebacker. His most precipitous drop came in pass coverage, from a 90.5 in 2018 to a 62.8 in 2021, perhaps due to a loss of athleticism in the later stages of his career. But he’d still be an extremely beneficial to the Ravens, especially with a track record of proven veteran leadership.

Wagner Could Stabilize Ravens Defense

Though Wagner was still a rookie when the Seahawks’ vaunted Legion of Boom was formed, he quickly became a key member of that defense through both his on-field play and locker room leadership.

Sam also emphasized the value of Wagner’s experience on the Ravens defense, writing, “”Adding Wagner to their defense would give the Ravens their best leader on that side of the ball since Ray Lewis.”

Indeed, the 10-year veteran could bring stability to a Ravens defense in a period of transition following a disappointing 2021 season.

The Ravens have historically been led by veterans – often All-Pros like Lewis, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs – on defense, and with few long-tenured players on the offensive side, that pattern isn’t likely to change.

However, Baltimore stalwarts like Williams, Jimmy Smith and Pernell McPhee are set to leave the defense, as are recent veteran leaders like Campbell and Justin Houston. Even Anthony “Co-Cap” Levine Sr. has retired, though he’s remaining with the Ravens in a coaching and scouting capacity.

While the returns of Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey, the re-signing of Tony Jefferson and the potential addition of Tyrann Mathieu could help lock down the secondary, the Ravens’ front seven still needs some work.

Wagner could be the right answer, especially with the Ravens’ history of veteran additions at inside linebacker. Josh Bynes excelled in his second stint in Baltimore in 2021, replacing an injured L.J. Fort, who himself was a 2019 free agent signing. Further back, the Ravens signed ex-Jaguars second-rounder Daryl Smith in 2013 following Lewis’ post-Super Bowl victory retirement.

Ravens React to Wagner’s Release

Wagner’s release from the Seahawks attracted the attention of players and fans alike in Baltimore, with both Marlon Humphrey and Patrick Queen reacting to the news.

Queen could be one of the biggest winners from Wagner coming to Baltimore, as he could learn from the future Hall of Famer and build on significant improvements in his 2021 sophomore season.

Fans and team experts also supported signing Wagner, especially for his ability to help Queen develop.

Furthermore, since Wagner was cut before the new league year starts on March 16, he’s eligible to sign with another team right away. The Ravens have historically taken advantage of similar cap casualties, so they could be interested in Wagner right away.

The only remaining sticking point is his contract value. Wagner’s last contract was worth $18 million per year, per OverTheCap, but that figure won’t work in Baltimore. Given Wagner’s decline from his prime seasons, a one- or two-year deal with an average annual value of about $10 million would still keep him among the top 10 at his position while offering a discount to the cap-strapped Ravens.

Overall, Wagner would be a consummate Ravens signing, bringing veteran value and leadership as Baltimore gears up for a Super Bowl run in 2022.