Rams weren’t looking for a linebacker, but chance to add Bobby Wagner was eye-popping
The Rams already boasted two defensive players who appear destined for the Hall of Fame.
Defensive lineman Aaron Donald is a three-time NFL defensive player of the year. Jalen Ramsey is a three-time All-Pro and is changing the definition of the cornerback position.
Now the Rams have added inside linebacker Bobby Wagner, a six-time All-Pro and Super Bowl champion with the Seattle Seahawks.
It’s as if coach Sean McVay has assembled an all-star video game roster.
“Damn right,” McVay joked Monday during a videoconference. “We’re playing Madden over here.”
Rams All-Pros Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey led the initial recruiting effort that eventually drew former Seahawks star linebacker Bobby Wagner to join L.A.
Wagner, 31, agreed to terms on a five-year deal with the Rams last week and signed Monday. Terms have not been disclosed.
But whatever the compensation, the Rams almost certainly broke from their norm of not investing in inside linebackers.
After the Seahawks unceremoniously released Wagner on March 8 — reportedly saving more than $16 million in salary-cap space — Donald and Ramsey led the recruiting effort to bring him to Los Angeles to join the defending Super Bowl champions.
“You watch it and admire it from afar,” Wagner said of the Rams’ culture during a videoconference. “You know [the Rams] are willing to do whatever they can to win.
“But I think too is you have guys like that, players like that, that are All-Pros in their own right, reach out to you and want to team up.”
Donald and Ramsey told Wagner they admired his game, he said.
“And if there was an opportunity to come to L.A., I should check it out,” he said. “And that’s what I did.”
It is a homecoming for Wagner. He grew up in the Inland Empire and played at Ontario Colony High before starring at Utah State. He said he still has family in the area and that his nephew attends Colony High.
The opportunity to play for a Super Bowl champion in front of family at SoFi Stadium, and to continue community efforts in his home region, was too good to pass up, he said.
Under McVay, the Rams have not regarded inside linebacker as a position for heavy or even modest investment. But the chance to add Wagner to a defense that includes ascending second-year inside linebacker Ernest Jones changed the equation.
As did making certain that the Rams no longer would have to play against the 10-year veteran, a Pro Bowl selection in each of the last eight seasons. Wagner is expected to solidify a run defense that has struggled against the division rival San Francisco 49ers.
If the Rams had a weakness in their Super Bowl run, it was their lapses in run defense. All-Pro inside linebacker Bobby Wagner will change that.
“Even though that wasn’t a huge position of need, if you will, there’s certain players that alter your approach just based on their body of work, their leadership, all the intangibles and the production,” McVay said. “Certainly, Bobby was one of those guys.”
Wagner’s resume “speaks for itself,” general manager Les Snead said.
“[ILB] is basically three letters in the alphabet,” Snead said of the abbreviation for inside linebacker. “But sometimes the person, and that skillset the person brings to the table, is greater than those three letters in the alphabet.”
Wagner was a second-round draft pick by the Seahawks in 2012. He anchored the famed “Legion of Boom” defenses that helped the Seahawks win Super Bowl XLVIII at the end of the 2013 season and nearly win Super Bowl XLIX the next.
Wagner said he thought he would play his entire career with the Seahawks, but they released him the same day they traded quarterback Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos.
The Rams added depth at linebacker by agreeing to deal with Bobby Wagner, a Pro Bowl player who always has been a nemesis to NFC West rivals during 10 seasons with the Seattle Seahawks.
Wagner, who serves as his own agent, was angry the Seahawks did not contact him to tell him he had been released. He learned the news from other sources.
“After 10 years it could have been a simple conversation,” he said. “Even if they wanted to go in a different direction. ... I’ve shown the capability of handling tough conversations.”
But Wagner said he does not have “hate in my heart” for Seattle, the Seahawks, coach Pete Carroll or general manager John Schneider.
Playing against the Seahawks at least twice a season in NFC West games, however, is a “cherry on top” of his decision to sign with the Rams.
“I’ll make sure [the Seahawks] see me every time we play them,” he said, “so they’ll know where I’m at — and I’ll make sure I tell them.
“It won’t be a quiet game for me.”
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