Bobby Wagner joins Rams, still annoyed by Seahawks breakup

LOS ANGELES — Bobby Wagner wants everybody to know he didn’t sign with the Rams after the acrimonious end to his decade in Seattle simply because Los Angeles is in the Seahawks’ division.

Returning to his native Southern California with the chance to play for a Super Bowl champion was far more important.

Having said that, the accomplished linebacker can’t wait to remind the Seahawks twice a season about what they gave up without a respectful breakup.

“A lot of people think that it went into my decision, being able to play the Seahawks,” Wagner said Monday after signing his five-year deal with the Rams at their training complex. “I don’t have that much hate in my heart.

“I really wanted to be happy, and I wanted to be close to home and stay on the West Coast,” Wagner added. “That was important to me. But playing the Seahawks twice a year was the cherry on top. I’ll make sure they see me every time we play. They’ll know where I’m at, and I’ll make sure I’ll tell them. It won’t be a quiet game for me.”

Wagner rarely had a quiet game against the Rams in 10 years as an NFC West opponent. The hard-hitting middle linebacker led some of the NFC’s top defenses and earned a Super Bowl ring during his decade in Seattle, establishing himself as one of the NFL’s top defensive players of the 2010s.

But when the Seahawks decided his cap hit for 2022 was too high, they released the franchise icon without a phone call first to let him know it was coming.

General manager John Schneider later indicated the fact that Wagner represents himself would have made the call difficult because when players have an agent, “there’s a certain buffer that goes on there.”

Wagner was well aware of his contract situation and the possibility he would be released for financial reasons. But the unceremonious nature of his departure from his only NFL team still rankles him nearly a month later.

“I just think that after 10 years, it could have been a simple conversation,” Wagner said. “Even if they wanted to go in different directions, I don’t think me representing myself played any part on my end. It was more on their end. Maybe they didn’t want to do it. Maybe they want to kind of burn that bridge.

“But I feel like through this process and the last process, I’ve shown the capability of handling tough conversations throughout my tenure there. So it was easy to just pick up a phone and call. I shouldn’t have had to find out the way I found out.”

The shock from his release hadn’t even subsided before he got texts from Rams All-Pro defenders Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, urging him to join the defending champs. Los Angeles’ urgency got even stronger a week later when Von Miller spurned the Rams for a more lucrative free-agent offer from the Buffalo Bills.

Wagner was courted by several teams, and he took his time making the best decision for his client.

“The player kind of took it personally,” Wagner said of his release. “But the agent just went to work.”

Wagner eventually agreed to an incentive-loaded contract that will pay him well in the first two years. He signed with the Rams not just because they’re coming off a championship season, but because it’s an opportunity for his family and friends — many of whom still live in suburban Ontario, California — to see him play at every home game without having to get on a plane.

The Rams’ pursuit of Wagner is unusual for a franchise that has relied on inexpensive talent at inside linebacker for many years, effectively discounting the position’s impact while chasing high-profile stars at many other positions.

They’re counting on Wagner to be Los Angeles’ defensive signal-caller while mentoring inside linebacker Ernest Jones, one of their top young players.

General manager Les Snead thought Wagner was simply too good to pass up this time — because Snead passed on Wagner during the 2012 draft, and he has regretted it ever since.

“About a thousand tackles later, we get Bobby Wagner,” Snead said.

Wagner’s versatility made him worth much more than the average inside linebacker to Snead and coach Sean McVay.

They’re counting on Wagner to be a leader on a franchise headed into the new season without locker room pillars Andrew Whitworth, Von Miller, Eric Weddle and Robert Woods.

“Just a lot of respect for everything he’s been asked to do in that defensive system, and it’s definitely a benefit not having to play against him,” McVay said. “He’s one of those guys that can fit in any sort of system.”