Well, that was a shocker.
By the way, there is no such thing “mutually agreed.” The Rams probably told Wagner to maybe take a pay cut or be cut. He might have balked, and said I’ll just leave. But the team has all the power in this situation.
Wagner was the Rams big move in last year’s free agency period coming down from Seattle after 10 glorious years there. It was hailed as brilliant move. The Rams were getting stronger on defense while weakening one of their NFC West division rivals at the same time.
They signed Wagner to a 5-year $50 million deal (those are the numbers reported, that’s because agents want those numbers out there, it was really $20 million guaranteed).
Wagner was one of just three defensive players to start all 17 games for the Rams. He led the team in tackles with 140 and was second on the team with six sacks. He had a pair of picks.
Curiously – and we will get to that in a minute – he was named second-team All-Pro, but did not make the Pro Bowl. All the stories about his release talk about how Wagner was the top-rated linebacker by Pro Football Focus last season.
But honestly, how good was Bobby Wagner? The Rams went 5-12. Let’s look at that and what the Rams were thinking behind making this move.
How Good Was Bobby Wagner?
Yes, Wagner was good, but was he $10 million a year good?
Here’s Wagner’s slash line:
17 games, 140 tackles, 6 sacks, 2 interceptions
Here’s another Ram linebacker from 2022:
17 games, 114 tackles, 0 sacks, 1 interception
Player B has a cap hit of $1.3 million, compared to Wagner’s $12.75 million cap hit (most of that will come off the books now that he will be released).
Player B is Rams third-year linebacker Ernest Jones, who is still on his rookie deal. When Wagner was signed, I remember thinking, Jones had looked so good. I still think Jones is good.
And let’s talk about the Rams overall defense. In 2021 (Super Bowl) without Wagner, they were fifth against the run, 21st against the pass and ranked ninth in scoring defense. They had 50 sacks.
Last year, with Wagner, 13th against the run, 22nd against the pass and 20th in scoring defense. They had 38 sacks.
Yes, I know the Rams had a lot of injuries in 2022, but in every major defensive category they were worse with Wagner than not.
Rankings and Honors
I find it curious that Wagner made All-Pro and not the Pro Bowl, because usually it’s the other way around. Pro Bowl votes are supposedly done by the players (although I bet its mostly the player’s agents). I mean, do you really think the players know if Bobby Wagner was good or not?
But in this case, the players kept Wagner out of the Pro Bowl, while the sportswriters who vote for the All-Pro teams put Wagner on. Which one do you trust more?
Pro Football Focus, which is owned by Cris Collinsworth, yes, that Cris Collinsworth, and I bet you wondered why those rankings show up every Sunday night on NBC, had Wagner its top linebacker saying he missed four tackles all season.
Tackles are an incredibly overrated NFL stat. What good are Wagner’s tackles if they were all seven yards down the field?
I’m not knocking the site. I like it, but I take everything with a grain of salt. PFF also rated Chris Lindstrom as the second-best offensive lineman in the league. Lane Johnson was first.
I’ll let you look up who Chris Lindstrom is.
He plays for the Falcons. They went 7-10.
The Rams were 5-12 with the best LB in the NFL? As a Ram fan I think I’d rather go 12-5 with a linebacker who rated lower.
What Are the Rams Thinking?
It’s a move that gets the Rams five million back on the cap, so at this very moment they are only about $9 million over. This means they must still make a few moves, either by cutting players or restructuring contracts.
MyLAsports did this the other day, but another possibility to get cut is linebacker Leonard Floyd who is set to count big against the cap. He had nine sacks last year and 59 tackles. His contract doesn’t equal his performance either.
Listen, even though NFL teams can massage the cap and rework the numbers, at some point, at some position, you must go young and cheap. You can’t have stars at every position, every year, because you can’t pay them. In 2021, the Rams were healthy along the offensive line, Aaron Donald was great and they won the Super Bowl.
None of those things happened in 2022 and the Rams slumped.
I don’t see this as a move where the Rams are throwing in the towel on 2023 as much as I think they are going to just shift Ernest Jones back into the Wagner spot and look to “go cheap” at linebacker.
The other thing that I think matters is the Rams have watched film on Wagner all year. We don’t know (I do like watching film, but I haven’t) whether Wagner was a liability in pass coverage or if his instincts have started to go. The Rams would know.
I also wonder if this was a calculated move by Sean McVay and the Rams to stoke the fires of their veterans, kind of like, “we will cut you if you don’t perform.”
Wagner will certainly find a home again in the NFL, but this is now two teams who have given up on him, the Seahawks and Rams. That’s never a good sign.