Emotional KJ Wright steps away after 11-year NFL career

RENTON, Wash. (AP) – Before stepping onto the podium, KJ Wright had hopes he could keep his emotions in check.

It only took a few minutes for the tears to begin.

“I gave this game every gram I had in my body. I gave it my heart and my soul. I put my body on the line. I made sacrifices in my personal life. It’s safe to say that I I’m empty now,” Wright said Thursday.

The 11-year NFL veteran announced his retirement a day after signing a one-day contract so that he could relinquish play with the team Wright drafted in the fourth round of the 2011 draft.

He went on to become an avid for the greatest teams in Seattle history, a Pro Bowl roster and 10-year anchor as part of the Seahawks defense.

It was an emotional 25 minutes for Wright, including calling his mother, father and wife onstage to express his appreciation. He immediately thanked Seattle general manager John Schneider, coach Pete Carroll, former teammates, coaches, equipment personnel and athletic trainers for their role in his career.

Wright arrived in Seattle before the Seahawks emerged as a dominant force in the NFC, playing in consecutive Super Bowls and winning the first title in franchise history with one of the more dominant defenses in recent memory.

He was integral to the creation of those title teams. And while others cycled in and out of Seattle, Wright stayed.

“From where he started and all that, but where he showed himself so early to be such a factor in our team, our mindset and culture and all that,” said Carroll. “He will always hold a special place.”

Over all of his seasons, Wright said he was most proud of 2018 when an ongoing knee problem led him to play in just five games and began to believe his career would be over. He was also concerned about his future in the 2020 season. Wright underwent shoulder surgery just before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and with his limited rehabilitation options, he feared he would pass his physical.

He passed and started all 16 games.

But the next off-season was when Wright began to consider retiring. He had reached his goal of playing 10 seasons, but thought that after his performance in 2020 – even if Seattle was ready to move on – there would be options in free agency.

Instead of?

“My phone was so dry. When I came out of my best year, my 10th year, I thought, ‘someone is going to call’, but it didn’t happen. That . . . was bad,” Wright said.

Wright eventually signed with the Raiders and appeared in every game for Las Vegas. But his family remained in the Seattle area, and the divorce confirmed that if there was no chance of returning to the Seahawks, it was time for Wright to leave.

He said he still plans to attend as many Seahawks games as possible this fall, but “sipping tequila in the suite.”

“I want to take this fall to enjoy life, enjoy myself, enjoy my family,” Wright said. “And I know that at the end of the day, when I get ready, I want to come and serve this organization. And not in coaching. Let’s just understand, not in coaching. But I want to serve this organization.”

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