West Allis, Wis., native looking forward to fresh start in his home state
GREEN BAY - Football has taken Rick Wagner plenty of different places during his first 30 years, but it wasn't until this offseason the sport finally brought him to Green Bay.
At least, on a permanent basis.
A native of West Allis, Wis., Wagner grew up a Packers fan but mostly cheered the team on from a distance other than attending a couple preseason games as a kid and once taking a trip up for training camp.
But after seven NFL seasons and 87 career starts, the 6-foot-5, 315-pound tackle now calls Green Bay home after signing with the Packers in March as a free agent.
In doing so, Wagner completed the rare trinity of Wisconsinites who have played high school, college (he was a three-year starter for the Badgers) and professional football all in their home state.
"Just growing up in the state, I know that this is a special place," said Wagner in a video conference call with reporters on Thursday. "I grew up a Packer fan and continued to follow them over the last eight years. So, it was a pretty easy decision to come here and I'm very happy to be here."
General Manager Brian Gutekunst brought Wagner back home to help replace one of the team's longest-tenured players in right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who signed with the Los Angeles Chargers as an unrestricted free agent this offseason.
Wagner admits he won't challenge David Bakhtiari for the title of most outgoing individual on the Packers' offensive line room but he brings a wealth of NFL experience to Green Bay.
A former walk-on at Wisconsin, the eighth-year veteran has carved out quite a career for himself since entering the league with Baltimore as a sixth-round pick in 2013.
He started three seasons for the Ravens before signing with the Detroit Lions as a free agent in 2017. While many assume the right tackle spot is Wagner's to lose in Green Bay, he's not expecting anything to be simply handed to him.
"There's no guarantees that you're going to start anywhere," Wagner said. "Just got to go out there and prove that I can win that starting job and I'm happy for that opportunity."
Wagner overcame quite a bit of adversity last year, including a knee injury that sidelined him for the final month of the season. The one silver lining to the Lions releasing Wagner in March was it enabled him to take a visit to Green Bay before nationwide stay-at-home orders went into effect due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wagner passed his physical with the Packers and signed the contract. Although he didn't have the benefit of a traditional offseason program, Wagner used the team's virtual sessions to not only get a feel for the offense but also introduce himself to his new teammates in Green Bay.
"He's a great dude," said center Corey Linsley of Wagner. "He's taken a lot better and a lot calmer to the playbook adjustment than some of us did last year. That speaks to probably his intelligence and his discipline that he had over the offseason to get the playbook and study it."
As much family as Wagner and his wife Kirstin have in the state, the couple tried to keep their circle as small as possible this offseason. While a large part of that had to do with protecting their two children and extended families, Wagner also was fully aware of the unique, and likely secluded, football season ahead.
With the first practice of training camp scheduled for a week from Saturday, Wagner is ready to get going. He's energized about Green Bay's outside-zone blocking scheme and hopes to contribute to another deep postseason run.
More than anything, it just feels good to be home again.
"I love the state of Wisconsin. I never want to leave," Wagner said. "I'm very happy to be home."
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