Pacing the sidewalks of his Laurelhurst neighborhood, Collin Roberts juggled calls from a half-dozen teams in the first hour of NFL free agency on the morning of March 14. They all called about Will Dissly, Roberts’ client who, it was quickly becoming apparent, was one of the most coveted tight ends on the free-agent market.
Dissly, meanwhile, was doing his best just to maintain a steady breath.
He woke up that day in Manhattan Beach, California, and began to work through meditation techniques, a morning ritual interrupted by frequent calls and text messages from Roberts. Eventually, as he tried to calm his nerves, Dissly decided to go outside and, like his agent, started pacing around the block.
Dissly didn’t know what to expect that morning. For months, he and Roberts had been planning for various scenarios as he ventured into free agency for the first time: What was important to him? Where he might want to go? How did he value himself?
Bracing for the possibility that he might not be a “priority” free agent, Dissly figured he wouldn’t get a new deal done until later in the week, after teams first signed their top-tier targets.
He hadn’t allowed himself to daydream about the possibility of what actually happened next: a frantic two hours of negotiations between Roberts and the Seahawks that kept Dissly in Seattle — and away from his old quarterback, Russell Wilson, in Denver.
By noon that Wednesday, the parameters were in place for a three-year, $24 million contract, a deal that one ESPN reporter called the most shocking free agent signing of the NFL offseason.
Even Dissly was pleasantly surprised at how well things played out for him that morning. “Life-changing,” he described the new contract.
But as free agency formally kicked off at 9 a.m. that morning, Dissly had little idea of what the next few hours would hold. Then came the text from his agent around 10 o’clock:
“Buckle up,” Roberts wrote. “This is going down today.”
Setting the market
Two weeks earlier, during a brief in-person meeting at the NFL combine in Indianapolis, general manager John Schneider had made it clear to Roberts that the Seahawks wanted to bring Dissly back.
Roberts wanted to make that happen too. Growing up in Seattle, Roberts has been a lifelong fan of the Seahawks and Huskies. He went to law school at Seattle University, and got his start as an NFL agent a decade ago representing UW players. He and his firm, Rep 1 Sports, now represent a dozen former UW players and a handful of former WSU players.
Last winter, Roberts negotiated his biggest contract yet, a four-year, $71 million extension with Tampa Bay for defensive tackle Vita Vea, the former UW star taken in the first round of the 2018 NFL draft. That deal, Roberts said, took much longer to work out — months of prep work, and then three weeks of back-and-forth discussions — because of the layers involved in an extension of that magnitude, including guarantees and bonuses.
The deal for Dissly was more clear-cut, but also much more frenetic when the free-agency window opened.
Dissly, the Seahawks’ 2018 fourth-round pick out of UW, overcame two major injuries in his first two seasons in the NFL — a patellar tendon injury as a rookie and an Achilles tear in 2019 — to become a steady presence in the Seahawks offense the past two years. Dissly has proven to be a capable pass-catcher (45 catches for 482 yards, three touchdowns the past two seasons), but his real strength is as an in-line “Y” tight end — a blocker, in effect.
Because Dissly didn’t have eye-popping receiving statistics in the Seahawks offense, Roberts put together a package of data to present Dissly’s value to teams in other ways (Russell Wilson, for example, had a higher completion percentage and a lower pressure rate when Dissly was on the field last season).
“Will is a throwback,” Roberts said. “He’s one of the best blocking tight ends in the league, and even though that stuff won’t show up on the stat sheet, it shows up a bunch when you run the ball, right? That matters. That matters a ton.”
Turns out, Roberts didn’t need to make a hard sell. By the time Schneider and Matt Thomas, the Seahawks vice president of football operations (and so-called salary cap expert), reached out to Roberts at 10 a.m., a handful of other teams had already checked in. Tampa Bay and Denver were two of the first to call.
“It’s moving quick,” Roberts told the Seahawks executives.
Schneider and Thomas, on speaker phone from the team’s second-floor offices at the VMAC in Renton, then presented their first formal offer, for two years. Roberts said the offer was significantly lower than he had hoped, though he wasn’t all that surprised at the starting point. (He didn’t want to reveal the exact starting figure, out of respect for the Seahawks’ process).
Dissly had already prepared himself for the possibility of leaving Seattle, a place he’d called home since arriving as a UW freshman in 2014. As the morning wore on, it was looking more and more like he would indeed be on the move.
Reuniting with Wilson in Denver was one possibility.
“It was like playing chess,” Dissly said. “I was so removed emotionally from the situation, because you have to be. Obviously, I love Seattle, and to have to (potentially) let go of that, it is pretty emotional. But this is my job, it’s my career, and I had to be even-keel about it.”
‘Holy (expletive), you’re a Seahawk’
As other teams called with formal offers, Roberts continued to pace around his neighborhood, punching in the contract particulars on the Notes app in his iPhone. Every 20 minutes or so, he called Dissly to weigh the merits of each offer.
“It was wild,” Dissly said.
At one point, Roberts was convinced Dissly was headed out of Seattle.
“It was really close,” Roberts said.
As the offers began to increase, Roberts asked Dissly if there was a particular number the Seahawks could get to that would convince him to stay and end talks with other teams. That’s when Dissly and Roberts agreed: three years, $24 million.
With another team “in the ballpark” of that figure, Roberts presented it to the Seahawks. Right around noon, Schneider and Thomas agreed to those terms.
As the two sides were still hashing out details of guaranteed money, Roberts sent a quick text to Dissly to deliver the good news: “Holy (expletive), you’re a Seahawk.”
“Best text I’ve ever received,” Dissly said later.
The deal includes a signing bonus of $9.3 million (paid out in installments), $15.98 million in guarantees and $5.64 million in injury guarantees. It’s a significant pay raise for a player who made a total of $3.1 million on his original four-year rookie deal, and an indication of the expectations the Seahawks have of Dissly as a leader on the field and in the locker room in this post-Wilson era.
“The market dictates it,” Roberts said. “Kudos to the Seahawks for coming to the table with an offer Will truly deserved.”
Dissly celebrated over the phone with his tight-knit family back home in Bozeman, Montana. By 12:45 p.m., the NFL Network broke the news of the deal, and congratulatory texts pinged into Dissly’s phone the rest of the afternoon.
“What made that day special — aside from the life-changing money — were all the guys who called me. All the boys started buzzing in,” Dissly said. “It was just nice to know that all the relationships I’ve invested in and the people I care about at the work facility, that they were just as happy to have me back.”
The negotiations complete, Dissly invited friends out to lunch in Manhattan Beach. After lunch, they filled a bucket full of ice and beer — all Coronas, except for one Miller High Life that Dissly drank as a tribute to his late grandfather, and namesake, William Perry.
He spent the rest of the afternoon with friends playing volleyball on the beach.
“It was a fun day,” Dissly said. “A pretty fun day.”