RENTON — Luke Willson woke up Tuesday morning in San Francisco planning for a cross-country trip to yet another workout with yet another NFL team, Washington, his fourth since the Oakland Raiders released him.
He ended it back in his second home, Seattle, again a member of the Seahawks.
“It’s surreal still,’’ Willson said Wednesday before his first full practice in his second stint with the Seahawks. “It kind of happened really quick.’’
In fact, Willson was in an Uber on his way to San Francisco International Airport when his agent called and told him the Seahawks might be ready to sign him, assuming they could finalize a trade sending Nick Vannett to the Steelers.
A little bit later, as Willson lingered in the terminal — joking he was waiting to be the last one on his originally scheduled flight — he was told to officially change his plans.
“So I walked over two terminals and flew to Seattle instead,’’ Willson said. “It was a pretty wild 24 hours.’’
The Seahawks made the Vannett trade official on Wednesday, sending him to the Steelers for a 2020 fifth-round pick, which the Steelers recently acquired from Jacksonville.
Coach Pete Carroll said the Steelers had aggressively pursued Vannett for a while, hoping to upgrade their tight end position.
Seattle wasn’t looking to get rid of Vannett, a third-round pick in 2016 who was working as a serviceable backup to Will Dissly.
But the chance to get an extra draft pick and replace Vannett with Willson, who can step right in without missing a beat, ultimately proved too tempting — especially because Vannett can be a free agent at the end of the season.
“The ability to come right back with Luke was part of the thinking,’’ Carroll said of Willson, who played for the Seahawks from 2013-17 before signing with Detroit in 2018 and then spending training camp this year with the Raiders. “Knowing that we could stay abreast of the tempo of what we are doing and the style of stuff that we are doing and pick up the chance for a pick for the future.’’
Willson, who started 45 games in his previous stint including seven in the Super Bowl-title year of 2013, had never really wanted to leave, having re-signed a one-year deal with the Seahawks following the 2017 season the first time he hit free agency.
But in 2018, the Lions made him a solid offer — and the Seahawks basically not one at all — and Detroit also represented a chance to play in what is basically his home (he grew up in nearby Windsor, Ontario.)
Then came Oakland and a short stay that was an eye-opener.
Willson was one of the featured players of the HBO show “Hard Knocks,” which featured Raiders training camp this year. The final episode showed Willson on the way in, then out of general manager Mike Mayock’s office, learning he had not made the team.
“I kind of had an idea it was coming,’’ said Willson, who was far down the depth chart at the end of the preseason, as evidenced by how much he played against the Seahawks in the fourth and final preseason game. “So it wasn’t a complete shock.
“But it was strange, man, when you go from six years kind of being a lock on those days. I’ve got a new appreciation for a lot of those guys who are kind of sitting and waiting to see if their phone is going to ring. It was definitely not an enjoyable time.’’
After his release, he stayed in the Bay Area, taking a few visits and having tryouts with other teams, including New Orleans. A time or two, he thought he was about to be signed: “I got hit with a couple of pump fakes, which is a little hard to handle.’’
He’d resigned himself to continuing to work out at home, try out when teams called, and hope that eventually he’d find work again. If it was Seattle, all the better.
“I kind of hoped maybe I would be back here, but it wasn’t something where I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m definitely going to be back here,’ ’’ Willson said.
Now that he is, Willson has something of a to-do list: Get a new boombox to replace the old one he gave to his brother and that he put to good use in 2017, when he and offensive lineman Jordan Roos dreamed up “Techno Thursdays.’’ In what he jokingly called “a movement,’’ Willson, Roos and a few other players wore short shorts and listened to techno music in the locker room before practice. One day, Carroll even joined in on the short-shorts movement.
“Of course,’’ Willson responded with a hearty smile on whether Techno Thursdays will return.
Not everybody is on board with its revival.
“Let that stay in the past,’’ smirked middle linebacker Bobby Wagner.
Carroll’s thoughts on its return? “It’s still on the block right now,’’ he said.
The broader point is that Willson brings, as Carroll put it, “a lot of energy to practice,’’ which maybe the team needs right now in the wake of Sunday’s loss to the Saints.
Maybe some veteran leadership, too, for a team that features 30 players new to the roster since Willson was last a Seahawk.
But if a lot of the faces were unfamiliar to Willson, the feeling in the locker room, he said, was the same, a feeling he said he didn’t really sense in his other stops.
“When I was here we just seemed to be able to win games late because there was just a general sense of guys caring for one another and really wanting to do well, not just for themselves but for everybody in the building,’’ Willson said. “I don’t think that’s the exact same everywhere.’’