RENTON — A day after returning to the Seahawks amid much fanfare, veteran tight end Luke Willson announced his retirement and was released by the team, revealing later his perspective on life changed after being “challenged” by a heart condition this offseason.
The team announced his release first, in a press release at 12:54 p.m., almost 24 hours after the team had announced his re-signing.
The news was stunning in the moment but then quickly explained by Willson himself in a lengthy statement he posted on Twitter, saying he is walking away from football.
In the statement, Willson revealed that he battled a severe pericardial effusion this offseason which “changed my perspective on a lot of things with regards to my life. After reflecting an everything yesterday and being in the building, I have decided that it’s time for me to begin with the next chapter of my life.”
Willson said the condition forced him to spend “numerous days” in the hospital and “really challenged me as an individual.”
A pericardial effusion is defined as a buildup of extra fluid around the heart that can prevent it from pumping normally.
Willson said after his night of reflection following Tuesday’s practice with the Seahawks that he decided “to walk away from the game of football.”
Willson’s statement included thank yous to Seattle and the Seahawks organization and closed with thoughts on what may be next.
“Football is really all I know,” Wilson said. “It’s all I’ve done for the last two decades. I’ll be honest, I have no idea what’s next at the moment … but whatever it is, you can be sure that I will bring a lot of energy to it.”
Thus ends the career of a player who will always be remembered as one of the most popular during the team’s greatest run of success.
Willson, 31, rejoined the Seahawks Tuesday and participated in practice with coach Pete Carroll explaining afterward that he was needed to fill out the depth at tight end with Colby Parkinson’s status for the regular season unclear due to a foot injury. Seattle has five tight ends on its roster with Willson’s departure.
The team did not announce a roster addition to take the place of Willson, meaning the team has an open spot on its 80-man roster.
Carroll spoke glowingly of Willson after Tuesday’s practice, noting both his locker room presence and his conditioning and it was expected that Willson would play significantly on Saturday night in the preseason finale against the Chargers. It was also thought that if Willson showed enough that he could be on the roster when the regular season began, which would buy the team some time if Parkinson needs longer to recover from a foot injury suffered two weeks ago.
“He looked fine,’’ Carroll said after Tuesday’s practice in which Willson played regularly at tight end and was also on some special teams. “He’s been working really hard, real trim, he ran well, caught a few balls. He did a nice job today.”
Carroll also noted Willson’s reputation for lightening up the locker room. Willson helped convince Carroll to embrace “Techno Thursday” practices in 2017, which were highlighted by the playing of techno music and players wearing the shortest shorts possible, something Willson playfully referred to as “a movement.”
“I think it’s real important, you know,’’ Carroll said of how he thought Willson could impact the team’s locker room culture. “It sure is important in our program. We’re trying to live on the high end of this thing. Keep the spirit up, keep the energy high. Expectations are really high to do that. It takes leadership and participation. Certain people just have more juice than others. Luke has always been a great part of that for us, and he’s just one of my favorites that we’ve had in the program over the years.”
His one-day stint with the team — which will turn out to be his last — was his fourth with the Seahawks in a nine-year NFL career.
Willson was a fifth-round pick of the Seahawks in 2013 out of Rice and played in all 16 games and all three playoff games as a rookie as Seattle won the Super Bowl. He played with the Seahawks through the 2017 season then signed with Detroit in 2018. After a year there and a training camp stint with the Raiders in 2019 he returned to Seattle in 2019 and was also with the team for the first half of the 2020 season before being released when Parkinson returned to health.
Seattle brought Willson back after he was cut by Baltimore for the playoff run and he was on the roster for the wild-card loss to the Rams, though he was inactive for the game itself and did not play.
His career highlights include an improbable catch of a pass from Russell Wilson on a two-point play that helped force the 2014 NFC title game into overtime. The Seahawks then scored on their first possession of the extra session to beat the Packers 28-22 and advance to their second straight Super Bowl.
In seven seasons with the Seahawks, Willson caught 97 passes for 1,208 yards and 11 touchdowns with another 14 for 162 yards and one touchdown in 11 playoff games.
Among his touchdowns was a 23-yarder with 47 seconds left that lifted Seattle to a 13-9 win at Carolina in 2014 and started a 9-1 finish to the regular season.
He also had a career-high 80-yard TD later that season in a win at Arizona.