Tight end Luke Willson, one of Seattle's 13 unrestricted free agents, said Sunday as the team cleared out lockers that he thinks there's a good chance he'll be back with the Seahawks.
For Seahawks tight end Luke Willson, the annual ritual of locker cleanout day following the final game of the season took on a different tenor Sunday.
A fifth-round pick in 2013, this was the last season on Willson’s rookie contract and he is now an unrestricted free agent, meaning there’s a chance that once he left the Seattle locker room Sunday he might never return.
Technically, contracts expire on March 9 when the new NFL league year begins. Willson could sign a new deal with Seattle prior to that date. Beginning March 9, Willson and 12 other Seattle unrestricted free agents can sign with other teams.
Willson made clear on Sunday he hopes it doesn’t come to that.
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“This is like a family to me here,’’ said Willson, who has 74 catches in four seasons and seven touchdowns, and has started 30 games. “I love the guys here. I love my teammates. I grew up here. I’m still a Seahawk until March comes.’’
Willson said he’s had a few talks with the Seahawks but that there is “nothing official. But it seems like there’s a shot I will be back, which is kind of what I’m hoping for. But you never know.’’
That Seattle’s list of free agents is smaller in number, as well as in number of starters, is one reason there remains a feeling of optimism that the Seahawks will remain a Super Bowl contender next season. Unlike past seasons when the Seahawks went into the off-season resigned to likely losing some key players via free agency — last year’s departures included linebacker Bruce Irvin, defensive tackle Brandon Mebane and offensive linemen Russell Okung and J.R. Sweezy — Seattle could conceivably keep all of its own free agents if it wants.
Kicker Steven Hauschka is the highest-paid of Seattle’s free agents at an average salary of $2.85 million the past three seasons.
The only other unrestricted free agent (meaning a player who on March 9 could sign with any other team without any compensation for Seattle) who could be considered a primary starter at his position is strongside linebacker Mike Morgan. Morgan, who made $1 million this season, typically played a third of the snaps, coming off the field when the team was in a nickel defense.
Among other unrestricted free agents are defensive tackle Tony McDaniel, offensive lineman Bradley Sowell and safety Kelcie McCray.
The Seahawks also have six restricted free agents, players who can be given a tender by Seattle which would then mean the Seahawks would have the right to match another team’s offer or potentially get compensation.
Among the restricted free agents are cornerback DeShawn Shead, offensive lineman Garry Gilliam and linebacker Brock Coyle.
Willson surely spoke for all of them when he said Sunday that he’s now entering a somewhat uncomfortable unknown.
“It’s a little bit more confusing,’’ Willson said. “I’ve been doing football for a while. You are here for four years and this is all I know. It would be very weird for me to leave or go somewhere else with the bonds I have here.
“. … I wouldn’t say I’m like afraid. I’m pretty sure I’m going to have a lot of opportunities. But I really hope it is here. I love these guys. It would be tough to leave.’’
Here is a look at the team’s free agents.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
PK Steven Hauschka — He had his most uneven season as a Seahawk and had an average salary of $2.85 million on previous deal.
TE Luke Willson — Valuable number two tight end caught 15 passes this season with two touchdowns.
SLB Mike Morgan — Six-year vet earned first starting role this season but missed eight games with a sports hernia issue.
OL Bradley Sowell — Lost starting job at right tackle late in season but started nine games.
DT Tony McDaniel — A member of the 2013 Super Bowl winners, was brought back in August to add depth due to injuries up front and had a solid season. Turns 32 this week.
SS Kelcie McCray — Had a nice four-game stint as a starter when Kam Chancellor was injured at mid-season.
SS Jeron Johnson — Veteran re-signed late in season to add depth but team could look for younger backup options next season.
FB Marcel Reece — Former Husky proved his worth in the playoff win over Detroit. But will be 32 next season.
FB Will Tukuafu — Ended the season on Injured Reserve with a concussion.
CB Neiko Thorpe — Valued special teams player would seem a good bet to be back.
DE Damontre Moore — Charged recently with DWI which might make it unlikely he would return.
DT John Jenkins — Claimed off waivers at mid-season, played sparingly but could be back as depth up front.
TE Brandon Williams — Key special teams player would seem someone the team would want back.
RETURNER Devin Hester — Said after Saturday’s game he’s likely to retire. With Tyler Lockett due back, Seahawks wouldn’t need a dedicated returner anyway.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
CB DeShawn Shead — May have suffered a torn ACL Saturday but undoubtedly is still in the team’s long-range plans.
S Steven Terrell — Had some rough moments filling in for Earl Thomas late in season.
OL Garry Gilliam — Regained starting right tackle spot late in season.
LB Brock Coyle — Showed ability to play strongside linebacker this season as well.
LB Dewey McDonald — Like Thorpe, stood out on special teams in his first season with team and would seem likely to return.
CB Mohammed Seisay — On Injured Reserve all season with an Achilles tendon.