RENTON – Answering questions about his impending free agency, Seahawks tight end Luke Willson hit the familiar notes for a player in his situation. He talked about wanting to be back with Seattle, the only team he’s ever known. But he isn’t sure if he will be.
“I’m kind of going into an unknown period,” Willson said as the Seahawks cleaned out their lockers Sunday, a day after their season-ending loss in Atlanta. “I wouldn’t say I’m like afraid, but I’m thankful … I’m pretty sure I’m going to have a lot of opportunities. But again, I hope it’s here because this is really my family. I’m not just saying that. I love these guys. So it would be tough, tough to leave.”
Willson is one of 14 Seahawks who are set to become unrestricted free agents. Of that group, he’s the only one who was drafted by the team, the last man standing from their otherwise fruitless 2013 draft class. He’s been the down-field threat the Seahawks hoped he’d be when they chose him in the fifth round that year. He’s steadily improved as a blocker, he stepped in as the starter in 2014 and ’15 and he briefly helped out at fullback this year while the Seahawks were without one.
He’s also coming off his least productive season, catching a career-low 15 passes for 129 yards and two touchdowns while missing five games following arthroscopic knee surgery. That could make it easier for the Seahawks to re-sign Willson. The degree to which they will prioritize doing so may depend on what they do with starter Jimmy Graham, who had a nice season coming off a serious knee injury but has a $10 million cap charge and isn’t assured of being back for the final year of his deal.
Willson, who turned 27 on Sunday, said he hasn’t talked much with older teammates about their experiences in free agency.
“I was not expecting to be done this soon,” he said. “I think most guys weren’t. So we’ll see where we go.”
Here’s a look at each of the Seahawks’ 13 other UFAs:
K Stephen Hauschka. One of the more accurate kickers in NFL history and the best one the franchise has ever had, Hauschka uncharacteristically struggled at times this year, particularly on extra points. The change in long-snappers had something to do with that, but Hauschka’s trajectory was a factor on some his kicks that were blocked. Reliable kickers are hard to find and Hauschka, 31, was as reliable as they come before this season. My guess is that Seattle re-signs him with the expectation that he bounces back. He just finished a three-year, $8.55 million deal.
LB Mike Morgan. He took over for Bruce Irvin as Seattle’s strong-side linebacker this season but missed half of it because of a groin injury that required surgery. The Seahawks like the experience he has in their system dating all the way back to his time at USC, where he played for Pete Carroll. But the position he plays is much less valuable than others in Seattle’s defense, which subs out the strong-side linebacker for a third cornerback in passing situations. The Seahawks were in nickel on more than 70 percent of their defensive snaps this season. So it may be hard for Seattle to justify paying Morgan, 29, much more than the $1 million he made on a one-year deal in 2016.
DT Tony McDaniel. He shared starting duties at defensive tackle with rookie Jarran Reed after signing with the team in the summer. McDaniel was again a key cog in Seattle’s run defense, playing well enough on a one-year, $985,000 deal to warrant consideration next season. But he turns 32 later this month and the Seahawks would prefer that Reed take that job over.
OT Bradley Sowell. He signed a one-year, $1 million deal to compete to be Seattle’s starting left tackle and ended up with that job when the Seahawks moved Garry Gilliam back to the right side before the start of the season. Sowell, 27, was replaced by rookie George Fant after hurting his knee then temporarily took over for Gilliam on the right side later in the season before Gilliam reclaimed the job. Losing two starting jobs in one season usually doesn’t bode well for a player’s chances of getting re-signed, but Seattle’s offensive-line decisions have been pretty unpredictable.
FB Marcel Reece. Picked up late in the regular season, Reece had an impact as a lead blocker and also with his receiving skills. He has experience in Tom Cable’s zone-blocking scheme from their time together in Oakland, something Carroll said was evident in how quickly Reece, 31, picked things up. He’s a player that Seattle will almost certainly consider bringing back, even if a younger, cheaper alternative would be more ideal.
FB Will Tukuafu. He was on and off Seattle’s roster this season and finished the year on Injured Reserve because of a concussion. Tukuafu, 33, has been a versatile player for the Seahawks, helping out on special teams and occasionally along the defensive line in addition to fullback. Seattle brought him back last summer only after losing some younger players to injuries. He seems like he’d be a fallback more than the preferred option.
S Kelcie McCray. Acquired in a trade before the start of the 2015 season, McCray, 28, made three starts for Kam Chancellor at strong safety that year and four more this year. With Chancellor’s future in Seattle uncertain, McCray has seemed like a potential replacement. It was curious, though, how the Seahawks went with Jeron Johnson instead of McCray when Chancellor briefly left Seattle’s game against Arizona in Week 16. McCray played the third-most special-teams snaps of any Seahawk.
S Jeron Johnson. He was picked up late in the season, rejoining the team that signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2011. Johnson, 28, resumed his role as a significant special-teams contributor. He has appeal as insurance with Earl Thomas coming off a broken leg.
CB Neiko Thorpe. Signed early in the season after Seattle waived Tharold Simon, Thorpe, 26, became one of Seattle’s best special-teams players. He also saw extensive action on defense in Weeks 11 and 12 while DeShawn Shead was hurt.
TE Brandon Williams. He was Seattle’s third tight end ahead of rookie third-round pick Nick Vannett but caught only two passes. Williams, 29, was second in special-teams snaps.
DL Damontre Moore. Signed mid-way though the season while Michael Bennett was out, Moore made a nice impression in the four games he played but then hurt his foot. Days before the team placed him on IR, he was arrested on charges of driving while intoxicated and driving with a suspended license. Moore is only 24, he’s talented and he’s a pass-rusher, something the Seahawks are always looking for. But he came to Seattle with some off-field baggage and his arrest is an obvious issue.
DT John Jenkins. Another mid-season pickup, Jenkins, 27, appeared in only two regular-season games. He’s massive, listed at 6 feet 3 and 360 pounds.
KR Devin Hester. It appears Hester will join Jerry Rice and Franco Harris as NFL legends who finished their careers with the Seahawks. Seattle signed him for the playoffs after losing Tyler Lockett, and he showed he in Atlanta that he still has something left in the tank at 34. But Hester said afterward that he’s likely retiring. With Lockett expected back for the start of next season based on what Carroll has said, Seattle may not need him anyway.