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Seahawks’ Luke Willson says his free-agency decision won’t be all about money

Tight end Luke Willson is one of 14 Seahawks who are set to become unrestricted free agents. (AP)
LISTEN: Tight end Luke Willson on free agency

Luke Willson said he isn’t focused yet on which teams may or may not be interested in signing him as a free agent. For now, the Seahawks tight end told 710 ESPN Seattle’s “Danny, Dave and Moore” that he’s keeping his goals simple.

“To be completely honest with you, the only thing I’m looking at doing right now is staying out of trouble,” Willson said Friday. “I’m down out here by myself in Houston, not partying, not drinking, diet’s been pretty clean. And the rest of it I could care less about. My agent, I have a lot of faith in him.”

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Willson, who has spent his entire four-year career in Seattle, is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent for the first time on March 9, when the new league year begins. Since official contract offers from other teams are barred until that time, Willson said he’s not concentrating on which teams may be a fit, but he has made it clear he’d like to return to the Seahawks. Either way, the former fifth-round pick out of Rice is set for a substantial raise from his rookie deal, which averaged about $584,000 a year.

There has been some debate over what the Seahawks should do at tight end, starting with Pro Bowler Jimmy Graham, who is due for a $10 million salary-cap hit in 2017, the last year of his contract. The Seahawks also have Nick Vannett, a third-round pick last year who missed some time with an ankle injury and caught just three passes for 32 yards as a rookie. Blocking tight end and special-teams player Brandon Williams is also due to be an unrestricted free agent.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll indicated that the team tried to get an extension worked out with Willson before the end of the season but that the two sides couldn’t make it work.

Willson said he is excited for free agency in that he expects there to be “a lot of interest” from teams. His confidence comes after a season in which his receiving numbers dipped across the board from 2015.

“Over my past four years, yeah, there were a ton of receiving numbers, there have been some flashes. But even this last season, statistically it was my worst year but I felt personally for me as a complete football player, it was by far my best year,” he said. “That was something I was pretty proud of personally, so I’m excited to see what happens.”

Dave Wyman noted that Willson’s former Rice teammate, Vance McDonald, is a potentially apt comparison for what Willson might get on the open market. McDonald, a tight end drafted in the second round in 2013, the same year Seattle chose Willson in the fifth, signed a three-year extension with the 49ers that’s worth a total of $19.65 million and included a $7 million signing bonus. Comparing the two, Willson has posted a better catch percentage (65 to 55) and has more catches (74 to 64) and yards (976 to 866) with the same number of touchdowns (seven).

“I am familiar with Vance’s deal. I actually saw him a couple weeks ago,” Willson said. “If you would have told me four years ago that I’d be in line for something like that coming out of Rice University, I would have been pretty happy. So it’s an exciting time in that sense but, again, nothing’s for sure and we’ll see where it goes.”

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Willson, a native of LaSalle, Ontario, said he enjoys Seattle and the relationships with his teammates, specifically mentioning Graham, whom he considers one of his closest friends. He also mentioned tight ends coach Pat McPherson and Carroll, whom he credited for shaping his approach to football and life.

“I got a little sentimental when I was leaving Seattle after we lost to Atlanta because there is, in the back of my mind, the thought that I might not be back there. And if that were to be the case, it would be tough because like I said, there’s a lot of people there that I really look up to …” Willson said. “I mean, I’m trying to put it off, to be honest with you. As you can see I’m stumbling through this. I’m not my normal joking self on the show here today.

“It would just be weird strolling into games and not having Kam Chancellor give the pregame speech, not having  (Richard Sherman) on the sideline and his competitive nature, not being in the huddle with (Russell Wilson).  I don’t want to say it seems normal to me, because I know these guys aren’t normal, but that’s just what I’m used to.”

Still, Willson acknowledged there is “for sure” an appeal to being the No. 1 tight end on a team, even if he hasn’t looked at his role in Seattle as being that of a backup.

“I kind of laugh about it, just to be completely candid, about me being a backup tight end,” he said. “It’s like, yes, I mean, I am. Jimmy Graham is the man, but I don’t really feel like a backup tight end. I feel like I’ve got a certain skillset that kind of complements our offense and I’m asked to play different roles, but I never really considered myself the backup tight end. I know a lot of people might think that’s ignorant, but that’s just how I feel.

“We run a lot of two-tight-end stuff, too. So the whole thing about starting or being the guy, would I like to have some more targets? Of course. But we’ll see. We’ll see which teams. But that definitely is a factor in it, but it’s not the only factor.”

As for the idea of a “hometown discount,” Willson did not dismiss the idea entirely. He described a “sliding scale” of consideration that includes the fact that the Seahawks have won at least 10 games the past five years, as well as his comfort level with teammates, coaches, the city, the offense and the team’s medical personnel.

“I don’t know if I would call it a hometown discount, but I think what Seattle offers does factor in for me personally,” he said. “Is money a factor? Of course money’s a factor. I said this before … but my decision’s gonna be kind of like a bit of a sliding scale. You throw in all these factors. You hear some people, ‘Hey, I just want to go where the money’s at.’ That’s really not how I feel. Do I want to go and get a large deal? Of course. But for that, mainly it’s more football purposes, for a) job security, and b) usually when you’re paid more money, you get the ball thrown to you more. It’s just kind of how it is. So that’s part of it.”

When asked by the hosts if there was anything they could do to sweeten the pot for Willson to stay, the quirky 27-year-old had an idea: A weekly segment called “Conspiracy Theories.”

“With no football talk, like we’re not able to talk any more football,” he said. “… I’d like to talk to about the current state of the food industry. Have you guys seen some of this sugar additive stuff? It’s bizarre. I’m calling conspiracy on this. I think the American food companies are trying to poison their people.”