Following his departure as a free agent in 2017, popular fan favorite Luke Willson returned to the Seahawks prior to their Week 4 matchup in Arizona.
The seventh-year tight end's reunion with the Seahawks was made possible after backup tight end Nick Vannett was sent to the Steelers in exchange for a 2020 fifth-round selection. In his first game back, he caught two passes for 26 yards in a 27-10 win over the Cardinals.
During Willson’s second stint, he appeared in 10 games (including two playoff contests) with Seattle, catching nine of his 11 targets for 87 yards and averaging 7.9 yards per reception.
While he failed to produce a touchdown for the second straight year, Willson served as a quality run blocker and his veteran presence definitely had a positive effect on Seattle’s young tight end group. Unfortunately, he also missed five games due to injury and was a relative non-factor as a receiver late in the season.
With the 30-year old tight end once again set to hit free agency in March, his future with the Seahawks remains up in the air. But Willson was able to reflect on his second tenure in Seattle following their playoff exit against Green Bay and made it clear he'd have interest coming back if the team wanted him.
“Definitely a fun journey. Just a great locker room and a great group of guys top to bottom, especially in this league. I’m not sure there are that many teams that have this camaraderie at this level,” Willson explained following Seattle’s Divisional Round loss in Green Bay. “Usually you see that kind of things at younger ages. You go into games playing for each other. You aren’t playing for contracts or money or whatever. I think that is a strength of our team.”
Heading into the offseason, the Seahawks’ front office will have several decisions to make at the tight end position.
Aside from determining whether or not to bring Willson back, general manager John Schneider will also be tasked with re-signing restricted free agent Jacob Hollister. The third-year tight end was forced into a starting role after youngster Will Dissly suffered a season-ending Achilles tear during Week 6 in Cleveland.
During 13 games, the former Wyoming standout made 48 receptions for a career-high 412 yards along with a trio of touchdown receptions. Based on his success after replacing Dissly, Hollister will likely return to Seattle next season.
Along with Hollister, coach Pete Carroll said Will Dissly has "been killing it" in his recovery from a ruptured Achilles tendon. While there's no official timetable for the second-year pro's return, he's likely to resume his starting role once he's medically cleared to play.
The Seahawks will also have to make a decision on what to do with veteran tight end Ed Dickson, who didn't play a single snap in 2019 due to injury. If Seattle were to cut the eight-year pro before June 1, they would save just over $3.2 million in 2020, according to overthecap.com.
If the soon-to-be 33-year old Dickson is released, the Seahawks would need to acquire a reliable backup tight end to replace him. While Seattle could just bring Willson back to serve that role, they may be inclined to look at other veteran options on the market who may be upgrades at this point.
If they're seeking bargains, the Seahawks could try to bring back Vannett, who started in six of 13 games with the Steelers and caught 13 passes for 128 yards. Or they could sign a veteran such as Richard Rodgers, who battled a foot injury with the Eagles all year, which limited him to just two games this season.
It's also possible the Seahawks could have their sights set on signing a possible new starter at the position, as Tony Pauline of the Pro Football Network suggested they could be in on Falcons free agent Austin Hooper. Flush with cap space, Chargers tight end Hunter Henry may also be available and of interest to Seattle.
Regardless, Schneider and the Seahawks have plenty of options to help improve the tight end group moving forward.
While it's still a possibility, albeit a small one, Willson could return for his seventh season in Seattle. But it seems more likely that both sides will go in a different direction this offseason and if he does come back, it'll likely be a later signing before camp.