Canadian-born tight end Willson not worrying about his NFL future

Willson not worrying about his NFL future

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Luke Willson is seeing how the other half lives, and it’s not as easy as it looks.

The Seattle Seahawks tight end is at the Super Bowl in Houston working as a correspondent with TSN. Willson said life in front of the camera is much different than being on the practice field.

“I don’t know if I could do it, day in and day out,” Willson said with a chuckle via telephone. “I’m wearing suits and stuff on TV . . . the struggle is real right now.”

Fortunately for the six-foot-five, 252-pound Willson, a budding career in TV can wait.

The 27-year-old LaSalle, Ont., native finished his fourth season with Seattle and is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent March 9. Willson, who made US$1.6 million last season, would like to remain with the Seahawks but is prepared to hit the open market, if necessary.

“I’ve been pretty vocal in saying I’d like to stay with Seattle, I love it there,” Willson said. “But I’ve got to take into consideration many different situations (potentially with other clubs) as far as maybe being a little closer to home, team culture and my role on it, and contract, stuff like that.

“I’m hoping all signs point back to Seattle . . . that being said it’s kind of out of my control.”

For now the outgoing, personable Willson, who earned a Super Bowl ring with Seattle as a rookie, is focusing on covering the big game. While Willson would seem a natural for television, the NFL championship annually attracts thousands of reporters from many countries, often resulting in tight working quarters and plenty of waiting to interview players.

“That’s the thing because when you’re a player it’s like, go, go, go, everything is very efficient and time is blocked off,” he said. “Now, it’s ‘OK, the players are coming in 20 minutes,’ and then someone’s in front of you for an interview.

“I’m like, ‘Man, I’m, doing nothing.’ I’m getting anxious as it’s going down because I feel like I should’ve talked to 10 guys by now but I’m waiting in line for one.”

Seattle took Willson, who signed with the Toronto Blue Jays organization in 2011 before returning to football, in the fifth round of the ’13 NFL draft. The former Rice star has started 30-of-56 games with the Seahawks, registering 74 catches for 976 yards and seven TDs.

Willson said his development as an NFL player far exceeds his statistics.

“I’m definitely more complete than I was four years ago,” he said. “I remember coming in as a rookie and Zach Miller was ahead of me and I’d think to myself, ‘Wow, on the mental side of the game this guy was just extremely sharp. How does he know all this stuff?’

“This was my first year where our tight end coach Pat McPherson would ask me questions and the dialogue between us got much more complex as far as Xs and Os go and me understanding defensive schemes, what they’re trying to do and how to attack certain things.”

Seattle also has a decision to make at tight end. Veteran Jimmy Graham will have a $10-million salary cap hit in ’17 and Nick Vannett, a 2016 third-round pick, could prove to be a cheaper backup.

A viable free agency comparison for Willson, who has made about $3.3 million with Seattle, could be former Rice teammate Vance McDonald. The San Francisco tight end signed a three-year, $19.65-million extension with the 49ers in December that has options for fourth and fifth seasons. The deal included a $7-million signing bonus with $9.1 million guaranteed.

“It’s very surreal,” Willson said. “Obviously financial stability is life-changing but I’ve learned to really appreciate more the relationships I’ve made and the people I’ve met along the way.

“I’m kind of learning (business side of football) trial by fire here but I’ve talked to a couple of guys who’ve been through it and I’ve got a pretty good grasp of what to expect. I don’t want this to sound arrogant, but I think I’ll have opportunities and a lot of different situations will come up so it’s not like I’m nervous that I won’t end up somewhere.”

Willson won’t let money be the over-riding factor in deciding where he’ll play next season.

“A winning culture and a team that’s going to be competitive year in and year out are probably the No. 1 factors,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, money is definitely a factor because when teams invest in you, they place value in you.

“I’ve been in the league four years and never not won 10 games. Seven months after I was drafted we won the Super Bowl and 12 months after that we were back in the game (losing 28-24 to New England). I’m definitely thankful for all the opportunities I’ve had but I want to play this game to win.”

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

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