Luke Willson

Extra Points: Steelers, Hawks, Giants, Chiefs

The oldest defensive player in the NFL, linebacker James Harrison, is reportedly planning to return for his age-39 season in 2017, and the Steelers are interested in bringing back the pending free agent. “Obviously, we need to have a contract. But I think we’re definitely open to it,” team president Art Rooney II told Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on Tuesday. “And, from what I understand, at least he’s open to it.” Despite his advanced age, Harrison led the Steelers in sacks (five) in his 14th NFL season and became the franchise’s all-time leader in that category (79.5).

Regardless of whether Harrison’s career continues with the Steelers, they’ll prioritize upgrading their pass rush this offseason, Rooney indicated. “That’s a piece of the puzzle that I think we can identify we want to improve on,” said Rooney, whose club finished ninth in sacks and 15th in quarterback hurries in 2016.

Elsewhere around the league…

  • The Seahawks made a contract offer to pending free agent tight end Luke Willson, but it wasn’t “extremely serious” and he “didn’t really respond to it,” the 27-year-old told KJR-AM 950 (via Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times). Willson also revealed that, although his preference is to re-sign with the Seahawks, he’s “excited” about the chance to test the open market. While Willson hasn’t put up gaudy numbers in his four-year Seattle career (74 catches, 976 yards and seven touchdowns in 56 games), he could have a case for a significant payday. As Condotta notes, Willson has similar numbers to San Francisco’s Vance McDonald (64 receptions, 866 yards, seven TDs in 48 games), who landed an extension featuring $16MM in guarantees in December. The Seahawks already have one expensive tight end in Jimmy Graham, who’s due a $7.9MM salary next season.
  • A subpar season – not to mention the $2.5MM in cap savings that would accompany his release – could cost running back Rashad Jennings his place on the Giants’ roster, but he expects to return in 2017. “I’ve got one more year on my contract, and I’ve got a lot to prove. I look forward to doing it in New York again,” the soon-to-be 32-year-old told James Kratch of NJ Advance Media. Jennings, who averaged a paltry 3.3 yards per rush on 181 carries in 2016, added that he and head coach Ben McAdoo had a “very upbeat” exit meeting.
  • Chiefs long snapper James Winchester‘s contract extension is a five-year, $4.45MM pact featuring $500K in guarantees and a $500K roster bonus for 2017, reports Terez A. Paylor of the Kansas City Star. Winchester can also earn $10K in workout bonuses for every year of the deal.
  • Free agent linebacker Justin Tuggle worked out for the Raiders, tweets Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle. The son of longtime NFL linebacker Jessie Tuggle spent 2013-15 in Houston, where he appeared in 42 games and started 11, but didn’t play this season after he was unable to survive the Browns’ final cuts in early September.

Seahawks Notes: Shead, Sherman, Willson

Seahawks starting cornerback DeShawn Shead will undergo surgery to repair a torn ACL, Ian Rapoport of tweets. Injured during the Seahawks’ divisional-round loss to the Falcons, Shead is looking at a “standard recovery” of around eight months, per Rapoport.

However, Pete Carroll described Shead’s injury as “significant”, per Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times (on Twitter), and one that will require “a really long time” to overcome. So while this could be Carroll just not wanting to put a timeline on it, his tone indicates Shead could miss some time next season. He did not express that kind of concern about Tyler Lockett‘s availability after his late-season broken leg, so another Richard Sherman counterpart could be required in the starting lineup come the 2017 season.

The 28-year-old Shead started a career-most 15 games for Seattle this season, intercepting one pass, deflecting 14 and making 80 tackles. He will be a restricted free agent. Seattle should not have to worry about placing a $2.8MM second-round tender on Shead now that he’s suffered this injury, Joel Corry of CBS Sports tweets.

Here’s more coming out of Seattle.

  • Speaking of Sherman, the cornerback played this season with a “significant” MCL injury, Carroll said (via Condotta, on Twitter). Carroll described the injury as weighing on Sherman mentally. The sixth-year cornerback was not listed on the injury report for a knee malady this season, Condotta notes (on Twitter). Sherman’s name appeared on the “Not Injury Related” section of missed-practice reports this season, but the Seahawks are admitting now he was injured, creating a minor controversy. Sherman appeared on the DNP report in 11 separate weeks, Michael Cohen of tweets, with 10 such weeks being listed as NIR and the other for an ankle ailment. The All-Pro talent is under contract with the Seahawks through 2018.
  • Luke Willson, though, is an impending UFA and said he hopes to stay with the Seahawks next season. Although, the tight end said he hasn’t talked with the team about a new deal, Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times tweets. Willson’s fourth season as a Seahawk ended as his worst statistically. He played in just 11 games and caught only 15 passes for 129 yards for an offense that featured a re-emerging Jimmy Graham.
  • Carroll sounded like he believed the current cast of offensive linemen could improve as opposed to being set on seeking upgrades, Sheil Kapadia of tweets. After a season that featured Russell Wilson battling injuries and the offensive front struggling to secure a pocket for the franchise passer, Kapadia argues standing pat here would be a mistake. The Seahawks spent the least amount of money on their offensive line this season, and Pro Football Focus graded the NFC West champions’ unit as the worst in the league.

Seahawks TE Luke Willson Suffers Knee Injury

Tight end Luke Willson suffered ligament damage in his knee during the Seahawks’ win over the Falcons yesterday, head coach Pete Carroll told reporters, including Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times (Twitter link). It’s possible that Willson will require surgery, per Carroll.Luke Willson (Vertical)

[RELATED: Seahawks Cut Jordan Hill From IR]

Willson, 26, has taken a backseat to Jimmy Graham in 2016 as the latter has finally found his footing in Seattle. However, while Graham has outproduced Willson in terms of offensive numbers, Willson has actually played more snaps that Graham (168-to-159), and Willson has been a valuable asset as a blocker in two-tight end sets. While he hasn’t graded well overall according to Pro Football Focus’ statistics, Willson has ranked as an above-average pass-blocking tight end.

The Seahawks do have the tight end depth to withstand the loss of Willson, as the club boasts third-round rookie Nick Vannett and fifth-year pro Brandon Williams. If Seattle wants to add another tight end to its roster, one obvious candidate would be Marcus Lucas, who is currently on the Hawks’ practice squad.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

2016 Proven Performance Escalators

According to the NFL’s contractual bargaining agreement, players drafted in rounds three though seven are entitled to raises during the fourth year of their respective rookie contracts. The pay bumps are tied to playing time — a player must have played in 35% of his team’s offensive or defensive snaps in two of his first three seasons, or averaged 35% playing time cumulatively during that period.

If one of these thresholds is met, the player’s salary is elevated to the level of that year’s lowest restricted free agent tender — that figure is projected to be $1.696MM in 2016. Players selected in the first or second round, undrafted free agents, and kickers/punters are ineligible for the proven performance escalator.

Here are the players who will see their salary rise in 2016 courtesy of the proven performance escalator:Keenan Allen (Vertical)

49ers: Gerald Hodges, LB

Bears: Marquess Wilson, WR

Buccaneers: William Gholston, DE; Mike Glennon, QB; Akeem Spence, DT

Cardinals: Andre Ellington, RB; Tyrann Mathieu, CB/S; Alex Okafor, LB

Chargers: Keenan Allen, WR

Colts: Sio Moore, LB; Hugh Thornton, G

Cowboys: J.J. Wilcox, S; Terrance Williams, WR

Dolphins: Jelani Jenkins, LB; Dallas Thomas, T; Dion Sims, TE; Kenny Stills, WR

Eagles: Bennie Logan, DT

Falcons: Kemal Ishmael, S; Levine Toilolo, TE

Jaguars: Josh Evans, S; Dwayne Gratz, CB

Jets: Brian Winters, G

Lions: Larry Warford, G

Packers: David Bakhtiari, T; Micah Hyde, S

Patriots: Duron Harmon, S; Chris Jones, DT; Logan Ryan, CB

Raiders: Mychal Rivera, TE

Rams: T.J. McDonald, S

Ravens: Ricky Wagner, T; Brandon Williams, DT

Saints: Terron Armstead, T; John Jenkins, DT

Seahawks: Luke Willson, TE

Steelers: Markus Wheaton, WR

Titans: Brian Schwenke, C

Washington: Jordan Reed, TE