Walking the sidewalks of the Laurelhurst neighborhood, Colin Roberts made calls from six teams in the first hour of the NFL free agency on the morning of March 14. It was one of the most desirable limited-edition ends in the free agent market.
Meanwhile, he was a prankster doing his best just to keep his breath steady.
He woke up that day in Manhattan Beach, California, and began working through meditation techniques, a morning ritual punctuated by frequent calls and texts from Roberts. Eventually, while trying to calm his nerves, Dissly decided to get out and, like his agent, began to move around the building.
Dissly didn’t know what to expect that morning. For months, he and Roberts had been planning different scenarios when he first ventured into free agency: What was important to him? Where does he want to go? How does he value himself?
Preparing for the possibility that he might not be a “priority” free agent, Dissly thought he wouldn’t get a new deal until later in the week, after teams first signed their first-tier targets.
He hadn’t allowed himself to daydream about the possibility of what really happened next: the two hours of frantic negotiations between Roberts and the Seahawks that kept Dissly in Seattle — and away from quarterback, Russell Wilson, in Denver.
By noon that Wednesday, the parameters were in place for a three-year, $24 million contract, a deal that an ESPN reporter described as the most shocking free signing for the NFL offseason.
Even Dissly was pleasantly surprised at how well things had gone that morning. He described the new contract as “life-changing”.
But with the free agency officially taking off at 9am that morning, Dissly had little idea what the next few hours would hold. Then the text came from his agent around ten in the morning:
“Fasten your seat belts,” Roberts wrote. “That’s going back today.”
Define the market
Two weeks ago, during a brief personal meeting at the NFL in Indianapolis, General Manager John Schneider explained to Roberts that the Seahawks wanted to bring Dissly back.
Roberts wanted to make that happen, too. Growing up in Seattle, Roberts was a lifelong fan of the Seahawks and Huskies. He attended law school at Seattle University and began his career as an NFL player a decade ago representing UW players. Now he and his company, Rep 1 Sports, represent dozens of former UW players and a handful of former WSU players.
Last winter, Roberts negotiated his biggest contract to date, a four-year, $71 million extension with Tampa Bay defensive tackle Vita Villa, the former UW star in the first round of the 2018 NFL draft, Roberts said. Much more time to work it out — months of prep work, then three weeks of discussions back and forth — because of the layers involved in an extension of this magnitude, including guarantees and bonuses.
The Dissly deal was more straightforward, but it was also even crazier when the free agency window opened.
Dissly, a fourth-round pick for the Seahawks in the UW, overcame two major injuries in his first two NFL seasons—a patellar tendon injury as a freshman and a torn Achilles in 2019—to become a steady presence in the Seahawks’ offensive the past two years. Dissly has proven capable of passing (45 passes for 482 yards, three touchdowns in the past two seasons), but his real strength lies in being a tight end on the “Y” line—a blocker, in fact.
Since Dissly didn’t have amazing receiving stats on the Seahawks’ offense, Roberts put together a bunch of data to present Dissly’s value to teams in other ways (Russell Wilson, for example, had a higher completion percentage and lower compression rate when Dissly was on the field last season).
“A will is a throwback,” Roberts said. “He’s one of the best players at fending off tight ends in the league, and while those things won’t show up on the stat sheet, they do show a bunch when you’re running the ball, right? That matters. That’s very important.”
Turns out Roberts didn’t need to make a hard sell. By the time Schneider and Matt Thomas, the Seahawks’ vice president of football operations (and a so-called salary cap expert), reached out to Roberts at 10 a.m., a handful of other teams had already checked in. Tampa Bay and Denver were two of the first to call.
“It’s moving fast,” Roberts told Seahawks executives.
Schneider and Thomas, on the speakers phone from the team’s second-floor offices at VMAC in Renton, gave their first official presentation, for two years. Roberts said the show was a lot less than he had hoped, although he wasn’t surprised at the starting point. (He did not want to reveal the exact starting number, out of respect for the Seahawks’ operation.)
Dissly had already prepared himself for the possibility of leaving Seattle, a place he had called since arriving as a freshman at UW in 2014. As morning approached, it looked more and more like he was already on his way.
A reunion with Wilson in Denver was one possibility.
“It was like playing chess,” Desley said. “I’ve been emotionally taken away from the situation, because you have to be. I obviously love Seattle, and I have to give up on that (probably), it’s very emotional. But this is my job, it’s my career, and I had to be on the same page about it. “.
“Holy (expletive), you’re a sea hawk”
As other teams contacted official bids, Roberts continued to move in his neighborhood, swiping contract details on the Notes app on his iPhone. Every 20 minutes or so, contact Dissly to evaluate the merits of each offer.
“It was wild,” Desley said.
At one point, Roberts was convinced that Desley was heading to Seattle.
“It was very close,” said Roberts.
When offers began to increase, Roberts asked Dissly if there was a certain number the Seahawks could reach that would convince him to stay and end talks with the other teams. That’s when Desley and Roberts agreed: Three years, $24 million.
With another team “on the field” of this number, Roberts introduced him to the Seahawks. At noon, Schneider and Thomas agreed to these terms.
While the two sides were still searching for details of the secured funds, Roberts sent a quick text message to Dissly to deliver the good news: “Holy (expletive), you’re Seahawk.”
“Best text I’ve ever received,” Dissly later said.
The deal includes a signing bonus of $9.3 million (paid in instalments), $15.98 million in guarantees and $5.64 million in injury guarantees. It’s a huge pay increase for a player who made a total of $3.1 million on his original four-year start-up deal, and it’s an indication of the Seahawks’ expectations of being Dissly as a leader on the field and in the locker room in this post-Wilson era.
“The market is dictating that,” said Roberts. Kudos to the Seahawks for coming to the table with an offer that truly deserves.
Celebrate deceitful over the phone with close-knit family Back home in Bozeman, Montana. By 12:45 p.m., the NFL Network broke news of the deal, and congratulatory messages were texted on Dissly’s phone for the rest of the afternoon.
“What made that day special—aside from the life-changing money—were all the men who called me. All the boys started hopping,” Disley said. “It was nice to know that all the relationships I’ve invested in and the people I care about at the work facility, were totally happy with my return.”
Negotiations were completed, and Dissly invited friends to lunch in Manhattan Beach. After lunch, they filled a bucket full of ice and beer—all Coronas, except for Miller High Life that Dissly drank as a tribute to his late, namesake grandfather, William Perry.
He spent the rest of the afternoon with his friends playing volleyball on the beach.
“It was a fun day,” said Desley. “A very enjoyable day.”