When the NFL draft lights go out, Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll picks up the phone.
Just thinking about this makes him smile, pushing up the crinkles in his 62-year-old face. It’s a flashback to a feeling he had while running the nation’s most successful college football program at USC. He’s recruiting all over again. The chase is on.
The oodles of undrafted free agents are pursued with haste after Mr. Irrelevant is selected with the final pick of the draft. With the draft concluded, Carroll is working inside of an approximate 90-minute window.
General manager John Schneider and his scouting department have treated these free agents the same as other draft picks. The research has been extensive for multiple reasons.
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First, the Seahawks see young (and inexpensive) players as a core focus. Carroll recently talked about how just last season he thought the team was fresh at the end of the year because of extensive use of young players.
They also want facts to accompany their pitch when Carroll starts dialing. The Seahawks put together and sent to players’ agents a brochure covering how much undrafted
free agents have played for them since 2010. Charts inside show how much undrafted free agents play during the exhibition season (Seattle is first in the league), plus the average playing time of undrafted defensive players (fifth) and offensive players (first again).
“We really do believe that young guys can make it,” Carroll said. “We believe we can find special qualities guys have based on the way we go about it. (We’re) not just trying to throw guys into the wolves and see if they can make it. Give them a chance to do what they do well, show us where they fit, then we’ll build on their strengths. That’s been a long commitment that we’ve had. It also helps us win.”
For instance, the Seahawks assigned a sixth-round grade to wide receiver Doug Baldwin in 2011. Once the draft was over, and he was not selected, they immediately were on the phone with him.
It’s not just the possibility that a guy can stick. The Seahawks also need to fill out a full rookie minicamp roster, which consists of about 50 players.
As Seattle grapples with big signings — such as cornerback Richard Sherman and free safety Earl Thomas — and the salary cap, the development of younger (and inexpensive) players will be crucial. Just as recruiting brings Carroll back to campus, so does the pursuit of developing younger players.
“I found dedication to the younger guys was really crucial. We carried that over,” Carroll said. “John and I talked about that when we first got together. He was so surprised I was so committed to young guys. A lot of teams don’t utilize that philosophy to put them out there because they’re afraid they’re going to make mistakes. We’ve kind of force-fed our guys with a plan. That really did shift when I was in charge at SC.”
So, the sales pitch goes something like this: “We won the Super Bowl because, in part, we were willing to let young, undrafted players compete. We’ll give you the same shot.”
Saturday night, Carroll had his dialing fingers ready. The Seahawks signed nine undrafted free agents, including former University of Washington quarterback Keith Price.
They brought in a linebacker, safety, defensive end and more. Carroll was able to sell each player one main thing: belief in a legitimate chance.