Despite having one of the best and deepest rosters in the NFL, the Seahawks have become a good home for undrafted players because they provide the rookies a chance to compete and show that they can play.
In 2011, rookie Doug Baldwin was the leading receiver on coach Pete Carroll’s first Seahawks team, despite not being drafted.
Last season, Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse combined for 12 touchdown receptions on the Seahawks’ run to the Super Bowl and each added another in their 43-8 victory over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII. And Kearse joined the team as a rookie free agent in 2012.
The Seahawks’ current roster includes eight former rookie free agents – linebacker Mike Morgan and wide receiver Ricardo Lockette, who like Baldwin were signed after the 2011 NFL Draft; defensive back DeShawn Shead, who like Kearse was signed after the 2012 NFL Draft; and defensive end Benson Mayowa and offensive lineman Alvin Bailey, who were signed after last year’s NFL Draft.
All of this pertinent because the latest draft in NFL history will take place Thursday, Friday and Saturday – and the Seahawks have only six picks. And none of it is by mistake, because of the emphasis and energy the Seahawks put on and into what is essentially the eighth round of the seven-round selection process.
Once the final pick is made in the final round, the Seahawks really get busy.
“It’s an extraordinary part of the draft,” Carroll said Tuesday when he joined general manager John Schneider in the auditorium at Virginia Mason Athletic Center for a pre-draft Q&A session with the media. “Because there are kids out there who are waiting for their chance to fulfill their dreams. They’re sitting there waiting on the end of that phone and they’ve got to make a decision.
“Stuff happens within minutes sometimes. The whole process of that is only an hour and a half or so, two-hours long. So it’s a big gold rush in a sense.”
The Seahawks have struck gold repeatedly, in part, because they respect the process – and also because the voice on their end of the phone belongs to Carroll, who has proven he’ll give those undrafted rookies a chance to compete.
“We’re thinking we’ve got to get a guy to fill a spot,” Carroll said. “Well, there’s a kid over there that’s waiting for his opportunity to play in the NFL. So we try to respect that, and respect the kid in the process and make sure he really understands what he needs to know and is very clear about it – and get him the information, and let him feel the energy and the juice about our program and all that.
“So there’s a lot going on.”
Does it work? The proof is in the number of former rookie free agents who have produced for the Seahawks – a group that also includes defensive lineman Michael Bennett, who made the club as an undrafted free agent in 2009, went to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for 3½ seasons and returned last year to lead the Super Bowl champions in sacks; and safety Jeron Johnson, a rookie free agent in 2011 who ended last season on injured reserve.
And the proof to these players that they really were wanted came from Schneider as well as Carroll.
“John actually sent me a handwritten letter, and I still have it to this day,” Baldwin said after the second workout in Phase 2 of the Seahawks’ offseason program. “You could tell it was heartfelt, it was sincere, that he meant every word in it and that he was going be trustworthy and honest.
“That kind of led me to the decision to come to Seattle.”
That, and then there was the fact that the Seahawks had taken former Stanford teammate Richard Sherman in the fifth round of the draft where Baldwin was not selected.
In that letter – which was sent during the lockout that erased the 2011 offseason – Schneider underlined the always-compete approach that has been a cornerstone of Carroll’s philosophy since he was hired in 2010.
“John told me he was going to give me an opportunity to come in here and compete, and that they needed a guy to come in here and move the chains and make plays on offense when given the opportunity,” Baldwin said. “So that was my mantra.
“They always stress competition about everything, so when I came here it truly was competition for me to get an opportunity and it was a legitimate competition.”
The Seahawks don’t just sign rookie free agents to fill out the 90-man roster they take to training camp. Because of Carroll’s experience of having players for only three or four seasons while coaching at the University of Southern California, he and his staff play the rookies to see if they can indeed play. They also accentuate what the players can do, rather than what they can’t do.
“I found a dedication to the younger guys was really crucial to us and to play guys early when you get them,” said Carroll, who was 97-19 at USC from 2001-09. “We’ve carried that over. And John and I talked that over when we first got together. He was surprised that I was so committed to young guys.”
Last summer, the Seahawks played their rookies a league-high 36.2 percent of the snaps in preseason games – with the NFL average being 23.5 percent. The offensive players got 37.1 percent of the snaps, the highest in the league; while the defensive players got 35.2 percent, which was fifth highest.
“That’s because we need to see those guys,” Carroll said. “So we force them out there and want to get the evaluations and give them a great shot to show what they can do – and to show us and to show other teams as well.
“So this has become a good place for free agents to come because of that.”
The Seahawks have been very good to rookie free agents.