By Todd Dybas The News Tribune
When the NFL draft lights go out, Seattle Seahawks head 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 now working inside of an approximately 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.
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 to be able to have facts 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 Seattle since 2010. Inside the brochure are charts showing how much undrafted free agents play during the preseason (Seattle is tops in the league), plus the average playing time of undrafted defensive players (Seattle is fifth) and offensive players (Seattle is again first).
“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 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 were immediately 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 mini-camp roster, which consists of around 50 players.
As Seattle grapples with big signings — like Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas — and the salary cap, the development of younger (and, again, inexpensive) players will be crucial. Just as the recruiting of free agents takes Carroll back to his days at USC, 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 immediately after the draft, including former Washington quarterback Keith Price.
Seattle also added USC safety Dion Bailey, Montana linebacker Brock Coyle, Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, Central Arkansas tight end Chase Dixon, Penn State tackle Garry Gilliam, Oklahoma guard Bronson Irwin, South Carolina cornerback Jimmy Legree, and Eastern Washington defensive tackle Andrew Pulu.
Carroll was able to sell each one main thing: belief in a legitimate chance.