Doug Baldwin is still making plays in the Bay Area, but only once per year. Laughing out loud at Jim Harbaugh.
Back in 1989, a man was at a flea market and spotted a painting. He didn't like the painting, which he later threw out, but he was intrigued by it's frame, so he purchased it for $4.00. Turns out that he didn't even like the frame anymore, but before throwing that out he did keep a piece of folded up paper that had been tucked behind the painting. Even the piece of paper folded up behind the painting didn't interest him too much, he perhaps thought it was just a copy, but a friend urged him to get it looked into.
So he did. And so he found out that the piece of paper behind the painting he didn't like, encased in the frame that he threw out, after a four dollar purchase, was actually an original copy of the Declaration of Independence. It was so fresh at the time it had been folded and tucked away, that ink from the first line had actually shown up in reverse at the bottom. The copy, one of only four in private hands, was in excellent condition because of how it was stored and the man sold it at auction for $2.42 million. (It later sold for $8.14 million at another auction.)
That's like living the American dream by selling the actual American dream.
This isn't exactly a direct correlation to what Pete Carroll and John Schneider have been building in Seattle, perhaps it's more like American Pickers or Pawn Stars, because while this man lucked out in acquiring the hidden treasure, these guys feel that they do know they're acquiring something that's vastly under-valued. While some of us haven't been greatly impressed with their higher-profile acquisitions, we can't help but be enamored with what they've been able to find at a much lower cost.
I was reminded of this today when Danny wrote about the offensive line depth. More specifically, by finding Breno Giacomini. Now, Breno might not be a future Pro Bowler, but at the very least he's solidified his spot on the roster by playing very well when given a chance and by showing versatility in what positions he can play. Did he already not outplay James Carpenter, a first round pick, at right tackle? This all came at the expense of a player, originally a fifth round draft pick of the Green Bay Packers, that they signed off of their practice squad.
I had forgotten that they released Breno in 2010, just shortly after originally signing him, but managed to keep him with the team until last season when he made eight starts, the first eight starts of his career. He played quite well and now is slated to start the season at right tackle with Carpenter assumed as a PUP candidate, and many of us are quite happy with him as a starter. At this point, I'm not even assuming that Breno will lose his job when Carpenter returns, perhaps making it Carpenter that has to slide over to guard. And it all started with one of those signings that most of us just brush off as "not a big deal" when it went down.
Certainly, it's rarely ever a big deal when you sign a mostly-unknown player off of another team's practice squad, and it will continue to be that way, but obviously Schneider liked what he saw in Green Bay and managed to parlay that into a starting right tackle for 2012. This isn't the only example of the coaching staff and front office finding hidden gems to build a 53-man roster. We could go on for awhile naming the names, and so that's what I'll do.
You won't hear me talk about Matt Flynn in this article, except for these few sentences. We don't know yet what Flynn will do, but if he turns into a very good starting quarterback, he'd certainly be a great value gem. Perhaps not "hidden" because he was the second-most-liked quarterback on the free agent market and coming from a Super Bowl winning team where he had two excellent starts in his career, but you'll rarely find franchise-caliber quarterbacks in free agency for that team-friendly of a deal.
So, that's enough for Flynn. What about these guys that have already done something exceptional on the field for Seattle:
Acquired: For a 5th round pick
One of his first trades as GM, Schneider sent a 5th-round pick to the Jets to acquire Washington. In his third game as a Seahawk, Washington returned two kickoffs for touchdowns against the Chargers and Seattle won by a score of 27-20. If it weren't for Washington, Seattle may have never made the playoffs and had that memorable game against the Saints. Then last season, he scored the only touchdown against the Browns and if it weren't called back on a penalty, he might have been responsible for two wins in his two year career. Pretty good for a kick and punt returner who has seen limited time in the offense.
Acquired: Free agency
There were plenty of people that were excited about the acquisition of Robinson (I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that people know who Robinson is, since he was a quarterback at Penn State) but the 49ers released Robinson in 2010 and Seattle snatched him up as soon as they could. I know I didn't expect to get a Pro Bowl fullback, special teams captain, and broadcasting aficionado. Robinson has vastly outplayed the value at which he was acquired and been even more valuable as a teammate, team representative, and locker room presence. Additionally, his acquisition can be thanked for by special teams assistant coach Jeff Ulbrich, a former teammate.
Acquired: Undrafted free agent
What really needs to be said at this point? He may have been the most sought-after undrafted free agent in the NFL last year, but that is like being the most sought-after nude photo of Octo-mom. You're morbidly curious, but have very low expectations and then most of the time you walk away thinking, "Why did I get my hopes up?"
Baldwin has basically changed the landscape of how we view undrafted free agents for awhile, but eventually we will come down to earth and realize that he's one of the very rare exceptions to the rule. Unless Phil Bates and Ricardo Lockette somehow explode onto the scene this year as the #1 and #2 receivers and dominate, we'll see that Baldwin is just special, and give credit to Pete and John for not letting him go anywhere but here.
Acquired: Free Agency
He's gone now (and for now, the window is still open) but Williams was a brilliant find in 2010. His relationship with Carroll at USC helped get him here and probably motivate him to finally get in shape and get his act together. Injuries, loss of focus, whatever, he's not here anymore but he came here on a cheap one year deal and had more than twice as many yards in 2010 than he had during any other season. At 28, Williams probably isn't done in the NFL, but he's probably done here. And he was an excellent value add in free agency, when most probably expected him to be here for about as long as Lendale White was.
Acquired: Off Green Bay practice squad
As noted before, this has turned into a great find for Seattle. Part of the way you get great finds is to get guys that don't have a lot of experience, but have a lot of potential. Breno played defensive end and outside linebacker in high school and then quit during school to pursue basketball. Yeah, basketball. Even at Louisville, he was a tight end for his first two years until he put on a massive amount of weight as a junior when he moved to tackle.
If only I had been a football player, and if it had been muscle instead of fat, I could have used my dozens of extra pounds for good instead of evil :(
Another example of the genius of Tom Cable as an offensive line coach, Breno has turned into a solid starter for the Seahawks.
Acquired: Free Agency
Nobody would make the mistake of naming McQuistan at the same caliber as some of these guys, but more credit to Cable of turning one of his former players in Oakland into a versatile and valuable backup lineman. He started twelve games total during his first four years in the league and then started ten last year, playing in all sixteen games. He also has the ability to play at four line positions, with varying degrees of success, but it's important to have a guy that can adequately fill in when necessary and saving you a roster spot or two.
Acquired: In 2nd round of 2009 draft, but as a guard.
Part of finding hidden gems is also finding them on your own roster. Carroll and Schneider did not draft Unger, and he came as a second round pick, but it was partly the vision of the coaching staff that turned him from a guard into a high-potential center that could anchor the middle of the line for a very long time. We have so many examples of guys that have found success in Seattle by simply putting them in the right place, and Unger is one of them.
I started to write within this article about hidden gems on defense, but then I realized how long the article would become. Defensive side of the ball is coming next.