Ok, so now that the 2013 (off)season is officially underway, I'll be taking a closer look at each positional group, in order to try and give an honest assessment of the state of things for the Seahawks - looking at current personnel, depth, plus some notes on free agency and the Draft, etc. Obviously, with said free agency and the Draft still upcoming, many things will change between now and, say, July/August, when the team gets together for Training Camp. Seattle is very exhaustive in their search for new players and favor a high-volume Drafting methodology, plus they seem to really value giving street free agents and UDFAs tryouts, so I'd almost expect them to find random dudes living under rocks and plug them into the roster as depth or starters.
But, until then, we'll assess the current roster, because this is what people like me do during the offseason.
First off - the kickers. Because kickers are people too, and as it turns out, they're pretty important. The Seahawks had one kicker on their regular season roster - Steven Hauschka, and then when Hauschka was hurt during Seattle's win over the Redskins in the Wild Card round, the team placed him on the injured reserve and signed veteran free agent Ryan Longwell to come on in relief. Longwell hit on four extra points in Seattle's loss to Atlanta. He'll head back to free agency.
Hauschka is a restricted free agent this offseason, meaning Seattle can match offers other teams make on him if they decide not to sign him to a long-term contract prior to Free Agency on March 12th, and that is not a decision that I imagine will be super easy.
Hauschka is more or less automatic from inside 50 yards - meaning, if Seattle gets their offense to or past the opponent's 32-yard line and encounter a fourth down, the smooth 6'4, 210 pound 27-year old kicker will give you three points. That's the good part.
Hauschka was 24 for 27 on field goals in 2012, with his only three misses outside 50 yards. From 20-29 yards, he went 1 for 1; from 30-39: 7 for 7; from 40-49: 5 for 5, and from 50+: 1 for 4. However, his long was from 52 yards, and we've heard Pete Carroll repeatedly mention that 52 or 53 yards is pretty much Hauschka's range. In Hauschka's two seasons with Seattle, he's 3 of 8 outside of 50. Not reliable, and rarely in 2012 did Seattle even attempt long field goals (4 in the entire season). That's the bad part.
Now - re-signing him becomes a question of philosophy - do you value consistency and reliability inside 50 yards or do you want a guy that can boom one through from 55-57 yards when the game is in the closing seconds and you're trailing by 2? Want a guy that can give you three points from outside 50 yards when your offense is stalling or ineffective - you may have to sacrifice some of that consistency inside 50, if so.
The Rams are a good example - St. Louis beat Seattle 19-13 in Week 4 with the help of some trickeration on special teams (a fake FG that turned into seven points) and behind the leg of "Legatron" Greg Zuerlein. Zuerlein kicked four field goals, including a 58-yarder and a 60-yarder (!!!!!) and those two huge kicks ended up being the difference in the game. Now, that was Week 4 and the Seahawks' offense hadn't really started clicking at that point, but if you think the Rams' stout defense was an outlier that week, check back to see how well St. Louis played San Francisco twice in 2012 (tied and beat them) and how well they played Seahawks in Week 17 at CenturyLink (20-13 Seattle after Seattle had completely annihilated their previous three opponents).
Sometimes, in the NFL, you have to be able to score with your kicker when the offense is out of sync or facing injuries or whatever, and I think in the NFC West, with the strong set of defenses, it's becoming especially important. Do the Seahawks want to stick with a guy that is pretty much useless outside of 50 yards? That is the question.
The other factor, of course, is kickoffs, though that seems secondary these days with the new NFL rules that move the kickoff line up five yards. Hauschka had 87 kickoffs on the year with an average of 65.9 yards (8th in NFL). He finished with 36 touchbacks, but his average touchbacks per kick was a paltry 41% (18th in NFL). I'm not sure if that's a hangtime issue or not, but that would be my first guess.
Now, there may be some guys in free agency that the team looks at (though I doubt that unless someone good gets cut over the next few months), and there may be some guys in the upcoming Draft to keep an eye on. When Seattle signed Ryan Longwell, they did so because of his playoffs experience, I would guess, and he reportedly beat out Neil Rackers, Justin Medlock, and Carson Wiggs for the job.
Seattle did recently sign Wiggs to a futures deal, and the former UDFA out of Purdue, who spent time with the team in Training Camp last year, is best known for his booming, long-range kicking ability. Wiggs famously hit a 67-yard field goal in Purdue's spring game (so, in practice) last year, and his long in a game was a 59-yarder in 2009. He holds the record for the five longest field goals in Purdue history, went 40-of-41 in PATs in 2011 and 19-25 (one blocked) on field goals to finish 56-of-76 on his career. He's got a big leg, averaging 65 yards per kickoff (he's reportedly good in the hang-time department as well) and Purdue's coverage teams were first in the Big Ten.
Wiggs apparently also stood out at the Senior Bowl last year, first for weighing in at 221 pounds after being listed sub-200 in the media guide (no one had bothered to change it since he arrived on campus), then for his solid performance that week.
"Carson has a natural, fluid kick, which made it easy for us to build chemistry quickly," former Wisconsin punter Brad Nortman, the holder on Wiggs' kicks, said. "His ability to focus under pressure really stood out to me. Every opportunity he had to perform in front of scouts, he had the confidence and focus to dominate, which he did."
During the week of practice leading up to Saturday's game, Wiggs also received high praise for his kickoff ability, frequently booting touchbacks five yards deep into the end zone against heavy winds.
"The coaches said they were impressed with my leg strength," Wiggs said. "It's good to work with guys at the next level and get the professional point of view. I learned a lot."
Wiggs was one of the top performers of the Senior Bowl, hitting three field goals from 27, 32, and 28 yards in addition to kicking two extra points in the North team's 23-13 victory. Nortman said Wiggs was one of the top performers during the week of practice leading up to Saturday's game.
Wiggs, over his career at Purdue, has converted at least five onside kicks, even recovering one of those kicks on his own. The main question concerns his intermediate accuracy - his field goal percentage is fairly pedestrian and if accuracy is an issue going forward I don't see the Seahawks favoring him long-term. The other wrinkle that makes Wiggs interesting is that he also handled punting duties for a stretch at Purdue, averaging 35 yards on 23 punts, with a long of 53. Versatility can be a boost.
Regardless, kicker is a 'need' position for the team considering Hauschka's ineffectiveness beyond 50 yards, and also considering he's a restricted free agent.