"It's an extraordinary part of the draft, 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." - Pete Carroll on the UDFA free-for-all after the final pick of the Draft -- Mr. Irrelevant -- is announced.
During Pete Carroll and John Schneider's pre-Draft presser with media yesterday, both Davis Hsu and I made similar remarks on twitter that in essence the whole thing had been to that point, as Davis put it, a "15 minute sales pitch to rookie free agents."
Not coincidentally (I would wager), a short time later, Ian Rapoport 'obtained' and published a copy of a brochure that the Seahawks are sending to agents of players they'll be targeting as UDFAs this year. Here's a link to that pamphlet.
The brochure opens with a quote from Pete Carroll:
"We wholeheartedly believe in competition in all aspects of our program, and the only way to compete is to show it on the field. We're dedicated to giving all of our players a look to find out who they are and what they're all about so we can field the best team possible."
The second page notes that "Building through the NFL Draft is a key to building a consistent, champion-caliber foundation. Depth is often built through Undrafted Free Agency and the belief in developing players through the Practice Squad."
The team looks to emphasize that UDFAs aren't just camp bodies or throwaways, noting "it's not how you are acquired but rather what you can bring when you are acquired!"
The sales pitch goes on, in Win Forever writing style guidelines, to break down why agents should want to send their players to the Seahawks regardless of current depth charts, their win-loss record, or the picks that the team has just made.
I'll go through and break down the different points they make.
Last year, Seahawk UDFAs got 36% of the preseason team's playing time, per their research.
Bottom line: As they say, "If your client doesn't get on the field in the preseason, he'll have a tougher time making that team's roster, or any roster at all." This is huge for agents, maybe the biggest reason to send their clients to Seattle. Tape, tape, tape. Putting tape out there is probably the number one goal, after just making a team, for undrafted rookies.
The percentage of UDFAs that make their final roster during the 2010-2013 span is 8th overall (15 of 68, or 22%).
Bottom line: The Hawks are relatively selective in how many UDFAs they sign each year (ranked 17th, not just picking names out of hats), and a strong percentage end up making the team (15 total). Even with a very good roster, Seahawks still keep a good number of UDFAs.
The Seahawks are willing to quickly admit mistakes and cut bait on drafted players. They've released nine players during their rookie seasons since 2010, which is the 2nd worst (best?) total in the league.
Bottom line: Undrafted free agents will have a great shot of making the roster, particularly if they play better than the team's drafted players. The number is a "reflection of the team's singular focus on keeping the best players, no matter how those players were acquired."
While Pete Carroll built and maintained a dynasty at USC - including seven straight Pac-10 Championships, two National Championships, and a streak of 33 straight weeks at #1 - he always made one powerful promise to potential recruits, telling them that he would be giving them "an extraordinary opportunity to compete for a position from the moment they arrived on campus."
As Carroll relates in Win Forever,
"On National Signing Day, when we would add twenty or so top recruits to our program, we had a team meeting where we showed highlight film of those incoming freshmen to our returning players. I reminded them that our staff had told those young players being featured on the big screen that they would be getting a fair shot from the moment they stepped on campus to compete for a starting position. It was a fun meeting, as the players suddenly became expert analysts, critiquing the incoming players who, more than likely, would be going after their spot... It proved to our entire team that there was always an opportunity for every player to compete."
No rest for the weary. No complacency for the established. Creating an ecosystem where only the strong survive. A microcosm for natural selection.
That's carried on in Seattle.
As Doug Farrar notes, during the team's pre-draft press conference Tuesday, Carroll explained what he tells undrafted players when he's making the sales pitch.
"We're telling them that this program is built on competition and we're committed to giving guys the chance to show it. So, if they come to us, they're going to get to play. We've proven that our guys play more than anybody else in the NFL in preseason, so that's one fact for us. The commitment that we've had is real, and that we have had more rookie free agents playing for us than any other team... we tell them just really the facts that we're trying to hammer out in this press conference right here... we really do believe that young guys can make it, and also that we do have an approach.
"We believe that we can find the special qualities that guys have based on the way that we go about it. We're not trying to just throw a guy into the wolves and see if [he] can make it, but we're going to give a chance to do what they do well, show us where they fit, and then we'll build on their strengths. That's been a long commitment that we've had - we know that that works and we know how that helps a young guy fit in. It also helps us win, and it helps us as we continue down the schedule to be stronger near the end of the season. I think one of the big factors is because of that commitment. We're totally committed to this and everybody understands as we get the word out, and hopefully the kids will understand that as they come to make their decisions."
Teams want Seattle's players. Six of Seattle's UDFAs from last year were released and then subsequently picked up and signed by other teams.
Bottom line: Seattle's front office is supremely respected around the league, and their cast-offs are extremely popular at the moment due to that respect (and playing time focused development style). "Over the past four seasons, the Seahawks have had a league-high 28 released players claimed off waivers from July 1 until the first week of the regular season."
The Seahawks use their practice squad for development more than most other teams in the NFL.
Bottom line: The numbers bear out that Seattle has relied on their undrafted free agents to fill out the roster's depth over the years.
The Seahawks consistently field one of the youngest rosters in the NFL.
Bottom line: It's one of their core beliefs, and it shows that veterans aren't necessarily valued over young players. The best players will make the team.
The brochure concludes:
"History has shown that the Seahawks keep and develop the Undrafted Free Agents they sign, even at the expense of draft choices. The Seahawks are more likely than most teams to give your Undrafted Free Agent play time in the pre-season, giving your client the best opportunity to make the Seahawks or other team's roster."
The interesting part of all this is that from pretty much all accounts -- reporters, execs, scouts -- "this appears to be a unique and well-received move" as Don Banks puts it. "One rival club executive I spoke to said he knew of no other team taking that approach with UDFAs," Banks writes, "and called it a 'cool idea' that the defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks had."
"A long-time agent told me no club had ever been so pro-active in early pursuit of players who will go undrafted in the league's seven-round pick-fest," he continued. "It shows the Seahawks know it's an aspect of the draft that is fairly uncontrollable, so they're trying to do what they can do to have some control over it,'' the agent said.
As former agent Joel Corry added, "Seattle probably has an advantage with UDFAs because Pete Carroll was a master recruiter at USC."