Overview: Seattle signed Olindo Mare on March 27, 2008 to a two year, $3.5 million contract. It was the single best move of Seattle's offseason. It was met with scorn and derision. Ruskell hedged his bets by drafting kicker Brandon Coutu in the seventh round of the 2008 draft. Mare beat out Coutu and went on to be, discounting position, the single best player on the Seahawks roster.
What went right: Everything. Everything went right. Mare was second in total touchbacks and third in touchback percentage. He was the savior of Seattle's kickoff unit, a unit that allowed the fifth most return yards per kick in 2008, and was top ten in return yards per kick in 2007 and 2006. He was ninth in field goal percentage for kickers with twenty or more attempts. Using Football Outsiders advanced numbers, numbers that adjust for distance and weather, Mare was worth 4.6 points above average on field goals and 6.1 points above average kicking off.
What went wrong: Mare never fully displaced Coutu, and Coutu stayed on the active roster, still remains with the team.
Outlook: Retaining Coutu doesn't undo the savvy displayed signing Mare, but it does indicate it wasn't all savvy, it was at least some part luck. Coutu's presumed skill is kicking accuracy, a skill that may not be skill at all. Mare's presumed shortcoming was kicking accuracy, a shortcoming that vanished as the sample expanded. Combining his terrible 2007 with his terrific 2008, Mare's field goal percentage is, well, ordinary. He kicked for 78% over two seasons and is an 80.4% kicker for his career. Coutu was an 80.3% kicker for his college career. There's one major ability that separates the two: kickoff distance, and it's a blowout win for Mare.
So here's where this stands: Seattle is either retaining Coutu hoping they can trade him. As Coutu hasn't shown anything that elevates him from a street free agent, I doubt this. Seattle is retaining Coutu as the kicker and Mare as the kickoff specialist. In this case, the team likely loses Mare after 2009 when Mare signs somewhere he can do both. Or, and I grump that this is the most likely scenario, Seattle is retaining Coutu expecting him to beat out Mare in the preseason and take over kicking duties. Figure it's 50 - 50 that Coutu outperforms Mare in the preseason, and Seattle is suddenly one elite talent less. That's dumb. That's bad process. Coutu is a ticking time-bomb planted in Seattle's special teams, and if he detonates, Seattle will lose 10+ points of field position in 2009.