Blair Walsh proved a losing bet for the Seahawks in 2017 and Seattle is already moving on.
It’s both one of the most frustrating and comforting realizations about the 2017 Seahawks — that if Blair Walsh had made a couple more field goals at the right time Seattle could easily have finished 11-5, if not 12-4.
The comfort comes in thinking that maybe the Seahawks really weren’t all that far off from being what they’ve been in years past, even if the massive coaching changes and hints of a significant personnel makeover make it clear that Pete Carroll thinks Seattle’s issues were bigger than just a couple of missed field goals.
The frustration comes in realizing that the situation was one of Seattle’s own creating, if forced on the Seahawks by the NFL salary cap, when the Seahawks last offseason debated whether to pay Stephen Hauschka what he figured to get on the open market and at least rely on a tried and true face, or start over with someone who would come more cheaply.
Seattle chose option two — Walsh got a one-year deal for $1.1 million while Hauschka signed a three-year contract with Buffalo for almost $9 million — with the Seahawks thinking they’d not only save some money but also maybe not suffer any dropoff in performance (it’s worth remembering Hauschka had also missed a short field goal and a PAT that cost Seattle in two games it didn’t win in 2016).
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It didn’t work out as Walsh was 21-29 on field goal but more critically missed three in a 17-14 loss to Washington, a 52-yarder that could have sent a game against Atlanta into overtime and a 48-yarder in the season-ending 26-24 loss to Arizona.
There’s no worry about a repeat as Walsh is an unrestricted free agent and Seattle has already begun compiling potential replacements, signing free agent Jason Myers, waived at mid-season last year, three days after the season ended.
Seattle seems likely to add competition at some point. But undoubtedly Seattle will again be starting over at kicker in 2018, which proved to be the biggest story about the special teams in 2017.
Key stat: Walsh is known for his leg strength. But while he made 6-6 inside the 30 he was just 15-23 from 30 or beyond.
Contract situation: Unrestricted free agent.
Key stat: Averaged 45 yards per kick, his second-best since 2012.
Contract situation: Signed through 2019.
Contract situation: Exclusive rights free agent.
While it’s tempting to just judge Seattle’s kicking units by Walsh, it wasn’t all bad for the Seahawks in 2017.
Statistically, Ryan turned in a season right in line with his career averages — his 45.0 average is .3 better than his career mark and Seattle’s net punting of 38.8 is a half-yard better than Ryan’s career average.
Ott also basically went without notice, which is the point as a snapper, taking over after having been signed last season when Nolan Frese was hurt in the regular season finale. Ott appeared more consistent than Frese had been in 2016 and would appear to have a good hold on the job for now.
Seattle’s coverage units were largely good enough until December, when both Jacksonville and the Rams used big punt returns to help break games open.
Tyler Lockett handled almost all the punt and kickoff return duties for Seattle and was named a second-team All-Pro as a kick returner, averaging 25.6 per attempt. But it took a while for the kickoff returns to come around this season and Seattle’s punt return average of 6.6 was the team’s lowest since 2005.
GRADE: C-minus (this is an overall grade for all of the special teams).
The biggest one — finding a new placekicker – is already in the works with the signing of Myers, who was was 64 of 79 on field goals (81 percent) and 76 of 88 on point-after attempts (86.4 percent) in 38 games over three seasons with Jacksonville.
But as noted above, don’t be surprised if the Seahawks add another kicker to compete.
The 36-year-old Ryan is under contract for two more years but may be in danger of being a salary cap casualty as the team could save $5 million over the next two seasons by releasing him against dead money of $1.8 million.
Ott would figure to be back.
Lockett has one year left on his deal and the Seahawks could look to returners this year both as immediate competition and a hedge against the future.
POSSIBLE FREE AGENT TARGETS
There are some interesting big-name kickers who can be free agents including Atlanta’s Matt Bryant, Carolina’s Graham Gano and Adam Vinatieri of the Colts. Another intriguing name is Cairo Santos, most recently of the Bears but 31-35 with the Chiefs in 2016. But Seattle isn’t flush with cap room at the moment and might be content to explore younger, cheaper names to compete with Myers.
Teams rarely draft kickers — Seattle has taken just four kickers and six punters in its history and none of either since 2008.
A couple of kickers deemed draftable this year include Auburn’s Daniel Carlson and Florida’s Eddy Pineiro. And Texas punter Michael Dickson declared early for the draft — he had one year of eligibility left — after winning the Ray Guy award.