RENTON — Cameron Foster’s phone started buzzing after last year’s NFL draft, but none of the calls were for Benson Mayowa, one of Foster’s clients.
Mayowa, a quick but undersized defensive end from Idaho, didn’t expect to get drafted, but he was hoping a team would take a chance on him as an undrafted free agent.
By the time Mayowa went to bed that night, not a single team had called.
The next day Kirk Parrish, Seattle’s college scouting coordinator, called Foster. The Seahawks didn’t want to sign Mayowa, Parrish said, but they offered him a spot at their rookie mini camp.
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Mayowa didn’t get any team reps the first day. By the third day, coach Pete Carroll singled him out, even if he didn’t know Mayowa’s name. By the end of the preseason, Seattle receiver Doug Baldwin described Mayowa as “unblockable.”
Mayowa made the Seahawks and stayed on the active roster all season, a pseudo redshirt year for which he earned more than $400,000.
“A lot of what happens in my business and in the NFL is luck,” said Foster, Mayowa’s agent. “And Benson purely was at the right time at the right place.”
THE SEAHAWKS LIKE to think that last part — the right place — is particularly true. Carroll and general manager John Schneider have gone to great lengths this offseason to paint Seattle as the place for undrafted free agents.
Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse, two undrafted free agents, caught touchdowns in the Super Bowl. Alvin Bailey, another undrafted free agent, played in key moments along the offensive line during the playoffs.
If the anecdotal evidence wasn’t enough, the Seahawks went a step further. Before the draft this year, they sent agents a pamphlet filled with statistics proving they lead the league in giving undrafted free agents a shot. It is thought to be the first time a team has released anything like that.
The message was simple: Come to Seattle, and if you’re good enough, you’ll stay.
Before the draft, Carroll and Schneider kept coming back to their willingness to play undrafted free agents — to the point it was clear they were trying to create a message. At one point, when asked what his pitch was once the draft ended, Carroll smiled and acknowledged what was happening.
“Just really the facts that we’re trying to hammer out in this press conference right here are the ones that we want to get out,” he said.
The move was also strategic. Last year, Schneider said it was more difficult to sign undrafted free agents than ever before. Seattle’s roster, one of the deepest in the league, can’t look too appetizing for undrafted players hoping to make a team.
“Since we got here in 2010, we lead the league in rookie free agents in playing time,” Schneider said. “That’s a tribute to bringing guys in and having open competition where they are not looking at names on the back.”
Those numbers aren’t juiced because the Seahawks loaded up on undrafted free agents when they were bad in 2010. The Seahawks have eight players who came to the team as undrafted free agents on their roster, and they’ve kept at least two in each of the past three years.
There may not be a better example than Mayowa. He was so far off the radar that Carroll called him “the kid from Idaho” during rookie mini camp. Only after that camp did the Seahawks offer Mayowa a contract to extend his tryout.
Mayowa stayed in a Bellevue hotel during training camp. His first roommate, defensive tackle Martin Parker, was cut, brought back, then cut again. Mayowa kept thinking his name would be next.
One thing that worked in Mayowa’s favor was preseason injuries to starters. That forced Mayowa into more action, and he finished the preseason fourth in the NFL with 3½ sacks.
Not only did it show Seattle’s coaches that he could play, but it showed the rest of the league. If the Seahawks tried to sneak Mayowa on the practice squad, they knew another team would scoop him up. So they kept him on their active roster, allowing him to travel and learn while also hoping he would add more weight to his lean frame.
Mayowa said he played at about 242 pounds last season. He’s up to 255 now.
“I knew I had the talent,” Mayowa said. “I just had to work hard.”
FOSTER, MAYOWA’S AGENT, also represents Brock Coyle, a linebacker from Montana. Coyle, like Mayowa, was not a popular name heading into the draft.
But at his pro day he tested well, running the 40-yard dash in 4.60 seconds. That led NFL Network draft guru Gil Brandt to write Coyle’s pro day “was just a little less than sensational” and that he’d gone from “a prospect who might not have even received a rookie free-agent contract to a possible sixth- or seventh-round draft pick. He will be an excellent special teams player.”
The Seahawks brought Coyle in for a workout before the draft. On the final day of the draft, Schneider and Ken Norton Jr., Seattle’s linebackers coach, both personally called Coyle in an effort to coax him to sign as an undrafted free agent.
Foster said Coyle had 18 teams trying to sign him, but he picked the Seahawks. Part of it was opportunity. While Bobby Wagner is entrenched as the starting middle linebacker, Heath Farwell, Wagner’s backup and a special-teams captain, is entering his ninth season and is set to make $1.7 million.
“They have their stars and starters already,” Foster said. “But their backups as well as special teams, they could use someone like Brock. Heath is probably toward the end of his career, and Brock is someone who could come in and fill in for that in time.”
Coyle also knew he would get a fair shot in Seattle. He only had to look at Mayowa. In fact, Foster said he had the undrafted free-agent pamphlet the Seahawks sent him printed out on his desk.
“I think that was a brilliant marketing strategy,” Foster said before the second day of the draft. “They’re selling agents.”
Just 30 minutes earlier, Foster had received a call from Mark Duffner, the linebackers coach for the Dolphins.
“He was telling me how much he loved Brock Coyle,” Foster said. “What is he doing? He’s courting me. He’s wanting to be the attractive girlfriend so if by chance Brock isn’t drafted, he wants us to like him the most.
“You’ve got to do your homework and realize some teams like free agents and some teams don’t. So for the Seahawks to market themselves to agents saying, ‘Look, here are the numbers,’ as an agent that’s where you want to send your player.”
Jayson Jenks: 206-464-8277 or firstname.lastname@example.org