The Seahawks on Thursday signed free agent kicker Blair Walsh as a possible replacement for longtime Seattle kicker Steven Hauschka, who will officially become an unrestricted free agent next month.
In a move that likely signals the end of the Seahawks career for Steven Hauschka, the team’s all-time leader in made field goals who will become a free agent next month, Seattle on Thursday signed veteran place kicker Blair Walsh.
And the signing sets up the possibility of an intriguing storyline of the Seahawks replacing a long-trusted kicker, albeit one who struggled in 2016, with another whose Minnesota career began to unravel with a critical miss in the playoffs against Seattle a year ago.
Walsh, 27, kicked for the Vikings from 2012 until last November when he was released as the team grew tired his inconsistent kicking. Maybe the most notable of a string of misses was a 27-yarder pulled wide left with 22 seconds remaining in a wild card playoff game against the Seahawks in Minnesota following the 2015 season. That allowed Seattle to survive, 10-9.
While Walsh insisted the stunning miss wouldn’t linger into the 2016 season, he appeared to struggle to put it behind him and was released by the Vikings after missing an extra point and having a 46-yard field goal blocked in an overtime loss to Detroit and then misfiring on another PAT against Washington. Walsh was 15-19 on PATs and 12-16 on field goals when he was released after nine games, with the missed PATs standing as the most in the NFL at that time.
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Walsh had not signed with any other team since, leaving him available for Seattle to scoop up Thursday in what is the first significant personnel move of the off-season for the Seahawks, one in which the Seahawks will get younger and undoubtedly cheaper at their kicking position (as a pending unrestricted free agent, Hauschka will be free to sign with another team beginning March 9. He could have re-signed with the Seahawks at any time).
Prior to the 2016 season, however, Walsh had been regarded as one of the better kickers in the NFL, named a first team All-Pro and selected to the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 2012 when he made 10-10 kicks from 50 yards or longer, an NFL single-season record.
Hauschka set numerous team records for the Seahawks after winning the job prior to the 2011 season and is second all-time in points scored with 759 behind the 810 of Norm Johnson.
But Hauschka had some uncommon struggles in 2016 missing more PATs than any other kicker — six — going 29-35, including one that could have put Seattle ahead in a late-season loss to Arizona. Hauschka also missed a 28-yard kick late in overtime of an October game at Arizona, a contest that ended in a 6-6 tie. Changing either result would have meant Seattle would have had the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs and a home game in the divisional round instead of finishing with the No. 3 seed and having to play in the divisional round at Atlanta, where Seattle’s season ended in a 36-20 loss.
Hauschka this season completed a three-year contract worth $8.5 million — making him the 11th-highest paid kicker in the NFL this year — which he had signed in the wake of the Super Bowl-winning year of 2013.
His 2016 salary of $2.7 million (and a salary cap charge of $3.5 million) was the highest of the 14 Seattle players who will officially become unrestricted free agents on March 9 and it’s not thought the Seahawks wanted to pay that much, or more, this time around.
That salary combined with Hauschka’s uncharacteristic misses in 2016 and a potential desire to get younger and cheaper at that position had led much speculation that the Seahawks could look for another kicker in 2017 — speculation that coach Pete Carroll didn’t really quell when asked about Hauschka in his end-of-season press conference two days after the loss to Atlanta.
“Unfortunately he had gotten a little stink with kicking the extra points,’’ Carroll said. “I was really excited that he finished the season on a good note and he hit everything that he had a chance to hit, because he knew he was up against it, he knew he needed to show that. I wish it would have happened a few weeks earlier, just so he could have had more weeks to bank on that.’’
Walsh, who attended Georgia and was a sixth-round pick of the Vikings in 2012, made $1.15 million last season as part of a four-year, $13 million contract he signed in the summer of 2015 (he is still owed $1.5 million by the Vikings this spring as part of his signing bonus).
It’s not known yet the details of Walsh’s deal with the Seahawks but it likely is for substantially less than Hauschka made last season. Seattle could also look to sign an undrafted rookie free agent or other inexpensive option as competition in training camp.
Hauschka, who will turn 32 on June 29, played in 17 games for Baltimore in 2008-09 and then four with Denver in 2010 before finally solidifying an NFL job with the Seahawks, succeeding Olindo Mare, who departed via free agency following the 2010 season.
Hauschka earned the nickname “Hausch Money” for his clutch kicking during his time with Seattle, notably in 2013 when he had two game-winning field goals in overtime en route to making 22 straight — second all-time in Seattle history behind only Mare’s 30 in a row in 2009-10.
He also tied a team record with a 58-yard field goal at Carolina in 2014 and ended last season having kicked at least one field goal in 19 straight games, another team record. Hauschka has made 191-219 field goals in his career, a percentage of 87.2 that is third-best in NFL history.
His overall numbers in 2016 were mostly on par with his career stats as he made 33 — which tied a career high — in 37 attempts. He also became Seattle’s all-time postseason scoring leader when he hit two field goals in wild card playoff win over Detroit. However, Hauschka also had a missed PAT against the Lions capping a season when he had uncommon struggles in what was the second season the point after touchdown kick was snapped from the 15-yard line (making it essentially a 33-yard kick).
Hauschka offered few excuses for the misses, saying simply after the Dec. 24 loss to Arizona when he had a 27-yard field goal attempt blocked and a missed PAT that each proved critical in a 34-31 loss that “I’ve just got to do better.”