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Carroll’s Seahawks, once again, learn hard lesson on special teams

Blair Walsh's one-year stint in Seattle came to an end this offseason. (AP)

Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll was frank with his displeasure of Seattle’s performance on special teams.

“Very disappointed at the way we started and the impact of the kicking game in this game. It reminds you of the hard lessons of how the kicking game is such a vital part,” he told the assembled media in a Monday press conference following a game.

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That was in 2014, after a 28-26 loss to the Rams in St. Louis. It was in response to a series of mistakes on special teams – including a fake punt for a fourth-down conversion and a trick play on a return from the Rams – and underscored Carroll’s drive to perfect all three phases of the game.

Now, heading into the 2018 season, the Seahawks are coming off another special teams gaffe – though this one had more far-reaching consequences.

In March 2017, the team opted to let veteran kicker Stephen Hauschka, 32, walk when he became a free agent and instead signed former Vikings kicker Blair Walsh, then 27. The moved saved Seattle $2.4 million in cap space.

It led to yet another hard lesson. Credit Walsh for being a perpetually courteous player who took ownership of his performance, but the marriage ultimately didn’t work out for either party: he posted the worst field goal percentage of his career (72.4) and the Seahawks missed points in pivotal moments.

One such moment was a Week 9 loss to Washington. Walsh missed all three of his field goal attempts and Washington walked away the victors in a three-point game. And while it’s hard to point the finger at a single player for a loss, that game was, arguably, the difference between a 10-6 season and a 9-7 finish. (I don’t need to hammer this point home too much; we’ve delved a bit more into Walsh’s season here, here, and here.)

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Seattle already appears to be moving forward. Just three days after their season came to a close, Seattle signed free agent kicker Jason Myers to a futures deal. Myers, 26, was released by Jacksonville last October. The Seahawks aren’t expected to re-sign Walsh, who will become an unrestricted free agent at the start of the new league year in March, though they could reach into a pool of free agents for competition at the position.

Unfortunately for the Seahawks, their projected $14 million in cap space puts them in the bottom third of the league in available spending. So, a proven veteran free agent like 30-year-old Pro Bowl kicker Graham Gano may be unattainable (and could ultimately be re-signed by Carolina). With plenty of holes to fill on limited draft picks, they also have little capital to waste in the draft (and sorry Seahawks fans, glasses kicker is only a sophomore).

In all likelihood, Seattle may once again find itself going with a cheaper, younger option at kicker. Will it mean putting themselves at risk for another special teams blunder? It’s a gamble Seattle will be forced to take; but this time that gamble will be made with, perhaps, a renewed focus in replicating their earlier emphasis on that phase of the game.

Carroll said as much in a conversation with 710 ESPN Seattle’s Brock and Salk. This time, it wasn’t from a game two seasons ago – it was after Seattle’s final game of the season, a heartbreaking Dec. 31 home loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

“Let’s make this point clear: we’ve been really clear on the essence of how we’ve tried to play our football,” Carroll said. “We’ve always played defense, we’ve always played special teams with great emphasis, and we’ve run the football. When that’s not there, it changes all factors … that’s, to me, your coach, the best way to play the game of football.

“You can look at all the numbers and the exciting passing game and the stats and all that kind of stuff – that isn’t how it gets done year after year after year.”