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O’Neil: There’s no easy way to fix Seahawks’ problem at kicker

Seahawks kicker Sebastian Janikowski will be a free agent in March. (AP)

Kickers are like milk.

At least that’s how I’ve come to think of them. The second time that you take a good whiff and ask yourself if it’s still good, that’s the moment when you should probably just go ahead and throw it out.

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Proper application of the “Spoiled Milk Theory” would have ended the Blair Walsh Project before he had a chance to cost Seattle two different games in 2017. And it would have meant that Seattle would have actually had a kicker who could stay healthy for an entire game in the playoffs this year – and maybe do something really extraordinary and try to actually make a tackle every now and again.

Now I’ll admit that my “Spoiled Milk Theory” has some flaws. Namely, it’s the reason I was fully behind Seattle’s decision to let Stephen Hauschka walk after his 2016 season, which was the most erratic of his six years in town.

But mostly, my “Spoiled Milk Theory” is based on the lack of any better approach to place-kicking in the NFL. The position is undeniably important yet incredibly fickle, and allocating resources either in the form of draft picks or payroll doesn’t mean you’ll fix the problem.

Patience doesn’t necessarily pay off, either. Just ask Seattle. For each of the past two seasons, the Seahawks have held on to a veteran kicker through early-season struggles only to be rewarded with a disappointing conclusion.

In 2017, Walsh missed a game-winning field-goal attempt against Arizona in the regular-season finale, the only consolation being that a victory wouldn’t have put Seattle in the playoffs anyway. In 2018, it was Sebastian Janikowski injuring himself while performing the one task he was actually asked to do because lord knows he wasn’t going to tackle anyone.

And now the Seahawks are starting over at that position. Again. They signed Sam Ficken to a 2019 contract. That’s just the start, though, of a process to find a reliable performer at that position, which is as important as it is difficult.

Just ask the Chicago Bears. In 2017 they went through a carousel of three kickers, so that offseason they went out and signed the best kicker they could in free agency: Cody Parkey. He was coming off a season in which he made 91 percent of his field-goal attempts for the Dolphins. The Bears paid a premium with a four-year, $16 million contract that guaranteed Parkey $9 million.

The deal made Chicago No. 4 in kicker spending in 2018, and they were paid back by having Parkey miss a total of 10 kicks in the regular season. Seven were field-goal attempts, three were point-after tries. The total of 10 misses was the most of anyone in the league, and he capped off the year by having his attempt at a game-winning field goal tipped by a defender, ricocheting off the left upright before hitting the crossbar and bouncing back into the end zone. Then he rubbed his coach and just about everyone in Chicago the wrong way by talking about the whole thing on the “Today” show.

So draft the best kicker, right? After all, the Seahawks picked an All-Pro punter in the fifth round last year. Except Tampa Bay tried that approach three years ago, choosing Roberto Aguayo in the SECOND round. It was the first time in 11 years that any team drafted a kicker in any of the first three rounds of the draft.

Aguayo’s college resume was impressive. He was the most accurate kicker in the history of the ACC and the third-most accurate in college history, and he promptly went out and missed 11 kicks in his rookie season. Nine were field-goal attempts, two were point-after attempts, and he hasn’t attempted a regular-season kick in the NFL since.

All that goes to show that there is no easy way to fix Seattle’s problem at kicker. In fact, pouring significant resources into the position might lead you to stick with a bad option longer than you should. After all, the more you pay a guy, the less likely you’re going to treat him like spoiled milk.

Better to bring in a group of candidates and let the best kicker win before keeping a real close eye on him. And the second time you have to ask if he’s still good, that’s probably about the time you go back and buy another gallon of milk.

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