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Schneider and Carroll keep up Seahawks' history of UDFA success

Doug Baldwin, pictured before Super Bowl XLVIII, is one of Seattle's top undrafted free agents.
Doug Baldwin, pictured before Super Bowl XLVIII, is one of Seattle's top undrafted free agents.
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Undrafted free agency -- and its importance -- is not a new concept for the Seahawks.

Some of the best players in team history were undrafted free agents (UDFAs): quarterback Dave Krieg, nose tackle Joe Nash, kicker Norm Johnson, free safety Eugene Robinson, linebacker Rufus Porter, fullback Mack Strong.

Most of those players were signed back in the 12-round era of the 1980s, proving that there was plenty of talent to be found even after a dozen rounds. The draft dropped to seven rounds 20 years ago, meaning those extra five rounds of players were suddenly cast into the UDFA ranks.

Like plenty of other teams, the Seahawks were able to find the proverbial diamonds in the rough upon occasion -- guys such as Strong, QB Jon Kitna and defensive back Jordan Babineaux.

General manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll have adhered to the same philosophy and come up with their own successes.

The Seahawks might have just six picks entering this week's draft, but they certainly don’t look at it that way.

The so-called eighth round is just as important as the rest -- a fact the Seahawks are stressing in a unique recruitment brochure to agents of rookie prospects this year.

Last year, the Hawks had trouble convincing some undrafted rookies to sign with them because most players knew how hard it would be to make that club.

As it turned out, three undrafted players (UDFAs) made the team and the Hawks had eight of their former UDFAs on their Super Bowl roster. But they are putting on a major recruiting pitch early this time.

"Rookie free agency is incredibly important for us," Schneider said last week. "We take a lot of pride in competition to acquire those rookie free agents. Our scouts do a great job of establishing relationships in the spring with those guys, and then obviously our coaching staff. You know how Pete is: He can't wait for the draft to get over to get on the phone with these guys and start recruiting. Pete, he's phenomenal at that. I would have gone to USC and played there.

"We're trying to acquire as many guys as we possibly can and then put it out there during the summer and see what happens."

Wide receiver Doug Baldwin is the gold standard of Schneider's UDFAs. Schneider reportedly gave Baldwin a big signing bonus -- $17,500 of Seattle's $75,000 UDFA allotment -- and wrote the receiver a personal letter that convinced Baldwin to sign.

"We didn't re-sign Brandon Stokley that year because we felt so strongly about Doug,” said Schneider, who added that the Hawks had Baldwin rated in the fifth or sixth round.

Baldwin didn't disappoint, leading the team in receiving as a rookie and then returning from an injury-plagued 2012 season to become a key figure in the Super Bowl season.

Last year, the Hawks signed two linebackers they had looked at drafting in the fifth or sixth round: Kenneth Boatright of Southern Illinois and John Lotulelei of UNLV. They reportedly gave Boatright a $12,500 signing bonus -- about 18 percent of their $70,000 allocation for undrafted rookies.

Some strategy went into those signings. The Hawks, who failed to draft an offensive lineman in the first six rounds, picked three in the seventh because they were afraid they would not be able to sign them after the draft. They were more confident they could get the linebackers via free agency. As it turned out, they were able to sign UDFA lineman Alvin Bailey, who some ranked as a fifth-round talent.

Schneider said the UDFA strategy "depends on the relationships that we have with the players. And we're looking at other teams and what picks they have left. Once the seventh round happens, that's when all that stuff happens. You're trying to look at team needs and then what number of picks they have left. … Our pro staff and our college staff do a great job of combining their thoughts in that regard and then helping us out in terms of strategizing."

This year, the Hawks apparently have added a new strategy: Marketing Seattle as a destination for undrafted rookies.

In their brochure, the Seahawks point out that their UDFAs led the league in playing time (36.2 percent) in the 2013 preseason, giving them a chance to show what they could do while providing them exposure to the league's 31 other teams.

“We’re telling them that this program is built on competition and we’re committed to giving guys the chance to show it," Carroll said Tuesday. "So, if they come to us, they’re going to get to play. We’ve proven that our guys play more than anybody else in the NFL in preseason."

The Hawks indicate that coming to Seattle's camp is a great way to make any team because the Hawks have had a league-best 28 released players claimed on waivers since 2010. That includes a league-high 11 last year. Six of the 28 players have been UDFAs, including two last year.

They also point out that 15 of their 68 signed UDFAs since 2010 have made the team at some point. And they say their nine drafted rookie cuts since 2010 are the second most in the league, a fact they relay as evidence that they admit their mistakes quickly and keep the best players, "no matter how those players were acquired."

"We believe that we can find the special qualities that guys have based on the way that we go about it," Carroll said. "We’re not trying to just throw guys to the wolves and see if they can make it, but we’re going to give them a chance to do what they do well, show us where they fit, and then we’ll build on their strengths."

It's what they have done with Baldwin, Bailey, Jermaine Kearse, Jeron Johnson

The Hawks have a history of finding UDFAs who can play -- even star -- for them. And, with just six draft picks entering this draft, they appear to be counting on them more than ever.

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