2011 Free Agents: Special Teams

Finally, we get to the red-headed stepchild of the NFL (no offense to redheads intended, I’m one myself).  The special teams players of the NFL are the forgotten guys who play a handful of plays a game, but despite their unpronounceable names and/or ability to upset Peyton Manning they impact those games in huge ways.  Us fans only seem to want to focus on the sexy positions in football like QB and WR, or if we were the fat and athletic kids in junior high that the coach stuck on the offensive line we harp on the concept that the tackles, guards, and centers are the most important positions in football (yeah, I was that kid, too).

We all have to admit that there are three sides to football: defense (my personal favorite), offense, and special teams.  Thank goodness fans don’t become head coaches, because we would neglect special teams just like we do when we play Madden by always going for it on fourth-and-long and never using field goals or punts.

You have to admit, there’s something beautiful about a punter being able to hang a ball in the air for a ridiculous amount of time.  A good punter buys you field position, which in turn will allow you to score points on a short field with ease.  A bad punter will kick a short line drive to the other team, and you’ll see them racing to the end zone in a hearbeat.

A great field goal is equally amazing.  Some of the greatest games in the history of the NFL have come down to a kicker nailing a last-second field goal; I know some of my favorite games of all time are ones that came down to a 53 yard field goal in overtime.  There’s something dramatic about watching a tiny kicker match up against some of the largest men on the planet.  Being able to kick a football that far and true with every eye in the stadium watching says something about the character of the guy kicking the ball.  I remember one time in high school we were making fun of our kicker, and our head coach stuck up for the little guy by betting me that I couldn’t hit a 20 yard chip-shot of a field goal.  Charlie Brown kept running through my head while I was lining up for the kick, so much so that I was expecting the holder the yank the ball away at the last moment.  Needless to say, I missed in horrific fashion.

Because Olindo Mare is a free agent this offseason, the Seahawks have a need at kicker.  There’s a good chance that he will be re-signed by the Hawks, which would make this article a moot point.  Mare was thrown under the bus by the previous head coach, and I have a great deal of respect for him after watching him handle that situation with class.  He just went out the week after that whole fiasco and kicked far better than anyone expected him to do, and his kicking has been consistent and accurate ever since.  Not only is Mare a good field goal kicker — he made 25 of 30 attempts in 2010 with a long of 51 yards and was perfect on extra point tries — he’s spectacular on kickoffs as well, kicking touchbacks with a fair degree of regularity. 

 He is getting older and his skills are on a downward slope, but Mare should be re-signed.  The team didn’t use a franchise tag on him for a second year in a row because it wasn’t financially in the team’s best interest.  If they had, Mare’s contract would have inflated to 120% of his 2010 contract.  That stipulation was in the old CBA to discourage teams from just franchising a player year after year, and in Mare’s case that seems to have worked.  I do expect the Hawks to offer him a good deal, and I’d love to see that happen because I think he’s done well by us.  I could see Mare spending a few more years in the Pacific Northwest.

As for punters, I’m less certain about Jon Ryan being the long-term answer for our beloved Seahawks.  I say this because of what happened last offseason when Pete Carroll brought in ex-Trojan Tom Malone to compete with Ryan for the punter gig.  Granted, Ryan beat Malone out for the job, but the fact that Carroll was willing to bring in competition in training camp tells me that he might feel that the team could get a better punter.  I think that same thing could happen at all the special teams positions this offseason, and I welcome such a move with open arms because that sort of competition pushes people to be better. 

Ryan has performed quite well for us the past two years, and I’m in no way complaining about the guy’s performance.  Still, it’s nice to see who else is available even if Ryan is still under contract.

Next up is the cushiest job in the NFL, the long snapper.  Long snappers seem to have the most longevity of any position in the NFL.  If the guy can play without drawing attention to himself, he’s usually able to sit on a team’s roster and collect checks for a decade or longer.  By no means am I saying that the position doesn’t require a unique skillset, I’m just saying that they’re able to last a long time on a roster in relative obscurity.

Punters:

Adam Podlesh (JAC)
27 years old, 5’11”, 198 lbs

Though Podlesh hasn’t boomed a lot of his punts, he does a good job maximizing his hang time and limiting return yardage on the back end, putting him in the top ten for net punting yardage.  He averaged 43.8 yards per punt, planting nearly half of his attempts inside the 20.  He’s a nice young punter who should continue to play at a high level.

Sam Koch (BAL)
28 years old, 6’1”, 220 lbs

Koch has been a consistent punter who has improved his ability to pin teams inside the 20.  He drilled 39 of his 81 punts inside the 20 last year, but still managed to average 43.6 yards per punt.

David Sepulveda (PIT)
27 years old, 6’3”, 230 lbs

Sepulveda has a strong leg and should be a top ten punter for the next decade.  He wasn’t great at pinning teams inside the 20, but his net yardage average hasn’t suffered as a result.  And like Koch, he’s another punter who has decent size.  [He also used to be a linebacker, which shows up in his punt coverage skills -Ed.]

Ben Graham (AZ)
37 years old, 6’5”, 235 lbs

A decent punter, Graham punted for a 43.4 yard average last year with nearly a third of his attempts landing inside the 20.  He’s super old though, even for a punter.

Sav Rocca (PHI)
37 years old, 6’5”, 265 lbs

The aging Rocca averaged 43.8 yards per punt with about a third of his attempts landing inside the 20.  The man is Australian and used to play Australian rules football, so he should be fairly tough.  He’s old, but he’s huge, too, which I like because with that kind of bulk he might actually be able to help on punt coverage.

Michael Koenen (ATL)
28 years old, 5’11”, 195 lbs

Koenen has a strong leg, so you have to wornder why his punting average was just 40.9 yards in 2010 (29 of his 74 attempts were placed inside the 20).  He’s from this area though, hailing from Ferndale, Washington.  It’d be pretty cool to see more local guys playing for the Hawks!

Steve Weatherford (NYJ)
28 years old, 6’3”, 215 lbs

Weatherford averaged a meager 42.6 yards per punt, but that’s because he had a league-leading 42 attempts placed inside the 20.  However, he really struggled in the playoffs, inexplicably losing his confidence.

Brad Maynard (CHI)
37 years old, 6’1”, 188 lbs

Too old, and too skinny.  I’d be afraid that he’d either break or be blown away by a stiff breeze.

Matt Turk (HOU)
42, 6’5”, 248 lbs

I thought a few of the people I listed earlier were old, but I was wrong.  Turk is ancient.

Jeremy Kapinos (PIT)
26 years old, 6’1”, 235 lbs

Kapinos has played for quite a few teams in the past few years, including the Colts, Packers, Steelers, and Jets.

Kickers:

Matt Prater (DEN)
26 years old, 5’11”, 180 lbs

The opportunities haven’t come as frequently for him, but Prater is a reliable kicker with a strong leg.  He’s accurate inside the 40 and had the leg to boot the long ones.  He’s very strong on kickoffs, too.  Anyone who can kick well with the winds in Mile High has to be decent — the higher altitude gives you some extra yards on your distance, but the winds are killer.

Ryan Longwell (MIN)
26 years old, 6’0”, 200 lbs

Longwell, like Prater, didn’t get many attempts last season, but missed only once.  To be fair, he only attempted one kick beyond 40 yards, but he still has the leg to hit from 50 yards out.  He’s a good clutch kicker, and he’s happy to keep playing in a dome.

David Akers (PHI)
36 years old, 5’10”, 200 lbs

Akers has been transition tagged, but there’s no certainty that it will stick under a new CBA.  As a virtually lifelong Eagle, I don’t expect the two sides to part ways now.  He’s drilled numerous game-winners and still has enough leg to hit beyond 50.  The two sides will probably get a deal done shortly after the offseason commences.

Adam Vinatieri (IND)
38 years old, 6’0”, 202 lbs

Though he’s getting up there in years, Vinatieri’s accuracy hasn’t wavered much.  With that dome, he and Indy seem to be a great match as he starts to lose a little strength on his kicks.

Olindo Mare (SEA)
37 years old, 5’11”, 190 lbs

I really would like to see the Hawks bring back Mare.  He’s been clutch the last few years, and his kickoffs have been amazing. He’s getting older, but I strongly believe he can be serviceable for a few more years.

Matt Bryant (ATL)
35 years old, 5’9”, 200 lbs

Shayne Graham (NE)
33 years old, 6’0”, 205 lbs

This dude has played for everyone: Saints, Seahawks twice, Bills, Panthers, Bengals, Ravens, Giants, and Patriots.  That’s a lot of teams, man.

Connor Barth (TB)
25 years old, 5’11”, 193 lbs

Barth is a restricted free agent, but worth talking about due to his young age and consistency.

Mason Crosby (GB)
26 years old, 6’1”, 207 lbs

Crosby is young and has a strong leg.  He’s been just as clutch for the Packers as he was in college for Colorado U.  He’s my personal choice for a long term answer if the team decides not to bring back Mare, but I’m a huge Colorado fan so I’m biased.

Nick Folk (NYJ)
26 years old, 6’1”, 225 lbs

I really don’t like Folk’s field goal percentage of 73%.  I’d like to see something a little better from a kicker.

Once again, thanks goes to Football’s Future for the free agent list.

 

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