Free agent focus: Special teams

Eighth, and last, in a series looking at the players who are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents today, although the following information does not reflect who the Seahawks might be targeting:

Position: Kickers, punters, special teams players

Leader of the pack: P Steve Weatherford, Giants

What he’s done: Weatherford, in his sixth season and with his fifth NFL team, had his best season in 2011. He averaged 45.7 yards on 82 punts, with a net average of 39.2. He came to the Giants, as the replacement for the seemingly irreplaceable Jeff Feagles, after stints with the Saints (2006-08), Chiefs (2008), Jaguars (2008) and Jets (2009-10).

Where he ranks: No. 86 on Pro Football Weekly’s list of Top 100 free agents. But the Giants gave him the franchise tag, so while can sign an offer sheet with another team it would cost that team two first-round draft choices if the Giants decline to match the offer.

What they’re saying: “Weatherford’s 2011 season was his best, continuing a pattern of recent improvement. And he was excellent when the Giants needed him most. Three of his four punts in Super XLVI were downed inside the New England 10. Also, he posted a 40.6-yard net average on 12 punts in difficult conditions in the NFC title game at Candlestick Park.” – Pro Football Weekly

Other options: Cowboys P Matt McBriar, he spent 11 days with the Seahawks in 2003 before developing into a two-time Pro Bowler, and also had a procedure on his left knee last month to remove a cyst; Cardinals K Jay Feely, a consistent and confident kicker who has made 82 percent of his field-goal attempts during his career and hit the game-winner in overtime to beat the Seahawks in 2011 season finale; Seahawks LB Heath Farwell, led the league with 21 coverage tackles. The pool of kickers was severely drained when four got the franchise tag – the Bengals’ Mike Nugent, Browns’ Phil Dawson, Broncos’ Matt Prater and Buccaneers’ Connor Barth.

Seahawks own free agents: Farwell, FB Michael Robinson, LBs Matt McCoy and David Vobora.

Numbers to know: In four seasons with the Seahawks, Jon Ryan has set and then broken the franchise record for punting average (46.6 yards last season), as well as broken the marks for net average (39.3) and longest punt (77) – both last season. He also led the NFL last season in punts downed inside the 20-yard line (34). In his first season with the Seahawks, Steven Hauschka, a restricted free agent, scored 109 points by hitting 25 of 30 field goals and each of his 34 PATs. Farwell’s league-leading total of coverage tackles came in 11 games after he signed with the team in October. McCoy was the team’s leading special teams tackler (19) in 2010.

Says coach Pete Carroll: Another area where the actions of Carroll and GM Schneider have said it all. They inherited — and have embraced — Ryan, who signed a long-term deal in 2010 just before Carroll and Schneider were hired. They burned through three other kickers last summer before claiming Hauschka off waivers to replace Olindo Mare. They like players who are fast, smart and aggressive – which plays into them being able to contribute on special teams.


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