The decision of the Seahawks to neglect using a franchise tag on Steven Hauschka may not be a popular one. Hauschka’s field goals were main contributing factors in some of the most clutch moments in the Seahawks season. Steven Hauschka is good, and there’s a chance that the rights to the games he plays will no longer belong to the Seahawks once the offseason shakes out completely.
The franchise tag for kickers is cheap relative to other positions, falling just over $3.5 million, and the difference between a top paid kicker’s average annual value and the franchise tag seems negligible when put next to the potential cost of a missed field goal at the worst moment. Kickers, despite their relative standing in the NFL, have played critical roles in some of the biggest moments in NFL history.
Then again, the Seahawks came into the offseason with basically no cap room. They knew they’d have to make sacrifices, and have already jettisoned Sidney Rice and Red Bryant to make room for new player acquisitions, new contracts for would-be free agents, and extension for players who the team wants to keep around long term.
The idea of paying $3 million to win an extra playoff game, say, doesn’t seem that crazy. There’s no guarantee, of course, that Hauschka’s presence on the team would lead to an additional playoff victories. In fact, assigning such a specific narrative to specific, dependent benefits of having a better kicker most certainly opts to assign far greater value to the narrative than to objective data.
By the standards of the entire history of the NFL, Hauschka’s 2013 season was one of the best ever. He was nearly automatic, and he wasn’t just kicking chip shots every week. Hauschka was three of three from 50+ yards. But the NFL has changed. Kickers are better than they’ve ever been. They’re also more readily available. You may remember that the Seahawks pulled Hauschka himself off the veritable scrap heap. Kickers that make 85 percent of their field goals are average now. That Hauschka’s percentage was over 90 is impressive, but it’s a bit like home run totals in the late 90s and early 2000s, albeit without the adult acne, shrinking testicles, and bulging biceps. When ordinary players are posting some of the greatest numbers of all time, there is no sense in paying for extraordinary players who are only marginally better, but cost a ton more.
Having a reliable kicker is something that has substantial value for teams. A near guarantee of three points can influence teams to take chances with substantial reward as the incentive, but with very little risk of losing points in the event of failure. But the ability to guarantee those three points is increasingly ordinary.
You see, value isn’t assessed on raw numbers. It’s based on a comparison to the market. Hauschka cannot be judged against past Seahawks kickers, or the perception of a replacement being completely valueless. We’ve never been better at assigning the disparity in value between one player and another. And while “clutch” is perhaps unquantifiable, unless it is an innate gift bestowed upon Hauschka by the mystical prophets and deities of football, it isn’t priceless. Becoming mired in a specific narrative can be dangerous, if not downright paralyzing.
Bringing Steven Haushcka back has a reasonably low breakeven point for the Seahawks. That’s not necessarily the only way to evaluate the validity of a deal, but a Hauschka contract would assuredly come with less risk than trading for Percy Harvin in the 2013 offseason. If Hauschka isn’t willing to conceded something in a long-term deal though, the franchise deal didn’t make a lot of sense. Many good teams have good kickers, but paying a kicker near the top of his position, which is what franchise a player means, is hardly worthwhile for a team with money issues already.
Regardless of who is kicking for the Seahawks next year, their signing will have an opportunity cost. If that cost is Hauschka, there’s good reason to believe that the cost – though maybe not explicitly worth the savings afforded by letting him walk – is less than say, losing Richard Sherman or Earl Thomas a year or two from now.