During the final round of this spring’s NFL draft, John Ursua phone was, as the kids say, blowing up.
So many teams were calling him, it was as if he had the master plan to take down the New England Patriots.
Heck, the Patriots may have been phoning, too.
“As soon as that seventh round started, there was about half the league calling me,” Ursua said. “Literally, like 14, 15 calls. And I was getting them back to back to back...
“I was thinking, ‘OK, I’m going to get drafted.’”
But all those teams weren’t calling him to draft him.
“They were calling me to be a free agent,” he said.
Half the NFL was posturing to sign the University of Hawaii slot receiver and major-college football leader last season with 16 touchdown catches following the draft, as an undrafted rookie free agent. Though league rules are supposed to prohibit that, all teams do it. It’s to get a head start on signing the best of those players not drafted, at a cheaper salary and smaller signing bonus than a draft choice would be.
“I was like, ‘Hey, it’s the start of the seventh. I want to wait this out. Obviously, I just want to wait this out,’” Ursua said.
“Green Bay and Seattle were the two teams saying, ‘Hey, we are going to give you this (money) if you come here as a free agent.’ Then Green Bay was saying, ‘No, we’ll give you this... We want you really badly,’ where the head coach is calling me, literally, and is like ‘This is a big deal that I’m calling you,’ and they do all this.
“And I’m like, ‘OK, I guess.’”
Wait. If all these teams wanted him so badly didn’t he tell them, “Well, then just draft me”?
“Exactly. That’s what I kept thinking,” Ursua said.
“Every team that called me... I mean, the Falcons were who called me first, because my special-teams coach in Hawaii (Mayur Chaudhari) left and is with them now. He was the first to call me, right at the end of the sixth (round). He said, ‘Hey, we want you. But I don’t know if we are going to use our pick on you.’
“I’m like, ‘Can you just quit calling me? Because I’m with my family. You are getting me excited. My family is getting excited.’
“I’m just trying to teams to not call me, so I’m trying to organize that. Team, obviously, are relentless at that point.”
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider knew Ursua from scouting him at his native Hawaii, and from having him in Renton as one of the 30 prospects each team is allowed to host at its headquarters before the draft.
Carroll and Schneider also knew how in demand Ursua was around the league by the end of April’s draft. No way Schneider was going to let his hometown Packers, for whom he was an executive before becoming a first-time GM for Seattle in 2010, steal Ursua.
So the Seahawks called Jacksonville. They gave the Jaguars a sixth-round pick in 2020 to get back into the draft, to acquire the 236th-overall pick in round seven.
Then Carroll and Schneider texted Ursua in Hawaii.
“Are you ready?” Carroll wrote.
“For what?” Ursua wrote back.
“We traded back in to get you,” Carroll replied.
The Seahawks preempted everyone. They selected Ursua before any other team could sign him after the draft.
“For me, that was a huge relief and an honor, to come here, because I really wanted to after my (pre-draft) visit here,” he said.
“To have them have their trust in me was just a huge honor. It was such a humbling experience for me.”
All the Seahawks battled and pulled off to steal the 5-foot-8 Ursua from at least half the league—plus his performance during training camp that reminds Carroll of another former smallish rookie number 15 wide receiver from eight years ago, Doug Baldwin—make Ursua a good bet to make the 53-man roster for the regular season when final preseason cuts are due Saturday.
That’s no matter how he plays tonight in the final preseason game, against Oakland at CenturyLink Field. Carroll said he intends to get Ursua some tries as a kickoff returner against the Raiders, and that “I’m anxious to see him, too.”
Ursua returned punts as a freshman and sophomore at Hawaii, but not kickoffs. Seattle has a Pro Bowl punt returner in Tyler Lockett. But the Seahawks want to lessen Lockett’s role on kickoff returns this season now that he’s replaced retired Doug Baldwin as their leading wide receiver.
“We’ve really been fired up about John,” Carroll said of Ursua Wednesday. “He’s gotten better as we’ve gone.
“He’s still working at the installation (of the playbook), (getting) in the notebook. He’s got stuff that he’s got to get over.
“But the natural talent is really there. We love seeing that. It jumps out at you.”
That sure sounds as if Ursua will be one of six and even potentially seven wide receivers the Seahawks keep for the start of this regular season.
Lockett will take over for Baldwin in the role of primary slot receiver on third downs.
Wowing rookie DK Metcalf, who ran Wednesday eight days after knee surgery and is eyeing playing in the opener Sept. 8 against Cincinnati, is the number two.
Veteran Jaron Brown’s experience and five touchdowns on just 14 catches last season likely makes him the number three.
Carroll said this week David Moore’s shoulder injury does not need surgery, and because of that Moore will be on the 53-man roster and not on injured reserve to begin the season.
If Carroll stays true to his stated, first goal for the draft and rookie free agency this spring to get bigger and faster at wide receiver—and if touchdowns in the preseason mean anything to the coaches—6-5 undrafted free agent Jazz Ferguson will make the team.
Ursua makes six. There’s little chance the Seahawks could get him through league waivers this weekend to keep him on their 10-man practice squad. Not with how many teams wanted him four months ago. It’s not as if the league has suddenly forgotten about Ursua and a team wouldn’t claim him on waivers.
Would Seattle really cut fourth-round pick Gary Jennings, who has done far less than Metcalf, Ursua and Ferguson in training camp and preseason games? If not, he’s the seventh wide receiver.
Ursua, all 182 pounds of him, has been Baldwin-like all summer in his evasive moves immediately after he catches passes. Instinctively and instantly, he darts away from cover men and would-be tacklers, sometimes even before the ball gets to him. That quick first move keeps bigger defenders away from him, and frees space for him to gain yards after the catch.
It’s what Baldwin became so exquisite at after Seattle signed him as a rookie free agent in 2011. Baldwin retired this spring third in Seahawks history in career catches behind Hall of Famer Steve Largent and Brian Blades, and why Baldwin shares the team record for catches in a season (94) with Bobby Engram.
Carroll agrees there’s similarity between Ursua and Baldwin, in style.
“Yeah, there is. The suddenness,” Carroll said. “Doug had such extraordinary quickness in and out of his breaks. Both of these guys have basketball backgrounds and fantastic all-around athletes and you can see it.
“The timing that John has displayed to avoid some of the hits and to make moves, you can see it he has unique sense.
Wednesday wasn’t the first time Ursua has heard the comparisons to Baldwin.
He intends for it not to be the last.
“Yeah, absolutely. I’ve heard it many times,” he said. “It’s an honor to get a compliment like that, as well as a compliment like that, because he is an amazing receiver. He has done many great things for this organization and this league.
“To have that comparison is good. But I’ve got to stay level-headed. I am far what he’s done and what he is. I’ve just got to be at my best, and be at my highest level, every, single day.”
Ursua says his immediate moves as the ball arrives is a skill he works on every day.
“Mentally,” he said. “You have to have an idea, routes on air or whatever situation it may be, you have to try to make somebody miss. This league is so fast, and everybody is so quick that you need to have and develop those moves. So I just try to work on my craft every, single day.
“I know my strength is YAC, yards after the catch. The receivers have done a great job showing me and teaching me this offense. I just try to grow and get better every day. ...
“I think I’ve done a good job of getting better every day.”