Jake & Stacy’s Seahawks Free Agent Profiles: RB Rashaad Penny

Feb 22, 2022, 9:35 AM | Updated: 10:57 am
Seahawks Rashaad Penny...
Seahawks RB Rashaad Penny runs against Houston Texans linebacker Garret Wallow on Dec. 12. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
(AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

Every weekday at 1 p.m. on 710 ESPN Seattle’s Jake and Stacy, we are putting Seahawks free agency under a microscope, taking a look at pending free agents, potential signings from outside the organization, the rules surrounding restricted and exclusive rights free agents, and the Seahawks’ salary cap space.

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It’s all to get you ready for NFL free agency, which kicks off March 16.

The first part of the series profiles current Seahawks who are about to hit the market. That series continues with a look at running back Rashaad Penny.

RB Rashaad Penny

Age: 26
2021 season: 119 carries for 749 yards (6.3 yards per attempt) and six touchdowns
Last contract: Four years, $10.7 million signed 2018 (rookie deal)

If Rashaad Penny’s 2021 season had ended in Week 10, he’d be widely considered a bust. A first-round selection who produced 866 career yards and six touchdowns over four seasons with zero starts. Cleveland’s Nick Chubb, selected after Penny in the same 2018 NFL Draft, has never finished with fewer than 990 yards in a season. During that same four-year span, Penny’s teammate Chris Carson – who has also missed several starts due to injury – accrued 3,294 rushing yards and 30 combined touchdowns.

It certainly didn’t help that Penny, a player who never once missed a game due to injury in high school or college, couldn’t stay on the field in the pros.

Then came Penny’s final five games of the season, which turned this free agent decision into a fascinating one both for Penny and for Seattle (and is probably the reason you’re reading this now). Because suddenly, after four years of holding out hope, the Seahawks saw the type of running back they felt they’d drafted back in 2018: an explosive back who tallied more than 2,000 yards for San Diego State in 2017 alone and finished fifth overall in Heisman voting.

First there was a Week 12 game against the San Francisco 49ers where Penny rushed for just 35 yards but recorded his first touchdown since 2019. He added two more against the Texans, where he surpassed 100 yards for the first time since Week 11 of 2019 and saw a career-high 16 carries. Then from Week 15 to 17, Penny recorded at least 130 yards and a touchdown in three consecutive games. His final two weeks were the most impressive: 170 yards against the Lions and 190 yards against the Cardinals.

All in all, Penny combined for 671 yards and six touchdowns over his final five games of the season, the most productive stretch for any running back to close out the year.

That makes for quite the highlight reel for prospective teams in free agency – or the impetus for the Seahawks to offer their former first-round pick a second contract. The latter feels most likely given Seattle’s focus on a balanced offense, though Penny’s contract is hard to project. He looked like the best running in the league over the final five weeks but had fought through an underwhelming, injury-riddled career for 3 1/2 years.

Any deal will be a gamble, with a team betting that the most recent version of Penny has staying power. He could end up signing a prove-it deal around $2.5 million to 3 million. Or the market could be competitive, rewarding Penny with a deal that would exceed the $4.5 million that would’ve been guaranteed had the Seahawks picked up his fifth-year option before last season (hindsight is 20/20 but you can hardly blame Seattle for declining at the time.)

Bringing Penny back on an affordable deal feels like an obvious answer for Seattle. But that’s not really the biggest question when it comes to the running back room. Given the injuries to Carson and Penny, bringing Penny back (or finding someone who can contribute just as much) is only the first half of the equation. Seattle will need to decide who else it wants to add to give Seattle’s offense the physicality and balance – and availability – Pete Carroll craves.

What Jake Heaps says

“What does he bring to the table? Well, it’s his size, but he also has the explosiveness to run a legit 4.4 (second 40-yard dash), and it means he has the ability to break and open up the game at any given time. He could be gone and straight to the house if you give him daylight. He started to develop his ability to run through arm tackles. I don’t mean like Chris Carson lowering the shoulder and running people over, but you’ve got to bring your pads when you come and try to tackle Rashaad Penny because he’s too big to just take him down with an arm tackle.

“Penny after contact had 485 yards. It’s absolutely insane. He’s not your traditional grind-it-out kind of back. He can create, and you may bottle him up for a couple runs, but if you give him daylight he can be so explosive and hit the hole so hard that he’s hitting a 30-yard or a 60-yard run.”

What clicked?

“You saw his confidence grow. Yes, Adrian Peterson (gets) a lot of credit for that extra tutelage of Penny, but I also just think it really started to click for him.”

What would it cost to bring him back?

“I think at the highest it would be $5-6 million. He’s the most intriguing running back on the free agent market but there’s an incredible amount of risk because of his injury history. That’s why with all the talent and everything you witness in the final five games of the season, there are still a lot of questions… If you can better your offensive line and create holes for him and not make him have to do the dirty work like Marshawn Lynch or Chris Carson have had to do in their careers, Rashaad Penny can be electric.”

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Jake & Stacy’s Seahawks Free Agent Profiles: RB Rashaad Penny