Rost: Seahawks approaching a crossroads with RB Chris Carson

Jun 11, 2020, 10:16 AM
Seahawks RB Chris Carson...
The Seahawks have just one more year with Chris Carson under his rookie deal. (Getty)

Running back Chris Carson became the first Seahawks player in four years to surpass 1,000 rushing yards when he did it 2018. He surpassed 1,000 rushing yards again in 2019, becoming the first Seahawk since Marshawn Lynch to do so in back to back seasons.

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While Russell Wilson remains the best weapon on the Seahawks’ offense, Seattle has been fortunate to see as much production from Carson, a former seventh-round pick playing under his rookie contract.

Problem is, that bargain is up soon. It’s easy to see why Carson would (and should) command significantly more money that he’s getting now – and it’s just as easy to see why the Seahawks would choose to move on.

What kind of deal could Carson be looking for?

Well, that depends on the kind of deals a few other running backs get in the next several months to a year, and that could all start with Minnesota Vikings star Dalvin Cook.

According to ESPN insider Adam Schefter, Minnesota Vikings star Dalvin Cook plans to holdout from any further team activities until he receives a “reasonable” contract extension. What’s “reasonable” mean to Cook? According to ESPN’s Courtney Cronin, Cook is seeking a little under $15 million per year, which is quite a bit more than $10 million the Vikings reportedly offered him. That salary – $13 to $14.5 million – would make him the league’s third-highest paid running back behind only Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey ($16 million) and Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott ($15 million). It would also mark quite a professional jump for Cook, a player who rushed for 1,135 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2020 but ranked 41st in salary.

So, there are a few things here that will impact Carson. There’s Cook’s deal, which will affect the market. Then there’s Titans running back Derrick Henry, who will play out 2020 under the franchise tag (assuming he and the Titans don’t agree to a long-term deal by July’s deadline) before hitting free agency along with Cook and Carson in 2021.

If Minnesota and Tennessee part ways with Cook or Henry, a player like Carson would be an intriguing option. Both teams (along with Indianapolis, San Francisco, and Baltimore) used pass plays on less than 52 percent of offensive snaps. As a pure rusher, Carson has a few other 2021 free agents beat. He has rushed for 2,381 yards over the past two seasons combined, which is more than other impending free agent running backs Cook, Leonard Fournette and Kenyan Drake. Last season, Carson finished sixth in rushing yards per game (82), fifth in attempts per game (18.5), and fifth in total rushing yards (1,230). It’s worth noting that he does fall behind the game’s highest-paid rushers in touchdowns, his seven rushing scores in 2020 ranked 13th.

Carson may not see an offer like that of McCaffrey or Elliott, but at 25 years old with two consecutive 1,000-yard seasons under his belt, he has provided top-tier production and a style a coach will fall in love with. Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll certainly has. But it’s hard to imagine Seattle beating an offer that exceeds $11 to $12 million per year.

It’s an interesting crossroads for a Seattle team that’s consistently valued the run. The Seahawks saw what life was like without hitting on a running back. In 2016, Christine Michael led the team with 469 yards. Things were even worse in 2017, when no single running back had more than 240 rushing yards or scored a rushing touchdown. The team cycled through a series of names that were never able to fill the void left by Lynch.

There isn’t a right or wrong decision here. Carson is a uniquely talented player who has made Seattle’s offense better. His production has far exceeded the cost – and expectations – of his rookie contract, and he deserves a more lucrative deal. The options behind Carson are either new faces, unproven talents, or rookies. So, maybe Seattle does extend him. Doing so would certainly make sense for Carroll’s and Brian Schottenheimer’s offense.

And if they don’t?

It could mean Carroll and general manager John Schneider are confident they can find another cheap, talented starter in Carson’s place – though that shuffling of running backs over 2016 and 2017 will gives fans pause. It could mean a younger running back has a promising season or that they’d rather sign an older veteran for a few million dollars less.

A far less likely – though infinitely more intriguing – reason could be a shift in the focus of Seattle’s offense. It won’t be a dramatic one; I’m just being honest here. But there are plenty of fans (including one of my co-hosts on 710 ESPN Seattle’s Tom, Jake and Stacy) who have been calling for Carroll and Schottenheimer to put the ball in Wilson’s hands more often.

Could the Seahawks do that with Carson in the backfield? Absolutely. Even in a league that favors the pass it’s hard to find a playoff team with a poor run game. Whether or not they will is the far more intriguing question, and it’s one that becomes even more pressing if Carson departs next March.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Stacy Rost on Twitter.

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