This is the fifth part of a guest-post series written by Curtis Allen
#5 Running Backs
Players under contract for 2021: Rashaad Penny, Travis Homer, Deejay Dallas
Players under contract for 2022: Travis Homer, Deejay Dallas
Restricted Free Agents: none
Unrestricted Free Agents: Chris Carson, Carlos Hyde, Nick Bellore (ST), Alex Collins
Exclusive Rights Free Agents: none
Practice Squad/Futures Candidates: none
Salary Cap Notes:
2021 Cap Commitment: $5.2 million (2.96% of $178m cap)
The 2021 numbers have not been finalized yet, but we can look at the 2020 numbers for a good idea of approximately what they will be:
Tag for Running Backs in 2020: $10.278m exclusive, $8.5m transition
5th year option on Penny
A new, much more complicated procedure was signed into effect with the new CBA in 2020 for the 5th year option for first round picks and this impacts Penny. There are more tiers of pay now, based on snap percentage and Pro Bowl appearances.
Penny is eligible for the lowest tier (the average salary of the #3-25 players at his position) to determine his 2022 option salary. According to OTC currently, that average stands at around $6.76m now, so call it $7m.
The 5th year option must be picked up by May 3 and if it is, it also makes the fourth year fully guaranteed, which converts about $1m salary from non-guaranteed to guaranteed. Meaning, picking up the 2022 option increases Penny’s potential cap hit for 2021 by another $1m or so if he is cut or traded in 2021.
2020 Season Overview
The running backs had a 4.4 yards per rush average on 327 attempts in 2020. That is the lowest number of attempts since the injury-disaster season of 2017.
One big factor is the early season splurge of passing. Another reason for the low attempts was injuries to the unit.
The top four running backs on the depth chart missed 21 games of play this year. Add in Rashaad Penny’s 13 missed games and you have 34 total missed games between the five runners.
The offense paid the price. Without a stable run game, consistency was difficult. They had a stretch of games where Russell Wilson was the leading rusher and another where they had a mix of street free agents and rookies starting. They manufactured rushing touches to David Moore.
Chris Carson missed four games in 2020 and was used very lightly in two other games. That is six of 16 games he could not make it a full go, after a 2019 where he appeared in 15 games but had a serious injury late in the season and missed the playoffs.
Carlos Hyde had a particularly difficult season. Added to the team in late May as a scheme complement and injury protection for Chris Carson, he missed six full games and had a very limited role in four other games. His best game was easily Week 11 against Arizona, where he had a rushing and receiving touchdown and bowled through the light-package defense the Cardinals put out and helped the Seahawks feel like themselves again after losing three of the prior four games.
Deejay Dallas and Travis Homer struggled to have any impact in the running game.
Alex Collins was brought back and had some nice contributions.
Pete Carroll insisted at his end of season press conference that they needed to run the ball more in 2021.
If they are going to recommit to the run game, they have work to do. It will be very interesting to see what moves they make at the running back spot this offseason.
Offseason Questions to Address
1. How can they field a healthier unit going forward?
The Seahawks are in a precarious position. They prefer tough, physical backs but regularly struggle with fielding a starting quality unit due to injuries. The Seahawks have had a routine of needing to bring in running backs off the street for critical games. This impacts the offense far too frequently.
It highlights how amazing Marshawn Lynch was for the Seahawks. His durability was beyond reproach.
A review of every process they have regarding the running game is in order:
-Their play concepts
-Evaluation of the running style and the durability of potential players
-The medical and training staff’s evaluation and treatment regimen
-The offseason program and in-season practice load management.
All of it needs to be looked at and questioned.
Too much is at stake to continue the way they have been in recent seasons. The team simply cannot be hamstrung because their top three runners can’t stay on the field.
2. Will they bring Chris Carson back?
In 2020 Carson was a first down machine. He gained a first down on a fantastic 32% of his touches — a healthy increase from his 26% number in 2019.
With Carson, the offense has a different feel and performance to it, as more of a complete unit than a one-man band with Russell Wilson scrambling to make things happen. While he is no Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawks look to him as a definite tone-setter. His strength, push, mentality and soft hands in the passing game make him a player that fits Pete Carroll’s vision of the offense like a glove.
They need a player of his quality to balance their offense and close the circle and play complementary football. It would appear the best option is to have Carson on the roster in 2021.
However, his health issues cannot be ignored. So if the Seahawks are going to invest in Carson, they will have to continue to invest in depth as well to protect the offense.
Can they afford to do that? This season in particular, they cannot. If they feel that Carson is the best option, they must be able to work out a reasonable contract. Giving Carson a big contract and then not having him available for large chunks of the season is not an option.
The franchise or transition tag seems unlikely for Carson for several reasons. The Seahawks do not have the cap space to carry a large one-year cap hit in 2021. If they want to invest in Carson, they would just sign him to an extension with bonus money they can prorate.
Carroll, when asked about Carson near the end of the regular season, made comments that indicate the Seahawks will allow Carson to explore the market and establish his value.
Carson will be 27 when the season starts. This will be his best bite at the apple. What kind of contract would work for both parties?
Likely a three or four year contract with some nice bonus money and the first two years of salary guaranteed and the remaining year or two non-guaranteed would get the job done. That way Carson gets a nice payday and is rewarded for his value to the team and the Seahawks have options to re-evaluate his status after the second and third season and decide on him with only the prorated bonus money being the cap hit if they decide to move on.
3. What about the rest of the players on the roster?
Rashaad Penny will be fighting doubts he can carry the load as the featured back until he does it.
Penny would seem an obvious choice to refuse the 5th year option on. However, the timing of the option period (ends in May) allows the team to see where they are after the initial free agent period, the draft and get a look at Penny and his knee in the OTA’s.
The Seahawks might feel that around $7m is not a bad option for a one-year contract in 2022 (when they have more cap room) if they decide they want to commit to him. But it is doubtful they would want to commit such a large amount to a player coming off a major injury. They’ll likely decline the option and let Penny test the market in 2022.
Carlos Hyde has some similar traits to Carson but spent 2020 copying Carson’s worst trait – his lack of durability – more than his best ones. He might be agreeable to returning to Seattle in 2021 on a near veteran minimum contract to reestablish some value after a rough season. But another $2.75m deal would likely not be a smart investment.
Travis Homer seems to have hit his ceiling. He likely has a spot secured on the roster but expecting any more than what he provides now would be a mistake. He can be used on kickoff returns, special teams coverage plays, is a great blocker and can occasionally get you a first down in the passing game. But he is limited in the running game — to the point where teams could be tipped that a pass play is coming when he joins the huddle. If Deejay Dallas develops in his protection pickups, Homer may be relegated to special teams and only used on offense as injury protection in 2021.
Dallas didn’t show much in 2020 to get excited about. When the others in the group were injured, Dallas got one game as the starter. While he performed adequately, the team did not hesitate to bring in Bo Scarborough and Alex Collins and place them ahead of Dallas on the depth chart. He has shown some sparky feistiness at times but needs to be more decisive hitting the hole and work on his balance and ability to break tackles. He also needs to work on his blocking, as most young running backs do.
Alex Collins rejoined the team mid-year and contributed some nice touches. He has a toughness and vision the Seahawks crave. He runs with a sense of purpose that Dallas and Homer lack. It is very likely that if he wants to come back and play in Seattle the Seahawks would be happy to have him back on the roster.
Rob’s Draft Position Overview and Potential Draft Targets
The position lacks the kind of depth we’ve seen in recent years. At the top of the board, Javonte Williams is the best running back in this class for me. His combination of tough, physical running and explosive power makes him an ideal fit for the Seahawks. However, he will likely be a top-35 pick.
Najee Harris has incredible physical talent and can be an all-rounder capable of being used in so many different ways. Few running backs can run a slant like he can. He’s a Rolls Royce of a runner but I do wonder about his explosive upside looking at his jump cuts (underwhelming) and he lacks great straight-line speed.
Travis Etienne has remarkable speed and explosive traits. He’s also well sized. He’s not an up-the-gut runner who will necessarily get the hard yards but if you create space and openings he’s a threat to break off a chunk play every time he touches the ball.
Later in the draft, there are a lot of question marks. Chubba Hubbard was always very overrated and lacks the size and punch to start in the NFL. Trey Sermon has limited playing time in college and while he’s very explosive and agile — there’s some concern about whether he’ll be able to carry a big workload.
Michael Carter is undersized but talented. Javian Hawkins has incredible speed and explosive traits but is tiny. Kylin Hill has some talent but he’s a player you really need to see testing numbers for to determine upside. Rhamondre Stevens has great feet for his size but is he explosive?
Khalil Herbert had a strong Senior Bowl and could be one to watch. Chris Evans was once really highly rated by scouts but continued to underwhelm in his college career. He has the talent but why hasn’t he put it together?
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