Whether you agree or not, the Seahawks see tremendous value in a particular type of running back.
There’s a reason why they consistently target players in the 220lbs range with explosive traits and the ability to finish runs. There’s no mystery to what they look for — and it’s why for the last few years we’ve been able to say with a degree of certainty who will be on their radar.
Pete Carroll talks consistently about completing the circle. In his mind the way to connect the defense to the offense is through a tough, physical running game. We saw how the LOB and Marshawn Lynch played off each other. Good luck recreating that chemistry — but at the very least Carson, for two seasons now, has been able to deliver the running style they crave.
His ability to finish runs, take the hammer to opponents and be unpleasant to tackle is, to Carroll, a key factor.
2019 wasn’t a bad season for Carson. He finished fifth in yards (1230) behind only Derrick Henry, Nick Chubb, Christian McCaffrey and Ezekiel Elliott. He was third for yards after contact (905) and he was second only to Nick Chubb in yards per carry after contact (3.3).
It wasn’t a particularly remarkable season either. His yards per attempt (4.4) was fairly middle of the road despite playing against opponents needing to key in on Russell Wilson.
He also fumbled seven times — most in the league by running backs. It was a problem that dogged him for the entire season, creating question marks going forward.
His injury history (NFL and college) and fumbling problems mean there are serious concerns about committing to Carson as a long term foundation piece.
However, there are a couple of things to consider here.
Firstly, the Seahawks didn’t draft a running back early. They had the opportunity too and it was an impressive, top-heavy running back class this year. Had they taken Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Jonathan Taylor, J.K. Dobbins or Cam Akers for example — the writing could’ve been on the wall for Carson. They could’ve easily walked away from him next off-season having made an investment at the position.
Instead, they waited until round four and took a flyer on Deejay Dallas before signing makeshift veteran Carlos Hyde.
The Seahawks clearly felt they had other priorities — and they did. They like Carson. The defense is a big problem. They prioritised adding to their defensive front seven rather than planning ahead at running back (which is certainly plausible given the lack of activity to fix the defense in free agency).
It’s still a small vote of confidence in a player approaching a contract year who has had too many fumbles and injuries. Some will argue they can just replace him next year anyway, which is true. Yet the Seahawks clearly place a certain value on the position. Essentially ignoring it until the dying embers of free agency and the draft is, if nothing else, a hint that Carson is part of their plans beyond 2020.
Secondly, the contract environment might actually be moving in the right direction for the Seahawks.
Several high profile running backs have signed big extensions recently and the moves haven’t worked out. It means that the next crop — which includes Carson and Dalvin Cook — might find it difficult to garner any leverage in negotiations.
Teams like Seattle are also boosted by Melvin Gordon’s situation. A year ago he held out deep into the season. The Chargers called his bluff and he had to cede and return to the team. When he finally reached the open market as a healthy and somewhat rested player — his market was flat. He ended up having to sign a two-year deal with Denver. He probably anticipated more money when he originally decided to hold out.
Cook is already making noises that he will also hold out if he doesn’t get an extension this summer. Yet the Vikings will very likely use the same tactics as the Chargers. Cook is a good player but is he any more likely to get a big contract as a free agent next year? That’s debatable.
The upper hand is with the teams. This is especially the case with Carson.
He’s due to make $2,149,283 in 2020. This is the first time in his career he’s earned a seven-figure sum. Unlike players such as Cook or Gordon (both high picks) — Carson is yet to make any life-changing money.
Even if he has a fantastic season, the fumbling and injury issues will remain on his résumé. He might be able to convert a strong season into a Melvin Gordon type deal on the open market. There’s also a chance he’ll continue to fumble, get injured again and seriously impact his earning potential.
It’d be interesting to know whether the Seahawks are open to extension talks this year. Presumably it would be tempting for a player in Carson’s position to try and seek some financial security, provided there was still an opportunity to reach the open market in the near future.
It might be worth his while to come to some sort of shorter term compromise now — such as tacking on Gordon’s two years for $8m onto his existing deal. That would enable him to reach the market again in his late 20’s and make some serious money in 2021 and potentially 2022.
His representatives could argue (and I suspect this will be Dalvin Cook’s argument too) that Christian McCaffrey has just reset the market on $16m a year. McCaffrey’s a unicorn though. He’s the face of the franchise in Carolina now, has had near enough back-to-back 2000 yard seasons and they couldn’t afford to let him walk as they progress through a new era and rebuild. Both Carson and Cook are not going to be able to convince their teams to spend that kind of money. It’s also worth noting how healthy and available McCaffrey has been in his career — unlike Carson and Cook.
The Seahawks appear comfortable with Carson and they like his fit. The shape of the running back market works in their favour and Carson’s modest earnings so far in his career could make a shorter term extension appealing for both parties. It’s unlikely Rashaad Penny will do enough in a truncated season to make him dispensable and Carlos Hyde is a short-term fix.
He’s not going to earn mega money and if he did have a stunning 2020 season with massive production — the Seahawks would have the protection of a $10m franchise tag in their back-pocket. It might make sense for both parties to come together now — unless the Seahawks are willing to both let him play out the season and then test free agency, knowing they might be better off letting him establish his market before making even a shorter-term commitment.
That would make some sense too. There’s not really a ‘wrong’ answer here — provided they don’t invest obscene sums (which seems highly unlikely). Eventually though, whether it’s a short term pact or something longer, there’s a reasonable chance 2020 won’t be Carson’s final year in Seattle.
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