BY Art Thiel 06:00AM 12/31/2020

Thiel: Carson needs to close with 100-yard day

Pending free agent Chris Carson could use a big game Sunday to help make the case for his return. The virus has made worse the already shrinking marketplace.

Chris Carson deserves a big payday, but market forces may thwart him. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

At this juncture a year ago, the second game in the annual Seahawks-49ers disputation had some of the old-time tingle: Teams with Super Bowl aspirations were about to decide the NFC West title in front of 70,000 hops-infused, clinically disturbed customers at the Clink.

This Sunday (1:25 p.m., FOX), not so much.

The 11-4 Seahawks have already clinched the division title, the 6-9 Niners merely hope to get off the team bus without injury. The game will happen in Arizona, not Santa Clara or Seattle, forced into the desert by the pandemic to perform in front of Gila monsters and rattlesnakes.

As football-rivalry climaxes go, it’s among the most anti- of them all.

But it’s not bereft of value. There’s still some playoff stakes for the Seahawks.

They need to win to keep alive the hope of improving their likely No. 3 NFC playoff seed to No. 2 or No. 1. That also depends on the unlikely outcomes of Green Bay losing at Chicago and New Orleans losing at Carolina, games that kick off simultaneously with the Seahawks-Niners.

Besides the postseason implications, there’s also an individual feat that would be worthy Sunday — Chris Carson getting a 100-yard rushing game.

The Seahawks haven’t had one of those this season.

Closest anyone came was Carson’s 80 yards (16 carries) at Miami in week 4, a 31-23 Seattle win in which Russell Wilson threw for 360 yards. So few remember Carson’s game. Pity.

It’s not that there’s a correlation between a 100-yard rushing game and team success. I’d just like the big round number to happen for Carson. It’s a marker for a successful late season as he heads to the free agent market in March.

His expiring contract is not in the forefront of storylines prior to the playoffs. But Sunday could be his last regular-season game in Seattle after four mostly potent years as the closest-to-the-pin winner in the Marshawn Lynch Successor Tournament.

“Marshawn is one of a kind,” coach Pete Carroll said Wednesday when asked to compare Carson. “He was an extraordinary everything — player, mentality, and everything that he was about.

“But as far as (Carson) hitting the line of scrimmage and letting guys know who you’re playing against, leaving the message behind when he hits you, the creativity, his hand-eye coordination, his beautiful catching ability, I think he’s what we’re looking for.”

But can the Seahawks afford him?

With two 1,000-yard seasons on his resume, he’s again the Seahawks’ leading rusher with 637 yards, and his 4.9 yards per carry average is tied for ninth among regular starting running backs. Yet despite Carroll’s glowing analysis, the Seahawks have made no publicly known effort in-season to extend him a second contract.

Why would they?

Because of the pandemic’s serious economic consequences, no one knows where the 2021 NFL salary cap will be — other than down from this year’s $199 million. The most popular speculation is about $175 million.

Chris Carson has two entries in the Seahawks’ top 20 single-season rushers. / Pro Football Reference

How that will work is fodder for a column after the season, but the virus’s financial impact is certainly not good for players. Right now, Carson, whose pro career has been speckled with injuries and limited this season to 11 games, can help himself only by being healthy and ruthless against the 49ers.

The first meeting Nov. 1, a 37-27 Seattle win, was missed by Carson and fellow RB Carlos Hyde because of injuries. So hanging a C-note on the 49ers defense, which gave up only 12 points last week to Arizona, would look good for the playoffs and his leverage.

For the first time this season, Carroll Wednesday publicly acknowledged the obvious, that Carson might play his way beyond the Seahawks’ budget, even though before the season began, he expressed his eagerness to remain.

“I think Chris is really one of us — he’s fit into the program great,” Carroll said. “What he said, he obviously means, but I do know Chris has got to look out for himself. He’s got to see what the situation is. We would love for him to be with us. In my mind, I can’t imagine anything else happening.

“But from the business side of it, he’s got a chance to see what’s going on. Hopefully, we’ll be able to figure it out and keep him.”

Hyde’s one-year deal also is also up, leaving Rashaad Penny as the only experienced veteran back under contract. Should Penny regain full form after his ACL-repair surgery, he’s not a bad backup plan. But this year’s January set-up of three rugged backs who are also adept pass-catchers, is Carroll’s dream.

And affordable — Carson will have earned only $2.46 million over his four-year rookie deal.  Backup OL Jamarco Jones is booked to earn more.

Second contracts for running backs haven’t happened in Seattle since Lynch retired the first time, and are increasingly rare throughout the NFL. The most recent episode of magnum cringe was the Rams’ saga with RB Todd Gurley. The offensive player of the year in 2017, Gurley signed a four-year, $57 million extension. But an arthritic knee reduced him last season to 857 yards on 223 carries, and he was cut.

Gurley was signed this year by Atlanta for $5.5 million, and rushed for 660 yards in 14 games. But the Falcons started 0-5, fired coach Dan Quinn, the ex-Seahawks assistant, and missed the playoffs.

As Carson’s own career attests, running back is a position with a high casualty rate, where quality replacements can be found in the seventh round. Despite Carroll’s obvious fondness for Carson’s contributions, unless Carson agrees to a notably shorter, cheaper deal than was seen in the 2020 market, it’s hard to imagine the Seahawks affording him. As always, other roster players also are deserving to be re-upped, this time from a smaller salary pie.

Yet the Carson-Hyde tandem has Carroll swooning.

“Both those guys really bring it,” he said. “We love that style of play. It adds to us. It gives us the approach that we can play off of.”

A potential stomping of Niners and snakes Sunday by Carson might help the Seahawks  find a way to renew. If not, it’s been a fine run.


YourThoughts

  • Tim

    I really hope we keep him. I’ve never heard Chris complain about anything. He’s quiet in word and ferocious on the field. I think signing him demonstrates Seattle’s loyalty and commitment to those willing to work hard and in my opinion, it’s a risk worth taking given all that Carson’s done for the team.

    • art thiel

      He has all the tangibles and intangibles, except for health, and that’s mostly a consequence of the job and how hard he runs. It’s not that he isn’t worth the investment, it’s that the position isn’t worth a second contraction because it’s fungible.

      • Trakar

        it’s only really fungible if you don’t highly value the RB position, and in particular for the type of RB needed to dominate, run-first, run-hard, run on every down type of running back requirement. As we’ve seen over the last 4-5 years, that is not a common, nor easy to find (AT ANY PRICE) type of running back in the NFL.

        • art thiel

          Part of the problem is that your accurate description is why those RBs decline more rapidly than other positions. The more ferocious the player, the shorter the career. After the four-year rookie contract is up for a hard-hitter, the expiration date draws nearer more quickly.

          For every Frank Gore, there’s five Todd Gurleys.

          • Trakar

            That’s not a problem, unless you happen to be the particular type of running back I specified who also wants a long and successful NFL career. Unfortunately, evolution and environment haven’t combined to produce many individuals like that so far, and keeping a back like that “on the shelf” so to speak, probably shortens their career more than it “preserves and extends” their potential utility. A lot of teams want these backs, but they don’t generally want to pay them big money because when they use them they way they want to, age and injury generally mean a greatly reduced lifecycle, greatly reduced cap-space and lots of owed money left on the table when injuries happen. The finesse RBs ultimately have longer careers, but these seem to be highly theme and opponent dependent and seem much more prone to a lot of average (and below-average) runs and games, rather than an unending highlight reel of Techmo outlier spectacles.

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  • Alan Harrison

    Cap. Cap. Cap. The Hawks can’t afford to pay a running back when there are decent alternatives on the roster and in the draft and a lack of quality depth in other parts of the roster (OL, DL). It’s too bad, of course, because he’s an amazing guy from all accounts.

    • art thiel

      It’s the hard truth. As I mentioned, Carson’s own story of being a top talent found in the seventh round is cruel irony.

  • Husky73

    Chris Warren had a solid NFL career. He went to Ferrum College (Virginia), a D-3 school. Not many D-3 players have made it to the NFL, but several have come from Ferrum. Bill Wagner, an outstanding relief pitcher, is also a Ferrum alum.

    • art thiel

      You know way too much about Ferrum.

      • Husky73

        Less than I know about Thiel College.

        • art thiel

          The Splitting Infinitives from Greenville, PA. (Actually, it’s the Tomcats, but that’s not very literary.

  • 1coolguy

    I simply wish he was used better – The guy leg presses 600 # and somehow still has decent speed, but all too often they run him around end, and the results are poor.
    When Carson gets the ball between the tackles on quick hitters, is when he picks up a consistent 6 to 10 yards.
    Is takes quick 4.4 speed or lower to make it around end anymore, as today’s LB’s have the speed they never had before, so Carson around end is a loser.
    He has great hands and I wish he would get the ball more often at 8-12 yards, where no DB can bring him down alone.

    • eyeroq

      He’s got great hands as a receiver but those 7 fumbles last year really hurt. Hopefully his 2019 fumbilitis is a career aberration. He only has one this season but less than half as many touches due to injury.

      • 1coolguy

        Good point

      • art thiel

        He did lead the league in fumbles in 2019, but obviously has improved this year. The injuries are simply misfortune. There is no such thing as injury prone-ness, unless there’s some undetected underlying condition like lactose intolerance.

    • art thiel

      Carson is the team’s third-leading receiver with 35 catches and four TDs. Most of his runs are between the tackles, his stretch plays are few, and subject to a single lineman’s failure, not just him. It’s possible that the coaches know him better than you.

      • Chris Alexander

        I think most people (and sites) default to yards when ranking receivers which means that Carson would be Seattle’s FOURTH-leading receiver, not third. Yes, he’s 3rd in catches (with 1 more than David Moore), but Moore has 412 yards compared to Carson’s 248. And Greg Olsen is knocking on Chris Carson’s door with 239 yards of his own. And Will Dissly (231 yards) is standing next to Olsen. Of course, neither Olsen or Dissly will catch Carson in terms of the number of receptions since they sit at 24 and 23, respectively. But by the end of Week 17, it’s quite likely that Carson will be Seattle’s 5th or 6th-leading receiver (in terms of yards).

        On a side note, how insanely “balanced” is it that each of Seattle’s top 3 tight ends has either 23 or 24 receptions? What’s really interesting about that is that Olsen and Hollister have each been targeted 10 more times than Dissly has which means Dissly is killing it when the ball gets thrown to him (23 receptions on 27 targets vs. 24 receptions on 37 targets for both Olsen and Hollister).

        Also, it’s pretty sweet that Seattle has a team that has 10 players with double digit receptions … including 2 rookies (Swain and Dallas). Wow!

        • art thiel

          I was responding to the commenter’s desire for more throws to Carson, not the yardage gained.

          For a hard-handed Montana cowboy, Dissly is remarkable.

  • Darrell Roberts

    1coolguy, I have absolutely noticed the same thing about the difference between Carson running around the ends (those plays go nowhere) compared to running up the middle. Wondering why the coaches don’t seem to have figured it out.

    • Howard Hart

      I credit the not-good running game of recent times to a general failure in the execution of run-blocking. The RBs can’t overcome that, there has to be some blocking for them. Period. BTW, Carson had 4.0 yards per carry and Collins had 5.8 against SF. I wonder if we will be seeing more of Collins come Saturday…

  • Stephen Pitell

    This subject has a bit of sadness attached. First, the obvious possibility we will lose out on Carson for the future, but my main source of sadness is for the RB position itself, and that includes the FB position which is almost an endangered species in football. FB has a fine tradition, and its loss is semi-tragic. But back to RB, and Carson specifically, it is sad to see him go if he goes, and its sad that he has earned so little in comparison to others who contribute less and even perhaps suffer less.

    RB’s give up their bodies for their craft, and have a shelf life that is remarkably short, even compared to the very short average career of football as a whole. The structure of the NFL CBA penalizes the short careers of RB’s and diminishes the value of the position. This must result in young kids with talent choosing other positions. (How would Carson fair as a LBer? Can Carson throw the ball? if he started at an early age could he have learned to throw?) I wonder if the rookie pay scale should be adjusted upwards for the RB position in recognition and as compensation for the shorter life span of a RB. Is that possible?

    It is a common thought among the Hawks’ faithful to hope Carson gets a rich contract with his next team. We love what he brings, but some of us also see Hyde as a better bargain, and Penny has a higher ceiling. We still have not seen what a featured Penny looks like as part of this team, and a very strong case can be made that his home run ability along with his other attributes makes him a better candidate for a future new contract. Anyways ….

    • art thiel

      I don’t think there’s a workaround for RB compensation, because the union wants to keep an open and fair marketplace. As long as there are runners like Frank Gore and Emmitt Smith, those exceptions end the argument for distinctions.

      Any D-1 running back in college knows about the pro shelf life. They keep going, because they think they will be the exception. It’s not logical, but little about football is.

  • 1coolguy

    I hope Carson gets under 20, fumbles and drops passes and is replaced by Penny, while the Hawks crush the 9ers. This may lower his market demand and help the Hawks keep him!
    Obviously it won’t happen, but great games by Carson will color him “gone”

    • art thiel

      Alexander in his prime was very good. But after he got paid, he made business decisions regarding contact.

      • eyeroq

        I don’t ever remember Alexander not making business decisions even before he got paid, he always avoided contact. He was never one to put his head down for the extra 3 yards instead of just running out of bounds.

        • art thiel

          Never say never, right?

      • Chris Alexander

        Still the only Seahawks player to win the MVP award – business decisions notwithstanding. And still the jersey that I wear every game (although part of that has to do with my sharing his last name – or vice versa).

        • art thiel

          I’m leaning toward your bias.

  • Chris Alexander

    Regarding Carson:

    Love the guy but don’t think there’s any chance that he’s in Seattle next season. The Hawks won’t pay him what another team will and there’s little reason for him to offer us a hometown discount. Hawks have Penny to carry the load next year and will draft another RB in the later rounds of the draft to compete with Homer, Dallas, etc. Wouldn’t be too surprised if they keep Collins around as well. We’ll see how it all shakes out. My money is on Chris Carson playing somewhere else next season though.

    Regarding playoff seeding:

    Carolina only lost to the Saints by 3 the first time around and are playing better of late. Add in the fact that the Saints have lost their entire running back room to COVID (Kamara tested positive and the rest were flagged as close contacts) and have three of their top WRs on IR and that they’re going to be relying on a QB (Brees) who is far from 100% and I’d say there’s a pretty solid chance that the Panthers do us a solid on Sunday.

    It will be tougher sledding in Chicago. Green Bay won by 16 the first time around and hung 34 on the vaunted Bears’ defense (Green Bay’s defense had a TD of their own on a fumble return to push the final score to 41-25). But Chicago NEEDS to win to make the playoffs (or have the Cardinals lose – which isn’t as likely with Goff on the sidelines in L.A.) and their offense hasn’t been a liability the past few weeks. They’ve got a tough hill to climb, but . . . there’s a reasonable chance they’ll pull off the upset at home.

    Assuming a win against the 9’ers, Seattle only needs 1 of the 2 – New Orleans or Green Bay – to lose to move up to the #2 seed and guarantee home field advantage through the divisional round. If both lose then we’re golden.

    Unless . . .

    If Cleveland v. Pittsburgh gets cancelled due to COVID concerns, the league will seed 8 teams in each division. And that would suck for whoever earns the NFC’s #1 seed (and for KC as well, of course).

    • art thiel

      Good look at the playoff possibilities. And I agree about Carson, although information on all rushers won’t be complete until after playoffs. What if Carson’s hangs a couple of C-notes?

  • Howard Hart

    JMO the Hawk’s run game is dismal especially for a team that has put so much emphasis on it in the past. The Titans have a run game, the Hawks don’t. I thought I was missing something when I was thinking the Hawks offense has gone downhill the last month or so while the defense has noticeably improved., but then Tony Gonzales mentioned the same thing on Sunday.