BY Art Thiel 09:43PM 03/19/2021

Thiel: Carson returns, a rare 2017 Hawks keeper

RB Chris Carson was rescued from free agency: Two years, $14.6 million. It also salvages a little dignity from the 2017 draft class, part of why the Seahawks are in a fix.

Chris Carson is a rare example of success in the Seahawks draft of 2017. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

More help will arrive for the Seahawks offense, this from a familiar source. Somewhat surprisingly, the Seahawks Friday afternoon agreed to terms to bring back four-year vet RB Chris Carson from free agency with a three-year deal for a maximum of $24.6 million, according to the NFL Network.

ESPN reported that the deal voids after two years and $14.6 million, meaning that the third year was added to spread the accounting under the salary cap.

Carson’s departure this off-season seemed likely, even though club and player wanted a return. Running backs have become a fungible NFL commodity, and Carson’s injury history made him more fungible, having missed 19 of a possible 64 regular-season games.

That said, Carson was the second running back in Pro Football Focus’s 2021 free agent rankings (66th overall), behind Aaron Jones (51), who re-signed with Green Bay for four years and $48 million. The third-ranked back, Kenyan Drake (92), who left the Cardinals for the Raiders, signed a deal comparable to Carson’s: two years, $14.5 million.

Here’s PFF’s description of Carson:

You will find few harder-running backs than Carson, and that play style has led to him having some of the most consistent PFF rushing grades of any back in the league during his career. He hasn’t had a rushing grade below 75.0 or above 81.0 in four years and has always maximized his yardage. In each season of his career, he has gained at least three yards per carry after contact, topping out with 3.63 yards on average in 2019 — a season in which he broke 62 tackles, including the playoffs.

Carson may not possess the receiving skill set of other backs, but he has been bucking that trend in 2020, already bettering two of his previous three seasons in terms of receiving first downs.

Carson rushed for 3,270 yards in four seasons since being a seventh-round draft pick in the 2017 draft out of Oklahoma State. But only 681 came in a 2020 season reduced to 12 games by injury. He averaged a career-best 4.8 yards per game as he job-shared with Carlos Hyde, a free agent signed this week by Jacksonville. Carson scored nine touchdowns, four in the air that were part of his 37 receptions for 287 yards.

After the 30-20 loss in the playoffs to the Rams, in which Carson had 77 yards in 16 carries, coach Pete Carroll volunteered post-game that the Seahawks will need to run the ball more and better next season, perhaps an implicit shot at QB Russell Wilson’s poor game that day.

Since then, you perhaps have read of Wilson’s disaffection. But Friday on Twitter, he seemed happy.

Whatever his mood of the moment, the return of Carson is a bit of a benchmark for the Seahawks. They signed someone to a second big contract from the woebegone 2017 draft class, thereby salvaging a bit of dignity.

Every year in NFL, free agency re-introduces the draft from four seasons earlier. It’s a sort of graduation time for players who signed a standard four-year contract as draftees. If they were good enough and healthy enough to make it that far, their original team is forced to decide whether to extend the players’ contracts — presuming they haven’t already done so —  or, by collective bargaining rule, allow them to enter free agency.

In the spotlight now is the 2017 draft. A brief look explains part of why the Seahawks are operating this off-season a bit in the manner of a turtle on its back.

Until the Carson re-signing, the only other 2017 class member to re-up was C Ethan Pocic, who signed a one-year, $1.3 million deal Thursday, a modest investment that doesn’t preclude the Seahawks from hiring someone else to start while keeping Pocic a reserve at three positions.

Here’s a snapshot of the Seahawks’ 2017 class, permanently notorious for the top selection of DE Malik McDowell, who never played a down because he was a knucklehead.

Pro Football Reference

As you can see with four years of reflection, the draft was a weirdly perfect inverse: The worst was first, the best was last.

Only Pocic remains with Carson in Seattle, although FS Lano Hill is a free agent who could return, after playing in only the first two games of 2020 on the team before injuring his back. His status is unknown.

The Seahawks obviously did well by the selections of CB Shaquill Griffin and WR David Moore, but believed neither was worth paying market rate in free agency, and both signed elsewhere this week.

Besides McDowell, another five players among the 11 picks amounted to little.

We all understand that every team has draft years like that. Including New England, where because of similar weak drafts, Bill Belichick this week has spent $148.6 million in guaranteed money to free agents, an NFL record for a single team.

Belichick can do that because he no longer has to pay a franchise quarterback. The Patriots’ penalty for no Tom Brady was a 7-9 season and no playoffs for the first time since glaciers were a mile thick on the future downtown sites of Boston and Seattle.

Belichick ascribes the setback merely to the cost of doing business in the NFL, which by definition and intent is built to epitomize the modern Japanese proverb: “The raised nail gets hammered down.”

Carroll does not accept that cost. Remember: Always compete. He has admitted he doesn’t get how to not do everything possible to win all the time. As a result, the Seahawks have been in the playoffs nine of his 11 years in Seattle, a splendid feat.

But to do better than that, to win championships, a team can’t have draft years like Seattle had in 2017, as well as other recent drafts barely better.

There is a modern American football proverb for this circumstance:

Free agency is the cost of drafting poorly.


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YourThoughts

  • Husky73

    Tough runner. Solved his fumbling problems. A good keeper.

    • art thiel

      If they use a three-back rotation of Carson, Penny and Collins, they have real punch.

      • Husky73

        Is Penny still in the mix?

      • Chris Alexander

        Meh. Carson, yes. Penny, maybe. Collins, not so much. I like all 3 “well enough”, but Collins was basically a practice squad guy last year and Penny . . . well, Penny has been stealing from the team as far as I’m concerned.

        Penny has “earned” $8,817,422 through his first 3 seasons. For that, he’s played in 27 games, carried the ball 161 times, and has a TOTAL of 829 yards rushing. The math on that works out to $326,571 per game, $54,766 per carry, and $10,636 per yard.

        By comparison, Chris Carson has now earned $8,273,669 through 4 seasons, BUT . . . that includes the $4.5M signing bonus that he got when he signed his NEW contract. So, really, we’re talking about a guy who made $3,773,679 his first 4 seasons – or, less than HALF of what Penny has made in 3 seasons.

        For that $3,773,679, Carson has appeared in 45 games ($83,859 per), carried the ball 715 times ($5,277 per), and gained, as you mentioned, 3,270 yards on those carries ($1,154 per).

        I understand that the rookie pay scale is PARTIALLY to “blame” for the skewed mathematical comparison, but Penny is NOT an RB1 (Carson IS) and I would argue that he (Penny) isn’t even a “quality” RB2.

        There is ZERO chance that Pete or John or anyone else involved with roster construction for the Hawks would be “okay” with Penny starting the season as RB2 with Collins as RB3. There WILL be another back added to the mix – either through free agency (paging Mr. Fournette) or the draft. MAYBE Penny hangs onto the RB2 role in that scenario, but . . . I doubt it.

        Really, the ONLY reason I think Penny is still on the team – other than the Hawks front office MAYBE still believing he can be the back they thought he could be – is that the cost of keeping him vs. releasing him isn’t much more than the Veteran Minimum. (i.e. the “savings” is only $1,368,014 if he’s released). If they could actually get anyone to TRADE for Penny, I have no doubt he’d already be gone because that would bump the savings up another $580k and the ALMOST (but not quite) $2M the team would save in THAT scenario is probably enough to get this year’s version of Carlos Hyde.

        Long story short, I think the Hawks would be MUCH MORE COMFORTABLE (and have a much better “punch”) with Carson / $2M replacement for Penny / Collins than they are / would be with Carson / Penny / Collins.

        That’s my $0.02. (and, oh how I wish that I was on the Penny scale, rather than the Carson one)

        • Husky73

          Penny has not stolen from the Seahawks. Schneider and ownership volunteered the millions that they are paying him. No one held a gun to their head.

        • art thiel

          Good analysis, but aside from health, I think Penny has had enough solid contributions for RB2, but you’re right, not RB1.

  • jafabian

    Good move by the team. The Hawks RB stable has been injury prone in recent years, in part due to their hard running style, so numbers are important. If Penny didn’t get hurt the Hawks might have let Carson go. But with him they’re that much more stronger. He’s a hard North-South runner who can catch the ball and the best RB on the team.

    The 2017 draft shows how the Hawks got too clever in their typical draft MO. By trading down to get more picks they missed on having the opportunity to draft TJ Watt and Budda Baker. They had had 4 third round picks but missed on Kenny Golladay, James Conner, Tarik Cohen and George Kittle. I’ve wondered in recent years just how the Hawks do their player evaluations and if they eschew the obvious choice for project players they feel fits their system better. Not that it would have made a big difference but the Hawks forfeited their fifth-round selection for violating the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement regarding off-season workout policies. Aaron Jones was available at that pick. At least after this draft the Hawks stated having better success at drafting and developing players.

    • Ramona Homer

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    • art thiel

      Glad you pointed out the talent missed in 2017. I do think they out-think themselves sometimes in searching for under-valued skills they think they can exploit. There was a reason McDowell fell from top 10 to 35. He had all sorts of red flags regarding psychology and maturity.

    • Husky73

      Speaking of Penny (the forgotten man), what is his status and future with the Seahawks?

      • jafabian

        He’s signed through 2022 with all but $1 million of his contract being guaranteed according to sportrac.com. There hasn’t been any news to my knowledge about him from the Seahawks so I suppose no news is good news.

        • art thiel

          Penny will again backup Carson, presuming a return to full health.

  • Mark Stratton

    What started out as a really scary offseason is starting to look pretty good. If they can get Dunlap or another top end pass rusher I think it’s an improved team. Depending on what Schneider has to do to pay for these signings

    • art thiel

      He’s using voidable years for the first time. Kicking the can, but the new TV deals mean a big uptick in the cap in ’23 and beyond.

    • Chris Alexander

      I think you meant to say Dunlap AND another top end pass rusher ;)

      My money is on both Dunlap and Mayowa returning on 1-year deals for about $8M to $10M between them. Add KJ Wright for $4M to $6M and you’ve got 3 key pieces back for the price of what just one of them (Dunlap) would have cost had he not been released.

      ‘Tis a weird offseason. I think we’ll see a lot of 1-year deals for roughly HALF of what the players expected to get. And LATE signings too. 98% sure one of our biggest additions will be AFTER the draft.

      • art thiel

        You were right, Chris. They added Hyder re-signed Dunlap. But KJ is still out there.

  • Kevin Mohundro

    What may be considered a risky move due to Carson’s injury history I can’t think of a back that runs harder and I’m sure one that most DB’s would prefer to avoid. This should also confirm the message that the Hawks take care of their own. As others have stated there’s more work to be done but I believe John & Pete are off to a good start. Having heard the familiar “go Hawks” from Russ made this a banner week for Hawks fans.

    • art thiel

      They wouldn’t want to go ahead without him, but he had to see for himself the RB market wasn’t good. It was a risk, but it worked.

  • Husky73

    Do John Schneider and Pete Carroll know more than we do?

    • art thiel

      Hah. Can’t imagine that.

  • Alan Harrison

    So a CB in the draft, then (Tay Gowan?) And another OL (Ben Cleveland or Quinn Meinerz)? And a WR in the 7th? We’re a month out, but this part is fun.

    • art thiel

      That’s the spirit. Better this than doomscrolling on Twitter.

      • Minnie Urick

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    • Chris Alexander

      I think Ifeatu Melifonwu and Benjamin St-Juste are more “Seahawk-y” at corner.

      Ben Cleveland would be a dream come true at Guard but I don’t think we’ll take him after trading for Jackson – especially not in the 2nd round (and he’ll be long gone by the 4th).

      If the Hawks DO go wideout with their 7th round pick, my hope is that Dax Milne is still on the board; he’s one of only 4 WRs in this draft class with a PFF score of 90+. I’m dreaming he’s still on the board at pick #250 though.

      • art thiel

        I think Ifeatu Melifonwu needs as nickname. I vote for Skip.

  • tor5

    Big time for sure. There’s flashes of the Beast in Carson. Such great news.

    • Archangelo Spumoni

      Speaking of big time, Loyola of Chicago just defeated Illinois by 13. Not all that close. A better team.

      Between that one and last night’s Abilene Christian takedown of Big Brother Tejas last night, a couple of fine results . . . sorta like Carson being drafted low and being a junior Marshawn!!
      (See how I turned it back to the topic of the column?)

      • Husky73

        Sister Jean keeps on Ramblin’……

      • Husky73

        Oregon State vs Loyola Chicago.

      • art thiel

        You’re too clever for us.

  • coug73

    I dreaming of KJ and Dunlap joining the Hawks on two year deals. Restructure Wilson’s and Wagner’s contracts might be the catalyst for something special. Go Hawks

    Go Lady Cougs!

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    • art thiel

      Dunlap signed Thursday night, KJ still out there.