Coach Pete Carroll said after the 2020 season that he wanted the Seahawks to run it more and better in 2021.
And on Friday, Seahawks fans learned it will be a familiar face heading up that task — Chris Carson.
The Seahawks and Carson agreed to a new contract. It is technically a three-year deal worth up to $24.625 million but voids to two years at $14.625 million. So it’s best viewed as a two-year deal, with the void year a way for the team to spread out more of the salary-cap hit. Specifically, it allows the Seahawks to spread out Carson’s signing bonus over three years instead of two.
The deal gives Carson $5.5 million guaranteed in 2021 with the chance to earn up to $6.9 million overall next season, according to NFL Media and other reports.
Two sources confirmed the deal to The Seattle Times.
It’s the first time the Seahawks have used voidable years in a contract in the John Schneider era, but it’s become an increasingly popular tactic around the NFL this year with the salary cap at just $182.5 million, down from $198.2 million last year, due to COVID-19-related losses in revenue. And in fact, the cap hit was revealed to be just $2.5 million for the 2021 season, far below the almost $8 million the team would have had to pay Carson had they placed a franchise tag on him.
Carson has been the heart and soul of Seattle’s running game since being taken in the seventh round of the 2017 NFL draft out of Oklahoma State.
He has rushed for 3,270 yards in four years, topping the 1,000-yard mark in both 2018 (1,151) and 2019 (1,230). He missed four games last season, contributing to him dropping to 681 yards, but he averaged a career-high 4.8 yards per carry.
The contract Carson will receive rivals the one the Raiders gave Kenyan Drake on Thursday — a two-year deal worth $14.5 million.
That contract may have helped jump-start talks between Carson and the Seahawks, with running backs having been a market slow to develop in the early days of free agency.
With Carson back, that leaves linebacker K.J. Wright as the most significant Seattle free agent still unaccounted for. Cornerback Shaquill Griffin signed a deal with Jacksonville this week.
Carson is the fourth Seahawks free agent to agree to re-sign, joining defensive tackle Poona Ford, center Ethan Pocic and fullback Nick Bellore. It was a signing that got a ringing endorsement from quarterback Russell Wilson who tweeted shortly afterward “Big time! Let’s go 32!!!” (And according to ESPN, Wilson worked hard in recent days to convince Carson to re-sign).
Carson finished the final season of his initial four-year deal in 2020 that paid him $3.73 million. The 26-year-old has suffered a succession of injuries that forced him to miss 19 games in four NFL seasons.
Carson made clear from the beginning of last season that he hoped to strike it rich in free agency.
“Of course, it’s something that’s on my mind,” he said before last season. “You see a lot of guys, they’re starting to get paid, but I try not to let it distract me from the season. I try to push it away.”
The Seahawks let Carson test free agency when they declined to place a franchise tag on him that would have paid him just over $8 million in 2021 on a one-year deal, all of which would go on the salary cap.
Seattle won its gamble there, while Carson is still able to earn up to $6.9 million in 2021. The Seahawks’ offer apparently was better than offers from the Jets, Panthers and Patriots, who “all got involved” with Carson, according to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.
Carroll said after the season he hoped Carson would return but added it would take some work.
“I do know Chris has got to — he’ll look out for himself,” Carroll said in his season-ending Zoom news conference. “So he’s got to see what the situation is. We would love for him to be with us. He’s been a terrific part of our team, and hopefully we can keep that going. In my mind, I can’t imagine anything else happening.”
Ultimately it did, and Seattle will return its leading rusher to a group that also includes 2018 first-round pick Rashaad Penny, recent draftees Travis Homer and DeeJay Dallas and Alex Collins, who re-signed a one-year deal after spending most of last season on the practice squad.
Seattle this week saw last year’s backup, Carlos Hyde, sign with Jacksonville.
The presence of five running backs under contract who all saw action last year figures to mean Seattle is done adding to that position.
But it also makes for an especially interesting competition to see how the spots fill out.
Re-signing Carson to what is essentially a two-year deal also raises questions about the future of Penny.
Penny was a controversial pick as the No. 27 overall selection in 2018 and has struggled to stay healthy, playing in just 27 of a possible 48 games. He missed all but three last season while recovering from a knee injury suffered in December 2019.
When Penny was drafted in the first round, many viewed that as a sign he would be the team’s running back of the future, and some figured that meant Carson would leave.
But Penny’s injuries and inability to prove he can be a consistent contributor undoubtedly added to the urgency for Seattle to get something done with Carson.
The Seahawks were 10-2 last season in games Carson played, and though his running was a key factor, so was making 37 catches for a career-high 287 yards and four touchdowns. That aspect of his game figures to fit in nicely with the offense of new coordinator Shane Waldron, who spent the past four years with the Rams.
What Carson will be asked to do most, though, is give the Seahawks the kind of punishing, bruising rushing attack that Carroll likes best.
“We have to run the ball better,’’ Carroll said after the season. “Not even better, we have to run it more. We have to dictate what’s going on with the people that we’re playing, and that’s one of the ways to do that.”
And as they have the past four years, they’ll again count on Carson leading the way.
Does Simmons’ deal affect Seahawks’ Adams?
Seahawks safety Jamal Adams is under contract for the 2021 season at $9.86 million. So the Seahawks don’t have to do anything before the 2021 season.
But, the assumption all along has been that Seattle would like to secure Adams’ future before the season, as they have usually done with significant players entering the final years of their contracts.
Adams likely will want a contract with at least an average annual salary between $15 million and $16 million.
What he certainly will want is a contract topping that of Denver’s Justin Simmons, who agreed to a four-year deal Friday that makes him the NFL’s highest-paid safety at $15.25 million per year. That tops the annual salary of Cardinals safety and former University of Washington star Budda Baker ($14.75 million).
Adams, though, views himself as not just a safety but an all-around football player, as evidenced by his 9.5 sacks last season, the most for any defensive back since sacks became an official stat in 1982.
That has had some thinking it might take an average annual salary between $17 million and $18 million, placing Adams among the top-paid defensive players at any position.
If nothing else, the Simmons deal sets a floor.
Hollister gets one-year deal with Buffalo
Former Seahawks tight end Jacob Hollister agreed to a one-year deal with Buffalo, according to Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network.
Hollister led Seattle’s tight ends last season with 25 receptions while playing on a one-year, restricted-free-agent tender that paid him $3.25 million.
Hollister had 41 catches for 349 yards and three touchdowns in 2019, when one of his scores was the game-winner in overtime against Tampa Bay. He had 66 catches for 558 yards and six touchdowns in two seasons with the Seahawks.
NFL announces draft order, including Seahawks’ three picks
The Seahawks’ trade for Raiders guard Gabe Jackson on Wednesday means Seattle now has just three picks in the 2021 NFL draft.
And on Friday, the NFL clarified exactly which three picks Seattle has when it released the entire 259-pick order:
One in the second round at No. 56 overall, another in the fourth at 129 and another in the seventh at 250.
Seattle has never made fewer than five picks in a draft (in 1994 and 1997) and never fewer than eight in the John Schneider/Pete Carroll era. Given Schneider’s propensity and ability to acquire more picks during the draft, the best bet is Seattle won’t end up making just three selections.