RENTON — Running back Chris Carson, the Seahawks’ top rusher each of the past three seasons, will undergo neck surgery and miss the rest of the season, coach Pete Carroll said Friday.
The decision for surgery now was made with the hope it will enable Carson, who was expected to lead the rushing attack this year but has played just four games, to return in 2022, Carroll said.
“This is so that he can play next year,” Carroll said.
Carson, 27, has missed the past five games because of a neck injury that is the result of wear and tear, said Carroll, who earlier in the year called it “chronic.”
But on Friday Carroll reiterated that the injury is not similar to the neck injuries that ended the careers of Seahawks players Kam Chancellor and Cliff Avril.
“It’s different than that, it’s not the same situation,” Carroll said. “Each one of those guys had their own unique situation as well. This is uniquely different.”
Carroll said Carson will have “a cervical surgery,” adding that “there is just a spot in one of the (vertebrae) that is a rough spot, and it is irritating the nerve.”
Carson has not played since Oct. 3.
“We went as long as we could, and he worked as hard as he could at it,” Carroll said. “And this is just after just not being able to get to happen and turn around. This is the best choice we got. And so we’ll look forward to him getting all that taken care of and be ready for a big year next year.”
Carson returned to practice last week off injured reserve, opening a 21-day window in which he could practice before having to be promoted to the active roster or stay on IR.
Carroll announced last Friday that Carson would not play Sunday against the Packers. The coach said Carson did not have a setback and added that the team felt he wasn’t ready to return.
But on Monday Carroll ominously said he had no update on Carson and added he would have an update Wednesday, which was pushed to Friday.
“When he came back to practice the first day it wasn’t quite right,” Carroll said. “He practiced again the next day, and it just didn’t relent and it’s been really uncomfortable for him.”
Carson will remain on IR.
Carroll said Carson has not played with the neck issue in past seasons but added that it had gradually crept up this year.
“He’s an avid, avid weightlifter, and he puts a ton of weight on his on his shoulders, and it’s (the injury) right up there,” Carroll said. “Who knows? It could come from anywhere. So it’s a wear-and-tear type of thing that developed. He has not had signs of it from the past.”
Though any neck issue can raise concerns about whether Carson’s career is in question, Carroll said the expectation is that the surgery will allow Carson to play in 2022.
“That’s the whole reason we are doing it now,” he said.
This is now the third time in Carson’s career he has suffered a season-ending injury — 2017 (fractured leg), 2019 (fractured hip) the others.
But when healthy he has been one of the best running backs in team history. Carson topped 1,000 yards in 2018 and 2019 — the only Seahawk to do that since Marshawn Lynch in 2014 — and ranks in the top 10 in Seahawks history in rushing yards (eighth, 3,502), attempts (ninth, 769) and rushing touchdowns (24).
He signed a two-year deal with the Seahawks in March in his first time testing NFL free agency, a contract worth up to $10.425 million with $5.5 million guaranteed.
Carson considered other offers. But because of the decreased NFL salary cap caused by a COVID-19-related drop in league revenue and a down market for running backs, Carson decided to return to Seattle.
“It was definitely difficult,” Carson said in April. “I would just say the whole process and everything like that. Teams made offers, and there were definitely some teams that made it tough to sign back with the Seahawks. But it was just the right feeling.”
The contract includes a void year for 2023 to spread out the cap hit. Carson will count as $3 million in dead-cap money in 2022 and $1.5 million in 2023.
Carson rushed for 232 yards on 54 carries this season, with a best of 91 on 16 in the opener Sept. 12 against the Colts.
He last played Oct. 3 against the 49ers when he rushed for 30 yards on 13 carries before sitting out much of the second half as Alex Collins took over.
Carson missed the Rams game Oct. 7 and was placed on IR on Oct. 15, the same day as quarterback Russell Wilson.
Seattle has four other running backs on its 53-man roster — Collins, Rashaad Penny, Travis Homer and DeeJay Dallas, all of whom have been drafted by the team since 2016.
Collins has started the past five games and leads the team with 345 yards rushing on 84 carries. His best game came in an overtime loss at Pittsburgh when he rushed for 101 yards on 20 carries, the only time this season a Seattle running back has topped 100 yards and the only time since Carson did it Dec. 15, 2019 at Carolina.
Collins suffered a groin injury against the Steelers, and though he has continued to play, his numbers have diminished the past three games, with 120 yards on 36 carries. Collins is not on the injury report this week.
Seattle had hoped to get a significant contribution from Penny once he returned from a calf injury Oct. 25. But he rushed for just 16 yards on 13 carries against New Orleans and Jacksonville before not seeing a snap — despite being active — against the Packers on Sunday.
Homer, who played mostly in the third-down/two-minute package, has 62 yards on 10 carries with 128 yards on 11 receptions.
Dallas, in his second year, plays significantly on special teams but has just 35 yards on 10 carries.
Undrafted rookie free agent Josh Johnson, the leading rusher in the preseason, is on the practice squad.
Carroll on Friday expressed confidence that the team has the running backs it needs and said Penny will have a larger role Sunday against Arizona.
“Really looking forward to see where he goes and contributes this weekend,” Carroll said. “ … It’s really his time to help us, and so as we go through the next couple of weeks you’ll see him continue to be a big part of it.”
But if the Seahawks look to add depth at running back, two big names are available.
Former Steelers standout Le’Veon Bell was waived Tuesday, went unclaimed and is a free agent.
And among notable other free agents available is former Ram Todd Gurley, who the Seahawks have said was on the top of their draft board in 2015.
Gurley is just 27 and played last season with Atlanta, gaining 678 yards on 195 carries. He played from 2015-19 with the Rams, spending his last three years there when current Seahawks offensive coordinator Shane Waldron was an assistant in Los Angeles.