We are now in the month when the 2021 season will begin, with the Seahawks and most of the rest of the NFL scheduled to open training camps July 31.
While we wait, let’s open the Seahawks Twitter mailbag, where topics of interest include the future of Rashaad Penny, whether Seattle still has a big move to make this offseason, and more.
Question: Rashaad Penny news has been pretty quiet. Will he be a big factor in the upcoming season or be another RB draft pick who couldn’t stay healthy?
Answer: The news on Penny this offseason wasn’t all quiet. Unfortunately, as was revealed during the team’s minicamp last month, Penny had a “cleanup’’ surgery on his knee earlier this year, which prevented him from taking part in on-field drills during the offseason program.
Coach Pete Carroll characterized it as a common procedure for someone coming off an ACL injury, which Penny suffered in December 2019 against the Rams in Los Angeles.
Maybe so. But it seemed a little ominous that more than a year later, Penny was still dealing with the knee issue. And now he enters what is the final season of his four-year rookie deal with an uncertain role and future with injuries limiting him to just 27 of a possible 48 regular-season games the past three seasons.
When Penny was taken in the first round in 2018, it’s worth remembering that Chris Carson was entering his second year and had played only four games as a rookie in 2017 due to injury. Penny, meanwhile, was graded as highly as he was by Seattle — which took him eight spots before the Browns drafted Nick Chubb — because he had been one of the most durable running backs in college football in his career at San Diego State. Penny didn’t miss a game at SDSU due to injury, playing in 54 in a row, and had the sixth-most carries in the nation as a senior (289).
But, showing how the best-laid plans can go awry, Penny’s career has been sidetracked by injuries from the start.
That he played just three games last season and now is coming off yet another surgery — minor or not — and doing nothing in the offseason program makes it really hard to know what Seattle will get out of him in 2021.
The good news for the Seahawks is that they seem pretty well covered at running back having re-signed Carson and Alex Collins in the offseason, adding to the trio of running backs drafted in the past four years — Penny, Travis Homer and DeeJay Dallas.
Carson is the established starter, Collins showed last season that maybe he can replicate the 973-yard year he had with the Ravens in 2018 if needed (he’s still just 26 years old), and Homer and Dallas have skill sets to fit the third-down receiver role.
Where does that leave Penny? Well, Seattle is certainly hoping he can forge a significant role not only complementing Carson but also playing a big factor in the passing game. Penny has made some big plays receiving in his Seattle career, and new coordinator Shane Waldron might be able to find some creative ways to feature him.
And the reality is that the investment Seattle made in Penny means the Seahawks are going to exhaust all options to get something out of him this season — his salary cap hit of $3.4 million is the 11th-highest on the team ($2.057 million of that is in dead money, meaning there isn’t much motivation for Seattle to cut Penny). Seattle did not pick up a fifth-year option on Penny earlier this year so he’ll be a free agent after this season.
The other reality is that Penny has just one more year with the Seahawks to both change the narrative of the decision to take him in the first round and create a possible future for himself with the Seahawks.
However, Carson’s contract looms heavy there — he has a $6.4 million cap hit in 2022 with $3 million in dead money. That goes a long way toward assuring Carson will be with the team in 2022 but also means Seattle might not want to invest all that heavily otherwise at the running back spot, especially with Dallas and Homer still on rookie contracts and lots of veteran free agents always available pretty inexpensively. Penny will have to show a lot this year to earn big money from anyone in 2022 and beyond.
Q: When do you feel it’s right to move to a rookie? A lot of times there are young players on the roster who don’t get the experience because of vets at the end of their contracts and fans call for trades to get new vets.
A: Teams struggle with this, too, especially when the players involved are key pieces of championship teams and fan favorites. Many observers, though, have long credited the Patriots’ willingness to move away from veterans too early rather than too late as a reason the team kept its dynasty afloat for as long as it did (though, maybe it was all just Tom Brady all along).
The Seahawks also have generally seemed to err on the side of getting rid of a player too early rather than too late during the Carroll/John Schneider era, such as the decisions with the likes of Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett and Earl Thomas — to name three — moves that all might look better now than at the time.
Seattle appears to be taking a similar approach this season with K.J. Wright.
Not re-signing Wright so far really has nothing to do with money, per se. Seattle could have fit in Wright if it had really wanted to, as it did with players such as Carson and Carlos Dunlap.
The main factor in not re-signing Wright is that doing so would block the playing time — or at least limit it somewhat — of Jordyn Brooks and Darrell Taylor, each taken in the first two rounds of the draft last season and now ticketed for starting roles at linebacker.
Re-signing Wright might be perceived as the less risky move, depending on the price. But Seattle at this point undoubtedly figures it has gotten the best out of the now 32-year-old Wright, who would likely also command more than it is paying Brooks and Taylor, who each have three years remaining on their rookie contracts.
The Seahawks invested heavily in terms of draft capital on Brooks and Taylor (recall the Seahawks traded up to get Taylor at No. 48 overall) and they want to start getting a real return.
An argument could have been made to re-sign Wright for a year as an insurance policy. But Seattle hasn’t really seemed to believe in the idea of keeping veterans around in lesser roles, which can complicate the locker room. Seattle obviously wants to let some of its younger players sink or swim — the roles the team has carved out this year for the likes of Rasheem Green and L.J. Collier also fit into that.
You’re right that fans — and even teams — might at times feel more comfortable with the known of a veteran with a proven track record. But Seattle’s own history of the rise of the team in the Legion of Boom era shows the benefits of turning things over to young players.
Seattle’s 2021 season will test that philosophy again.
Q: Do you think the Seahawks are done adding to this team or could you see a trade and/or a free agent signing still happening before, during or after training camp?
A: The Seahawks are never “done,’’ nor really is any NFL team. They will undoubtedly make moves during camp and as the season progresses. But, at the moment I think they will do so only as needs or unique opportunities arise. If you’re asking in part if the team plans to re-sign Wright anytime soon, I think the answer is no. I think that only happens, as Carroll basically said, if the team gets into camp and something changes that makes it worth bringing him back (and while Carroll didn’t say it, obviously the biggest thing that can happen to create a need is an injury).
The Seahawks don’t have a ton of cap space — $8.3 million as of Thursday. But that’s enough to do something if the need arises. There’s no real expectation the team is going to make any substantive move to add a new player, though, before the beginning of training camp.