No position on Seattle’s roster endured a roller coaster in 2019 quite like the backfield.
A season that began with Chris Carson alternately looking like a budding superstar while serving as his own worst enemy while battling a bout of fumblitis (his four lost fumbles, three in the first three games, were the most for any running back in the NFL this season) ended with one of the most stunning stories of this or any Seahawks season, the return of Marshawn Lynch.
In between was the redemption of Carson and the emergence of Rashaad Penny, followed by season-ending injuries to each that led to Seattle playing in the postseason with an entirely different top three tailback trio than which it began the season.
But while the importance of a running game in today’s NFL can and is heavily debated, Seattle coach Pete Carroll has always been a strong believer that it matters greatly, meaning the composition of the running back position is always going to be both a priority and something to pay particularly close attention.
So let’s look at the running back spot as we continue our review of Seattle’s position groups heading into the offseason.
Snaps played in regular season: 723 of 1,107 total.
Contract situation: On rookie contract through 2020.
2019 number to know: As some evidence that Carson and other running backs had to do more on their own in 2019, Carson averaged 1.8 yards per carry before contact in 2019 compared to 2.3 in 2018.
Snaps played: 150.
Contract situation: On rookie contract through 2021 season.
2019 number to know: Penny either got a handoff (65) or was thrown a pass (11) on more than half of his 150 snaps this season.
Contract situation: On rookie contract through 2022 season.
Snaps played: 84.
2019 number to know: Homer also played 215 special teams snaps, second-most of any offensive player, including serving as the personal protector, or up back, on the punt team.
Others who played in 2019
Marshawn Lynch (23 snaps in regular season), C.J. Prosise (123 snaps), Robert Turbin (zero snaps).
All three are now unrestricted free agents.
Snaps played: 29.
Contract situation: Under contract for the 2020 season with a base salary of $1 million and a cap hit of $1.15 million, with a cap savings of $1 million if he is released.
2019 number to know: Bellore’s 267 special teams snaps were the most of any offensive player and third-most on the team.
Set aside the fumbles — admittedly hard to do and something he’ll have to improve on going forward — and 2019 was a season that established Carson as already on his way to being one of the best in franchise history.
In just three years Carson has already moved into the top 10 in franchise history in rushing yards, standing at 10th after gaining 1,230 in 2019, moving his career total to 2,589. His 4.5 yards per carry is the best of anyone on the list other than Russell Wilson.
But his hip injury suffered in Week 16 was also the second time in three years his season has prematurely ended, and for all the debate over the play-calling in the playoffs, a healthy Carson undoubtedly smooths out the offense quite a bit.
Penny had another starstruck year, battling some nagging injuries early in the season and then suffering a significant knee injury just when he appeared to finally be showing why the team made the long-questioned move to take him in the first round in 2018. His 5.7 yards per carry average would have been the highest of any running back in the NFL had he had enough attempts to quality among the leaders.
As with Carson, a healthy Penny probably also changes things a bit in the playoffs. Instead, Seattle heads into the offseason wondering when Penny— who has played 24 of a possible 32 regular-season games in two seasons — will be healthy.
Prosise unfortunately again got hurt when he had a chance to stake a claim to a significant role but also didn’t do a whole lot when he did get chances averaging 3.1 yards per carry on 23 attempts.
Homer showed promise at the end of the regular season (114 yards on 18 carries) but was stifled in the postseason (25 yards on 14 carries).
Lynch scored four TDs on 30 carries but had just 67 yards overall and logically has come to the end.
Turbin saw just two offensive snaps — against the Eagles in the wild-card playoff game — and also logically won’t be back.
The Seahawks seem confident Carson will be back for the start of training camp, but Penny — who suffered an ACL injury and other damage to his knee — is more of a question mark.
And regardless, with Prosise, Lynch, Turbin all free agents, Seattle will need to add a few tailbacks to the mix.
And if Seattle has real concerns about Penny, maybe it makes sense to dip into the free agent waters some.
Don’t expect Seattle to go after Derrick Henry. But there are some intriguing free agents such as Carlos Hyde, who gained 1,070 yards for Houston in 2019 while making $2.8 million and is just 28 years old.
Or likely to come a lot more cheaply are guys like Jalen Richard, who has caught 104 passes over the last two seasons for the Raiders, or Ty Montgomery, who is entering his sixth NFL season and coming off a down season with the Jets but is just 27 and also could serve as a third-down back.
Carson, meanwhile, will play the season hoping to put himself in a good position heading into his free agent year unless Seattle were to sign him to an extension ahead of time, though given the way the tailback market typically works, the presence of Penny (if the team is confident he’ll be okay) and Carson’s own injuries, it seems most likely he’d play out the 2020 season before anything would happen.
As noted above, Bellore is under contract. But Seattle can be expected to add another fullback or two for competition, especially with Bellore having just enough of a cap hit for finances to come into play.
Up next: Tight end.