The Seahawks’ running-back position was as big of a roller coaster as any other on the roster in 2021, and a big reason for the team’s uneven offensive production.
If the season in the backfield began on a rough note with injuries to Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny, it ended on the high of Penny finally realizing the potential the team always thought he had, if not more so.
As we continue our reviews of the Seahawks’ position groups heading into the offseason, let’s look at the backfield.
Snaps played in regular season: 253
Contract situation: Unrestricted free agent.
Snaps played in regular season: 124
Contract situation: Under contract through 2022 with a void year in 2023, due a non-guaranteed base salary of $4.5 million in 2022.
Snaps played: 257
Contract situation: Unrestricted free agent.
Snaps played: 161
Contract situation: Has two years left on his four-year rookie deal with a non-guaranteed base salary of $895,000 in 2022.
Snaps played: 181
Contract situation: Has one year left on his four-year rookie deal, with a non-guaranteed base salary of $965,000 in 2022.
Others on roster
Josh Johnson was signed to the active roster the last week of the season.
Snaps played in regular season: 19
Contract situation: Has one year remaining on contact, with a non-guaranteed salary of $2.15 million in 2022.
The Seahawks began the year thinking Carson could not only get back to the 1,000-yard mark he’d reached in 2018-19 but might play a greater role in the offense of new coordinator Shane Waldron.
It began well enough, with Carson rushing for 91 yards and catching three passes for 26 more in a season-opening 28-16 win over the Colts — a game that many pointed to as a template for how the offense was supposed to work.
But Carson’s season lasted just three-and-a-half games because of a lingering neck injury. The Seahawks hoped to turn the duties over to Penny, who was on the final year of his rookie contract. But he was still dealing with a calf injury suffered in the season opener and injured his hamstring when he did finally return to action.
That had the Seahawks leaning on Collins, who got off to a good start with a 101-yard game against the Steelers, but he suffered an abdomen injury that ended his season.
That left the Seahawks so thin they signed veteran Adrian Peterson to start a November game against the 49ers before Penny finally got healthy and took the job back.
And oh how Penny then took the job over, leading the league over the final five games with 671 yards and 7.29 per carry along with six rushing touchdowns, finally giving some validation to the team’s decision to take him 27th overall in the 2018 draft.
Penny’s late-season emergence gave the Seahawks the kind of running game they wanted all along, as they finished with a 5.02 yards-per-carry average. That was second best in team history behind only 5.26 in 2014, averaging 6.5 or better in four of the last five games of the season (that all four of those teams finished among the bottom 12 in rushing defense is worth noting; the Seahawks were held to 80 yards rushing and 4.2 per carry by the one good rush defense it faced in that span, the Rams).
Dallas and Homer again mostly split the third-down/two-minute role while playing substantial special-teams roles.
Bellore’s 18 offensive snaps were the fewest of his Seahawks career. His 318 on special teams were his most and also led the team.
As noted above, the Seahawks have Carson, Homer, Dallas and Johnson under contract for 2022 and could sign Collins to a one-year veteran minimum deal, as it did last season.
That leaves Penny as the big question.
The Seahawks did not exercise an option on Penny last spring for the 2022 season that would have paid him $4.5 million, a decision no one questioned at the time given Penny’s injury history.
What will he command now?
Carson has a $6.45 million cap hit for 2022 but has no guaranteed money in his $4.5 million salary. Pete Carroll said after the season that Carson should be ready for camp following neck surgery.
They might not want two relatively big cap hits at running back, which could mean trying to give Penny a multiyear deal with a smaller hit this year that expands in following seasons, but at a total value similar to Carson.
The running-back market is notoriously unpredictable and that Penny has a small — but impressive — resume makes it even harder to tell what he might command.
For each side, working out something before free agency might make sense.
Available free agents include the likes of Melvin Gordon, Cordarrelle Patterson, David Johnson, Phillip Lindsay, Sony Michel and James Conner, so teams in need of running backs will have some choices.
Assuming the Seahawks re-sign Penny and keep Carson, the Seahawks might not need much else at running back, especially after adding Johnson the last week of the season. That move assured Johnson is under contract for the 2022 season.
Homer and Dallas figure to again contend to fill the third-down/two-minute back role while filling valuable special-teams roles. Players at the back end of the running-back rotation have to play significantly on special teams. Dallas was third in special-teams snaps in 2021 with 290 and Homer fifth with 260.
Up next: Tight ends.