Monday made it official that running back Rashaad Penny has one more season to prove his worth as Seattle’s 2018 first-round choice.
As had been expected, team did not pick up an option on Penny’s contract for the 2022 season by the Monday afternoon deadline, a source confirmed to The Seattle Times.
Because Penny was a first-round pick — taken 27th overall — the Seahawks had until Monday to pick up the option.
But Seattle did not, meaning Penny can now become a free agent after the 2021 season.
The option would have meant a guaranteed salary of $4.5 million for Penny for the 2022 season. Under new NFL rules, the contract becomes fully guaranteed once the option is exercised. In prior years, the contract was guaranteed only for injury.
That was simply too much for Seattle to want to guarantee more than a year ahead of time for a player who has battled injuries throughout his three seasons.
Penny has played just 27 of a possible 48 games with the Seahawks due to injuries, including only three last season while still rehabbing a knee injury suffered on Dec. 8, 2019, against the Rams in Los Angeles.
But after finally getting cleared to play the final three games of the 2020 regular season, Penny did not play in the playoff defeat against the Rams due to a knee injury suffered in practice. That injury was said not to be significant with coach Pete Carroll saying it was not to the same knee and was the result of stumbling and hitting it in practice.
To make clear, not picking up the option does not mean Penny is done with the Seahawks.
He remains under contract for the 2021 season for what will now the last of his regular four-year rookie contract and is due to make a base salary of $1.9 million. And Seattle can still re-sign Penny after the 2021 season, or to an extension at any time if it wants.
But Seattle already has Chris Carson under contract for the 2022 season at a salary of $4.5 million and a cap hit of $6.4 million, and also will have Travis Homer and DeeJay Dallas still under contract that year.
Only first-round choices can have their option picked up for a fifth season, something enacted in the 2011 CBA.
Declining the option has become Seattle’s custom as it has not picked up an option on a first-rounder, though only three others have been eligible so far — 2011’s James Carpenter, 2012’s Bruce Irvin and 2016’s Germain Ifedi. All three became free agents and then signed with other teams after their fourth year with the Seahawks (Seattle got a third-round choice back as compensation when Irvin signed with the Raiders. He re-signed with Seattle for the 2020 season. Seattle got a fifth-rounder as compensation when Carpenter signed with the Jets following the 2014 season).
Seattle did not have first-round choices in 2013-15 or 2017, and it’s too early for first-rounders since Penny in 2018.
As for Penny, 2021 now serves as a make-or-break season.
Penny has shown some flashes, averaging 5.1 yards per carry in his Seattle career (161 carries for 823 yards).
He appeared on the verge of a breakthrough before his injury, rushing for 203 yards in the two games on 29 carries including a 58-yard touchdown that helped clinch a victory at Philadelphia.
So, Monday’s news should not be taken as Penny having no future with Seattle, just that he’s going to have to work a little harder to earn it.
By the time the deadline passed, 21 of the 32 first-round choices had their options picked up and another had been re-signed by his team to a contract extension. Nine had their options declined while another, quarterback Josh Rosen, was traded after his first season with Arizona to Miami, which then cut him before the 2020 season.