Just two weeks remain in the 2020 NFL regular season, and while it’s not one hundred percent certain that the NFC West division title will be decided this weekend when the Los Angeles Rams come to Lumen Field, what is certain is that there are significant question marks at running back for the Seattle Seahawks to address in the offseason.
The biggest question to answer is what will be done with Chris Carson. Carson has been the unquestioned starter at the position the past three seasons, but with his rookie contract expiring could see his price tag increase significantly. His production has been fantastic, and the return the Hawks have received on that particular seventh round pick has been well worth it. Specifically, since entering the league in 2017 Carson is in the top ten in rushing yards, in spite of a 2017 campaign that was just four games long due to injury and in spite of a 2020 season that has seen him gain just 568 yards due to the combination of injuries and the Let Russ Cook movement.
That all said, it’s no secret that the market for running backs has been cool in recent seasons, and it’s possible Carson may not find the type of market in free agency that he hopes. Even if Carson is unable to secure a monster contract of the likes that Ezekiel Elliott, Christian McCaffrey or Derrick Henry have in recent seasons, he’s still likely to sign for more than many fans would prefer to pay a running back. That said, while the Seahawks are unlikely to break the bank to retain Carson, don’t be surprised if they borrow a move from the Arizona Cardinals offseason playbook.
Specifically, while the franchise tag tender for a running back is again likely to be in the $10M range ($10.278M for 2020 per OverTheCap.com), the transition tender for the position should fall in a range similar to what it was this season, $8.483M. That is exactly what the Cardinals did with Kenyan Drake this past offseason, and allowed Drake to explore free agency while giving Arizona the right to match any contract offer to Drake.
It’s no question that many fans will likely be upset at the prospect of giving a one year, fully guaranteed $8.483M contract to a running back who has missed 19 games due to injury over his four years in the NFL, but that is not too far outside of what is expected from running backs. Seahawks fans were spoiled by the durability that Marshawn Lynch displayed during the prime of his career, and the 45 regular games Carson will have played over the past three seasons when he hits free agency actually comes in just above the expectation for the position.
Running back is a brutal position, and in the NFL a Week 1 starter at the position is expected to be available for an average of 13.3 games over the course of the year, or somewhere around 53 or 54 games over the course of a four year contract. For Carson, outside of the catastrophic injury he suffered in Week 4 of the 2017 season, he is likely to hit free agency having played in 14, 15 and 12 games in 2018, 2019 and 2020 respectively. That’s not the invincibility that some fans would like to see, but the reality is that that’s in line with expectations for the position in today’s NFL. In fact, the 42 games Carson has started since being drafted by Seattle is the eighth most games started by any running back in the NFL during that timeframe, and that includes the 2017 season when he missed three quarters of the year due to a torn ligament and broken leg suffered against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 4.
So, while many Seahawks fans may not like the idea of allocation somewhere in the neighborhood of $8.483M on a running back, for Seattle choosing to use the transition tender on Carson would come with additional benefits. The biggest benefit for the Hawks would be that they would retain a right of first refusal on any off Carson receives from another team, while also giving them the ability negotiate a longer contract from a starting point that is not quite as high as if they used the franchise tag. For Carson, the transition tag would represent more than double what he has earned in terms of salary in his entire career, which is just under $3.8M.
That amount is obviously far below the mega contract amounts for which running backs like Alvin Kamara, CMC, Elliott, David Johnson and others have signed. However, building off the transition tag, it seems possible, potentially even likely, that Carson and the team could reach agreement on a multi-year contract that would not represent as much money those noted mega contracts, but which would be far more than Carson has made so far. Exactly what the structure of any such contract would look like for Carson is difficult to speculate until the details of where the 2021 salary cap are known, or at least more clear than they are now. However, based on how much Pete Carroll and John Schneider seem to like Carson, it’s not hard to imagine that he could be with the Seahawks for several years to come, and the transition tag is a tool that the team could use to aid in the retention of his services going forward.