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Why the Seahawks signed Carlos Hyde if Chris Carson is fine

NFL: DEC 22 Cardinals at Seahawks Photo by Jeff Halstead/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Thursday reports emerged that the Seattle Seahawks had made a contract offer to running back Devonta Freeman, formerly of the Atlanta Falcons. Many Seattle fans were perplexed and instantly wondered what it could mean. Is Rashaad Penny behind on his rehab from an ACL reconstruction? Is something the matter with Chris Carson in his recovery from a hip injury? What about Travis Homer, who filled a depth role last offseason? Why did the team just draft DeeJay Dallas if they were simply going to go out and sign Carlos Hyde?

The thing is the team has been very tight lipped about both Carson and Penny during their recoveries, just as they have been with other players in the process of rehabbing injuries. It was four years ago that Seahawks fans were told repeatedly during the spring that Thomas Rawls was going to come back full speed from a devastating ankle injury that didn’t require surgery, and but once the summer arrived fans found out that doctors had needed to go in and surgically repair the damage. So, it’s nothing new for the Hawks to remain secretive during the offseason, but what do we know about the recovery process for Penny and Carson is extremely limited.

Penny is reportedly expected by the team to start the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list, while Carson is slated to be “ready for Week 1”. There haven’t been any videos or posts of Carson rehabbing or working out, while there have been multiple postings of Penny rehabbing posted to social media. (Author’s note: Penny had his knee surgery done in late December, so the first clip is from just over 90 days into rehab, the second is from somewhere just after 120 days and the final one is at somewhere right around 150 days.)

The last clip drew comments from several fans that Penny looked like he had put on a bunch of weight, but since it’s only his upper body that is visible, it’s hard to tell. That said, with an inability to do a lot of cardio following his surgery, Penny probably has spent quite a bit of time doing various upper body workouts, so an increase in upper body mass is not unexpected. Further, there’s not a great view of his legs in the last video, but his legs in both of the first two videos probably look like chicken legs compared to what his legs looked like prior to the injury simply due to muscle atrophy from inactivity during the rehab process.

Now, before anyone flips out, that’s completely normal. Penny had major reconstructive surgery that comes with a rehab process that is typically eight to nine months at a minimum, so muscle loss at three or four months after the operation is perfectly normal. Add in that he likely had his meniscus repaired in addition to the ACL reconstruction, and Penny’s likely right where he should be in terms of his recovery timeline. He’ll likely be back sometime in the middle to latter part of the season, though exactly when that will be won’t be known for several more months. Basically, Penny’s probably five months into a ten or eleven month rehab process that could easily be slowed by the pandemic. That said, it won’t be a surprise if his first game back is one of the two games against the New York Giants or New York Jets in Week 13 or 14. The why behind those target dates, however, are a different story for a different day.

However, getting back to the idea of muscle atrophy, it is entirely possible that is the concern with Carson. Going all the way back to February, Pete Carroll hinted that neither Carson nor Penny would see much of the field during training camp.

Penny, of course, can’t see if the field if he is on the PUP list, and the reason for Carson not getting many snaps in the preseason is likely two fold. First, Carson knows the offense and the team knows what Carson can do on the field. He had all of eight rushing attempts during the 2019 preseason, so it’s not as if the team has a habit of running him out there a lot before the year starts. In any case, the issue with Carson as it pertains to muscle atrophy during his rehab was summed up by Carroll back in February:

There’s not a whole lot Chris can do, so he hasn’t done many things wrong. It’s an injury that takes time. It’s serious because it’s a hip, but it’s not serious in that we know what’s going to happen. It’s not displaced or any of that kind of stuff. We just need to wait it out, which is really hard for Chris because he’s a workout maniac and loves to be in the weight room and all that. He’s doing the best he can and he’s done everything he can possibly do and we’re just hoping he just doesn’t overdo it, so we’re trying to monitor that. But we’re counting on a full recovery. He should be ready to go.

And that is likely the big concern with Carson. Because his injury is a hip injury, he had to keep it immobilized to heal, and as Carroll points out, immobilization means not working out. For Carson, that obviously means the loss of muscle mass, which is negative for Carson for two reasons. In a 2015 study published in Science Daily, scientists found two things that would have negative implications for Carson:

  • Young people lose twice as much muscle mass (due to inactivity) and
  • The more muscle mass you have, the more you’ll lose.

Carson is obviously young and had a significant amount of muscle mass prior to suffering the injury. Just in case anyone forgot, here’s what he looked like at the combine in 2017.

NFL Combine - Day 3 Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

This doesn’t mean there’s any need to panic, however, as muscle loss is far from the end of the world. Expectations back in February were that Carson would be back to health sometime during the summer, and once he’s back in the gym, any mass lost to atrophy is likely to return relatively quickly. However, beyond just needing to rebuild the muscle, once that is achieved, Carson will then need to focus on ensuring the inactivity didn’t sap his speed and quickness. He’s young enough this shouldn’t be too much of an issue, but Seahawks fans witnessed last fall how Ziggy Ansah bounced back following an extended period of inactivity and muscle loss, and so the worry certainly has to be in the back of the minds of the Seattle coaching staff and front office.

Thus, what this all means is that the Hawks likely chose to err on the side of caution. The running backs on the roster prior to the addition of Hyde included

  • Carson
  • Penny
  • Travis Homer
  • Patrick Carr
  • DeeJay Dallas
  • Anthony Jones

What that means is that Nick Bellore’s one career rushing attempt for the Detroit Lions in 2018 gives him 5.2% of the career NFL rushing attempts for the Seattle backs that did not end the 2019 season on injured reserve. The Seahawks player with the most career rushing attempts who isn’t rehabbing from a season ending injury this offseason is Tyler Lockett, whose 38 career attempts are double that of Bellore and Homer combined. Here are the career regular season rushing attempts leaders for the current Seahawks on the roster outside of Carson and Penny if they did not add Hyde:

  • Russell Wilson: 720
  • Geno Smith: 147
  • Tyler Lockett: 38
  • Travis Homer: 18
  • Phillip Dorsett: 13
  • David Moore: 4
  • DK Metcalf: 2
  • Nick Bellore: 1
  • Jacob Hollister: 1
  • Michael Dickson: 1

In short, they were likely looking for some sort of veteran who has actually carried the ball in the NFL, just in case Carson needs a few weeks of the regular season to get back up to full speed, or just in case Penny’s rehab drags deep into the season.

Worst case scenario for the team, Hyde is the Week 1 starter against the Atlanta Falcons. Best case scenario, Carson and Penny see their rehab progress phenomenally through the summer and are ready to go earlier than anticipated, and if that happens, perhaps Hyde could carry some small amount of trade value. While the idea of trading for a running back in today’s NFL would certainly be viewed as outlandish, since October of 2018 two different teams have traded for Hyde. First, the Jacksonville Jaguars sent a fifth round pick to the Cleveland Browns for Hyde, followed by the Kansas City Chiefs trading Hyde to the Houston Texans for Martinas Rankin, who started five games on the offensive line for the Chiefs before landing on injured reserve.

Would another team be so inclined to trade for Hyde, as both Tom Coughlin and Bill O’Brien have done in recent seasons? It’s probably unlikely, but given that the Texans reportedly offered Hyde a two-year, $10M contract, the Hawks might be able to convince O’Brien that Hyde’s value in trade is even greater because he’s signed to a less expensive contract. I mean, it couldn’t hurt to ask the Texans if they’d have any interest in exchanging Hyde for Deshaun Watson because worst case scenario perhaps they try to convince Carroll and Schneider to take Alex McGough instead.