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Why Seahawks RB Rashaad Penny might not be back until late in the season

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Seattle Seahawks v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Fans of the Seattle Seahawks are well aware that their expectations for Rashaad Penny likely need to be tempered heading into the 2020 NFL season. Pete Carroll has publicly stated, as far back as late February, that Penny would be likely to start the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list for the team, and in the time since then the situation has only made it appear more and more likely that this would indeed be the case.

Carroll made those comments during his press conference with the media at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, and the team has been consistent in its statements regarding Penny and the likelihood of his availability in 2020.

Digging a tiny bit deeper into exactly what that means for the team, the first item to keep in mind is to take a step back and look at the schedule because the 2020 schedule will be referenced extensively over the remainder of this piece.

Preseason:

Regular Season:

That is the full slate of the 20 games currently scheduled for the Seahawks. Assuming Penny does indeed start the season on the PUP list, then that would preclude him playing in either the preseason or for the first six weeks of the season. Of course, Penny’s primary concern will be to get healthy and return to the field in the best possible form as quickly as possible. However, it’s likely that the Week 12 Monday Night Football matchup against the Eagles may be circled by Penny. The first instinct for many is likely to recognize that Penny’s career best 129 rushing yards in a game came against the Eagles in 2019, however, the reason for the 2020 matchup against the Eagles to be circled is from a contract perspective, rather than an on field performance perspective.

Specifically, Penny is, of course, in the third year of his rookie contract after having been a first round draft pick in 2018 and is slated to have caps hits this season and next in the amounts of $2,936,028 and $3,425,366. In theory, he’d then become a free agent following the 2021 season, as it seems unlikely that the Seattle front office will modify its habit of declining fifth year options.

However, if Penny is still on the PUP list and has not been activated prior to the Week 12 game against Philadelphia, then the earliest he could be activated would obviously be prior to the Week 13 game against the Giants. If that is what happens, or if Penny is only activated from the PUP after the Eagles game, then the maximum number of regular season games he would spend on the active roster and in full pay status would be capped at five. That is crucial because of the following from the CBA:

Section 1. Accrued Seasons Calculation : (a) For the purposes of calculating Accrued Seasons under this Agreement, a player shall receive one Accrued Season for each season during which he was on, or should have been on, full pay status for a total of six or more regular season games (which shall include any games encompassed in any injury settlement, injury grievance settlement or injury grievance award), but which, irrespective of the player’s pay status, shall not include games for which the player was on: (i) the Exempt Commissioner Permission List, (ii) the Reserve PUP List as a result of a nonfootball injury, or (iii) a Club’s Practice Squad.

Now, the key to that is obviously what constitutes full pay status, and in the past players on the PUP list have not been considered full pay status, even though they must be paid their full salary during the time they are on the PUP list. What that means is that if Penny is not activated from the PUP list until Week 13 or later, he would not earn an accrued season for 2020. That is obviously far from the end of the world, but what it would mean is that when 2021 rolls around and Penny plays out the final season of his rookie contract, at the conclusion of his four year deal he would have only three accrued seasons. Three accrued seasons at the end of a rookie contract means a player is not an unrestricted free agent, and rather they are a restricted free agent, subject to the RFA tenders available to the teams.

In addition, because Penny was originally a first round pick, just as Seahawks fans saw with the Dion Jordan situation following the 2018 season, an original round tender is likely sufficient to prevent another team from putting an offer sheet on the table. So, because of Penny having been a first round pick in the 2018 draft, if he does not spend at least six games on the active roster in 2020 there’s a decent chance the Seahawks would be able to retain his services for 2022 for less than he is scheduled to count against the cap in either of the next two seasons. Now, from an actual base salary perspective, Penny would be seeing a base salary raise in 2022 on an original round tender, though because of the way the salary cap accounts for signing bonuses, his cap hit would likely decrease from 2021 to 2022.

There are likely some fans out there certain that the Seahawks, as a stand up organization, would not intentionally wait until Week 13 to activate Penny simply to give the team an extra year of team control in the future. However, that ignores that the team has done exactly that in the past. In 2017 the team started the season with Justin Britt at center while Mark Glowinski and Luke Joeckel handled the guard spots early in the year. Second round pick Ethan Pocic was on the bench as the backup center, while Oday Aboushi was the swing guard behind Joeckel and Glow. Without a need for a third center on the roster, the team waived Joey Hunt and put him on the practice squad.

In Week 3 Aboushi took over as the starter at right guard when Glowinski was benched, and he held on to that starting role through his season ending shoulder injury against the Falcons in Week 11. The loss to the Falcons dropped the Seahawks to 6-4 through their first ten games, with matchups against the Eagles and 49ers over the next two weeks. The Seahawks played both of those games with Hunt remaining on the practice squad, and then on December 5 promoted him to the 53 man roster.

That put Hunt on the active roster for just the final four games of the regular season.

As a result of the team waiting those two weeks to promote Hunt from the practice squad to the active roster, rather than promoting him immediately following Aboushi’s injury, Hunt did not earn an accrued season for 2017. That then means that in spite of being in the same 2016 draft class as Germain Ifedi, Jarran Reed, Quinton Jefferson and Nick Vannett, all of whom became unrestricted free agents this offseason, Hunt became a restricted free agent rather than an unrestricted free agent. This is not to say that the team kept Hunt on the practice squad solely to add a year of team control. There were certainly other moving parts involved, including Joeckel’s return from a midseason knee surgery and waiting to see how things would play out with Aboushi’s shoulder injury. However, the same principles will apply to the Seattle backfield during the second half of the season when it comes time for the Hawks to make a decision on Penny.

It obviously doubtful that they would keep Penny on the PUP list until Week 13 or later for the sole reason of gaining an extra year of team control. However, it’s likely to become an extremely important part of the equation as Penny works his way back from a very serious knee injury. In short, the Seahawks won’t keep him on the PUP list for the purposes of keeping him around, but if Chris Carson stays healthy, Carlos Hyde comes in and contributes and either DeeJay Dallas or Travis Homer are capable of competently filling a third running back role, there may be little urgency to promote Penny off the PUP list.

And that’s where things could get interesting. At the present moment Penny’s sole mission is to rehab his knee and make sure he does everything he can to be ready to take the field for the team in the fall. Though shortly, his job will expand and his goal will be to recover sufficiently that the best option for the Hawks is to move Penny off the PUP list and onto the active roster so that he can impact games in the fall, as that is how Penny can take care to ensure that the possibility of becoming a restricted free agent in the future isn’t even an option.