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The Chris Carson question

Seattle Seahawks v Minnesota Vikings Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

When teams take the field for the divisional round of the playoffs, the Seattle Seahawks will be at home watching on television for the fourth time in the past five seasons after finishing the year 7-10. Following the first losing season of the Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll era, the team will have plenty of questions to address on the roster, as there is a long list of players on the roster set to be unrestricted free agents. The Hawks still have plenty of time to figure out how to handle those free agents, as more than seven weeks remain until the start of the legal tampering period on March 14. However, in the meantime the team will also need to make decisions on several players who are under contract for 2022.

One of those contracted players under contract for next season who will likely be the subject of significant speculation among fans and observers this offseason is running back Chris Carson. For the second time in his five seasons in Seattle Carson saw his campaign come to a close after just four games following a season-ending neck injury. In the four games in which he did play he recorded 232 yards and 3 touchdowns. Those numbers pushed his career totals to 3,502 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns during his five seasons in the NFL, but 28 year old running backs coming off neck surgery are not exactly the type of safe bet teams and fans love to see taking up not insignificant portions of the salary cap.

Thus, with Carson set to take up $6.1M of the $219.3M of cap space Seattle has for 2022, it’s no surprise that many have already begun to call for the team to release Carson in order to free up some space in order to retain potentially more important players. However, in order to address whether that is the proper move for the team or not, the full ramifications of making such a move should be evaluated. (Author’s Note: Yes, I know OverTheCap.com and the other salary cap site that starts with an S have a different cap number for Carson. Their number is wrong and mine is correct.)

Specifically, the sites that specialize in salary cap figures for the NFL state that the Seahawks can save nearly $3.5M of 2022 cap space by releasing Carson prior to June 1, and nearly $5M in a post-June 1 release. That said, these calculations fail to take into account the Article 45 Injury protections provided by the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

So, as has been seen in the past, the Article 45 Injury Protection benefits of the CBA provide all contracted NFL players some level of injury guarantee to their future salary, and Carson is no different. Under the new CBA, 100% of a player’s salary is covered, up to a maximum of $2M, with the first $1.2M paid out under any injury protection payment counting against the salary cap. That means, that if the Seahawks should decide to move on from Carson because his neck injury has not healed to the point where he can pass a physical, then the Seahawks would be on the hook for not just the $3M of dead money, but potentially $1.2M of salary as well. A $4.2M dead cap hit is obviously not going to be downfall of a team with $219.3M of cap space, but it brings the discussion to an interesting point. Specifically, in order to qualify for the injury protection payments, a player must have failed his physical with the club, with such physical administered in accordance with the requirements of Article 45, Section 2(c):

(c) A player under contract must have failed a physical examination given by his Club for the purpose of determining his eligibility for the Injury Protection Benefit on or before August 1 of the season following the season of injury. A player whose contract has been terminated prior to being given the physical examination contemplated by this Subsection may only be given one such physical exam on or before August 1 of the applicable season. This physical examination referenced in this Subsection must be given by —270— either the Club physician or a physician designated by the Club so long as the fact that the examination is being given for the purpose of determining the player’s eligibility for the Injury Protection benefit is clearly communicated in writing to the player at the time of the physical exam. The Club shall be responsible for any travel and lodging costs associated with such exam.

Putting it together, if Carson passes his physical and is cleared to return to football, he’s the type of big, physical running back that Pete Carroll and the Hawks love to have available, so he’s likely to be on the roster. If, however, he’s unable to play due to the neck injury suffered during the 2021 season, then he’d qualify for the injury protection payment under Article 45, meaning the team would save just $1.9M of cap space by moving on.

Thus, boiling everything down to the core, the question becomes whether the Seahawks will move on from the only running back the team has had since Marshawn Lynch retired to record more than 500 rushing yards in a season multiple times in order to save two or three million dollars?