The Seattle Seahawks close out their 2021 season Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals in a game that won’t carry much meaning for either team. The Cards are heading to the playoffs, while the Seahawks will be heading home for an offseason of decisions to make regarding a very large number of impending free agents.
Among those players on whom a decision will need to be made is 2018 first round draft choice Rashaad Penny, who over the course of the last month made what was likely to be a very simple decision somewhat more complicated. This is because after dominating on the ground against the Detroit Lions, and taking home awards as both the NFC Offensive Player of the Week and the FedEx Ground Player of the Week, interest in Penny as a free agent has likely perked up in at least a handful of front offices around the league.
That said, the fact that Penny is set to be a free agent is the result of a unique combination of circumstances that have come together to potentially change his fortune. Specifically, Penny will be a free agent because he has four accrued seasons, however, he only has four accrued seasons because of the pandemic. Under normal circumstances players who were injured the year prior and start the regular season on the Physically Unable to Perform list must be on the active roster or injured reserve for at least six regular season games in order to earn an accrued season under the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Penny did not meet that requirement, though, as he spent the first 13 games of the 2020 season on the PUP list before being activated for the final three games of the season.
However, in Penny’s situation he was not required to be on the active roster for the full six games because of the COVID Amendment to the CBA. Under the COVID Amendment to the CBA, players who were on the active roster, the practice squad, the PUP list and a handful of other categories only needed to be on the active roster for a single week in order to earn an accrued season. So, when Penny was activated off the PUP list and returned to the active roster on December 19, 2020, he earned an accrued season the next day when the Seahawks defeated the Washington Football Team 20-15, as Penny carried the ball twice for six yards.
Over the next two week, Penny rushed nine more times for 28 yards, finishing the season with 11 carries for 34 yards. And one accrued season.
As a result of having earned an accrued season in 2020, Penny then positioned himself to be eligible for free agency in March of 2022 as soon as he earned an accrued season in 2021. Thus, there’s now discussion on whether the team should bring Penny back for 2022, and if so how much should they be willing to bid for his suddenly explosive services. However, had there not been a pandemic which required an amendment to the CBA and had the team not returned Penny to the roster late in the 2020 season, the discussion would be a much simpler one because Penny would be a restricted free agent. Were he a restricted free agent the choice would be a far more simple question of whether to extend an original round tender to Penny, which is slated to be in the range of $2.433M for the 2022 season.
Hindsight, of course, is 20/20, but the Seahawks activating Penny late in the 2020 season could wind up costing the team in free agency. And if it does wind up costing the team, either in the form of Penny departing for greener pastures elsewhere, all they will have received in return is 34 yards late in the 2020 season during games when Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde were largely healthy.