After leaning on Russell Wilson‘s right arm over their first three games, it seemed like only a matter of time before the Seattle Seahawks turned back to Chris Carson‘s legs for some of the heavy lifting on offense.
But no one who saw what happened last week at CenturyLink Field — Carson grabbing his left knee in pain, limping off the field and missing the remainder of Seattle’s victory over the Dallas Cowboys — would have predicted it would happen on Sunday in Miami.
Then again …
“Chris Carson is an animal as y’all have seen the past two weeks,” wide receiver DK Metcalf said after the running back scored his first two rushing touchdowns of the season in the Seahawks’ 31-23 win over the Dolphins.
Carson’s status was in question after his knee was badly twisted against Dallas, causing a first-degree strain. But an injury that initially looked as though it could sideline him for several weeks — if not land him back on injured reserve — didn’t even cause him to miss a practice. He started against Miami, handled his usual majority of the backfield workload with Carlos Hyde inactive and finished with 100 total yards on 19 touches, including a season-high 80 rushing yards on 16 carries.
That was despite missing the final six-plus minutes of the first half after taking a hard hit by Elandon Roberts, which forced a fumble (which Seattle recovered) and sent Carson to the sideline to be evaluated for a head injury.
“Chris is a stud football player,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “He ain’t ever backing down from anything. He told us when we got back on Wednesday, he said, ‘I think I’m OK. I’m going to make it.’ So we took it easy on him first couple of days, got him through the week and he looked great. It really helped us because Carlos couldn’t go with a sore shoulder.
“Chris ran really well today. It was 80 yards’ worth of really good running. He’s such a tough football player and a great competitor that that’s not a surprise to us that he would bounce back like that and get back up off the turf. He took a hell of a shot and got back up and got right after it again. He’s a terrific football player.”
Carroll had objected strongly to the tackle from Dallas’ Trysten Hill that injured Carson, saying last week he was “really pissed” about it. Teammates did the same, with K.J. Wright calling for the NFL to discipline Hill beyond a fine — he was docked $6,522 for the play — and Quandre Diggs saying he should have been ejected.
Perhaps adding to the Seahawks’ displeasure was the fact that Carson had already suffered enough injury misfortune — missing 15 games over his first three seasons — and didn’t need any more in a contract year. He’s playing out the final year of a rookie deal that’s paying him $2.133 million in 2020.
Meanwhile, some of his fellow running backs from the 2017 draft have cashed in with recent megadeals: Christian McCaffrey ($16 million per season), Alvin Kamara ($15 million), Dalvin Cook ($12.6 million) and Joe Mixon ($12 million).
Carson, 26, said his representatives and the Seahawks didn’t have discussions this offseason about a new deal, putting him on track to reach the open market barring a rare in-season extension or the franchise tag.
The future of the rest of the Seahawks’ backfield is uncertain. Hyde is playing on a one-year deal. Rashaad Penny, their first-round pick in 2018, is on the physically unable to perform list as he works his way back from the serious knee injury that ended his 2019 season. Next year will be the final year of his rookie deal if the Seahawks decline his fifth-year option. Seattle’s other two tailbacks, Travis Homer and rookie DeeJay Dallas, are more change-of-pace options than the type of powerful backs that Carroll prefers in the lead role. They combined for 13 yards on six carries Sunday.
“He’s the lead horse and we go how he goes,” Dallas said of Carson, who’s averaging 4.5 yards per carry this season and has three receiving touchdowns. “Today he was balling, man, and it just amped me and Travis up just to ball a little bit harder. He does come in and set the tone. He’s a warrior, man. The boy just had some crazy stuff happen to him against Dallas but he came back out and showed that he was a warrior. So, hats off to him.”
It’s hard to imagine the Seahawks (4-0) paying Carson if his price tag approaches the top of the market. Teams can’t pay everyone in the salary-cap world of the NFL, especially when they’re already paying as much as the Seahawks are for Wilson ($35 million per season) and linebacker Bobby Wagner ($18 million). Seattle has others in line for extensions, including safety Jamal Adams and cornerback Shaquill Griffin.
At the same time, it’s hard to imagine the Seahawks’ backfield without Carson.
“Chris is a monster,” Wright said. “He’s a dog, man. I’m so glad that I don’t got to tackle anybody in the league like him. I don’t believe there’s anybody that has his running style and I can’t wait until he gets paid, whether it’s here or somewhere else. But he’s definitely top five in my eyes because I’ve seen a lot of running backs — there’s nobody like him.”