RENTON – As Chris Carson continues his rehabilitation from neck surgery, coach Pete Carroll on Thursday offered the most ominous indication yet that the Seahawks’ star running back might have played his final game in the NFL.
“Our guys love this game that they grow up playing, and when they sense that there may be an end to it, it’s hard. It’s difficult, and it’s real,” Carroll said. “And we’re going to love him through it and help him as much as possible, if that’s the case, like we do with everybody when it comes to the end of it. It’s inevitable. It’s coming, but it’s always too soon, so we’re trying to fight that off.”
Carson, 27, had neck surgery late last year for what Carroll at the time described as “a disc issue that needs to be fused.”
Carroll was quick to note Thursday that no final decision has been made on Carson’s potential return to the team.
Carson is scheduled to meet with his doctors and surgeon in a couple weeks, and that meeting is expected to offer a clearer picture of Carson’s progress.
This was the first time Carroll has talked publicly about the level of concern surrounding Carson’s playing future.
Carson was given an excused absence for the team’s mandatory minicamp this week at the VMAC. He was in Seattle about 10 days ago for a check-in with coaches.
“We had a real good chance to hang out with him and feel him, and he’s concerned because he wants to play,” Carroll said. “He loves the game, and he’s a worker, you know. He wants to work and push and all that, [but] there’s some things that he was still a little bit restrained to do. So he wasn’t quite ready to do everything at that time, and it’s just hard on him.”
“He’s battling. He’s doing everything he can. He wants to compete all the way to the last word. And so he’s going for it.”
A 2017 seventh-round draft pick out of Oklahoma State, Carson emerged as the Seahawks’ leading rusher in 2018, 2019 and 2020 with his fearless and physical running style. He played in just four games last season before being shut down because of the neck injury.
“He’s been one of my favorite Seahawks ever,” Carroll said. “I’ve loved what he stood for and what he brought, and we’d love to have him back again. He’s a very special player and a very special competitor. We’ll keep our fingers crossed. … We’re all pulling for him.”
Based on the two-year contract he signed in 2021, Carson earned $5.5 million last season. The Seahawks would save $4.6 million against the salary cap if Carson is released. Carson has no guaranteed money remaining on his contract, but the team would take a dead-cap hits of $1.5 million this year and $1.5 million next year if he is released.
For now, the Seahawks will continue to lean on Rashaad Penny as their No. 1 running back.
Penny had his long-awaited breakthrough over the final six games of the 2021 season, rushing for 671 yards and six touchdowns. He finished the season with an average of 6.3 yards per carry, tops in the NFL, and then signed a new one-year deal worth up to $6.5 million to stay in Seattle.
Rookie Ken Walker III also offered a strong impression in his first month with the team, even as he’s been limited with a tight hamstring, as Carroll described it.
Walker was a second-round draft pick in April after leading the Big Ten with 1,636 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns for Michigan State last fall.
“He looked great. He really did,” Carroll said of Walker. “He’s really fast. He’s really got an attitude about him. He’s nasty and physical and wants to show that and be that beautiful addition to our group. We saw him on a number of occasions getting the ball out of the backfield … where you could really see the burst. He’s a big-play guy.
“At this point, we’re looking at he and Rashaad as the potential 1-2 punch, until Chris gets gets cleared. It’s pretty exciting.”