Whether the Seahawks ultimately have a successful 2020 season or not, they'll face a fascinating offseason. The salary cap is set to drop $25 million due to lost revenue from the COVID-19 pandemic and several key players will be headed to free agency or entering the final year of their contracts. Chief amongst them will be running back Chris Carson. The Seahawks face an interesting dilemma: should they pay their starting running back?
In what will be the most interesting debate of the offseason, both sides of the argument carry equal weight. The general consensus surrounding the position is that you don't give a second contract to non-elite runners. Some will even go so far as to claim you shouldn't pay elite running backs either.
These people will argue that the difference between elite and good isn't worth $8-10 million AAV it would cost to keep the "elite" runner. With cheap labor coming into the NFL yearly and often producing right away, you can pluck anybody off the scrap heap and make it work, particularly with an elite quarterback like Russell Wilson.
In theory, it's an extremely well-practiced and reasoned argument. But 2020 has shown a staunch contrast in Wilson's performance when Carson is available. With Carson healthy, Wilson has thrown 20 touchdowns and four interceptions. Since Carson left the Arizona game early in the second half, Wilson has thrown eight touchdowns and six interceptions and has lost three fumbles. Those are startling contrasts stastically.
But perhaps it's not the difference between Carson and DeeJay Dallas or Alex Collins talent that makes a difference. Perhaps it's just the threat to run the ball? In Seattle's five games with Carson, they averaged 24 rushing plays per game. Without Carson, that number drops down to 22 and that total has been buoyed by 28 attempts in a win over San Francisco.
But anyway you want to slice it, this year has strengthened whatever side of this debate you fall on. If you want to keep Carson, you can point to the offensive struggles that nearly perfectly coincide with his foot injury. If you want to wave goodbye to Carson, you can point to the injury itself as reason not to pay him, citing his lack of availability in his first four seasons.
One thing that seems quite certain is that the Seahawks need to at least be able to threaten the defense with the ability to run the football. Wilson is taking far too many hits thanks to the extreme pass to run ratio. Over the last two games, Seattle has attempted 78 passes to 39 runs, a perfect 2:1 ratio. This doesn't even account for the called pass plays that Wilson scrambles or when Wilson gets sacked and the hits might be impacting his decision-making.
Whether you want to pay Carson or not, one thing can be agreed on: the Seahawks need Carson back as soon as possible. His presence is severely missed both as a runner and in the passing game, as well as the physicality he brings to an otherwise soft air raid offense.