SEATTLE, WA - As the Seahawks walked off the field for the last time following a 30-20 wild card loss to the Rams back in January, Chris Carson wasn't sure where his football journey would take him next.
Previously entering the NFL as an unheralded seventh-round pick out of Oklahoma State, Carson had transformed himself into one of the league's most productive backs during four seasons in Seattle. Improving as an all-around player each season, he rushed for over 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons in 2018 and 2019 and though he was held under 700 rushing yards last season, he established new career-bests in receiving yards and touchdowns.
But with the Seahawks set to enter the offseason with more than 20 unrestricted free agents, including Carson, while dealing with serious salary cap limitations, the bruising ball carrier understood there was a chance he wouldn't be back.
"For the most part, I just took it as I'm done with football for right now," Carson told reporters on Wednesday, suggesting he tried to distance himself from thinking about the process too much. "But I also didn't get signed while other running backs were getting signed during my last season, so it was a possibility I was done with Seattle. But I never think too much about it, anything can happen."
When free agency opened on March 17, all signs pointed to Carson being on the way out. The Seahawks were barely under the salary cap, which plunged to $182.5 million league-wide due to minimal attendance at NFL games last season. The team also re-signed Alex Collins in February, suggesting they were preparing to move forward without him.
However, running backs were hit harder than any position by lowered cap number. Aside from Aaron Jones, who signed a four-year, $48 million extension with the Packers, veteran backs struggled to earn deals approaching expected value.
For a back such as Carson who had been extremely productive but also battled injuries throughout his career, he wasn't exempt from the diminished market. Though he admitted several other teams made respectable offers for his services, after speaking with his family and friends and praying on the decision, he ultimately opted to stay in Seattle.
"It was definitely difficult," Carson responded. "I would just say the whole process and everything like that. Teams made offers and there were definitely some teams that made it tough to sign back with the Seahawks. But it was just the right feeling."
As Carson weighed his options, he was pushed back to Seattle in part thanks to the recruiting efforts of quarterback Russell Wilson, who he said was "definitely in my ear" this offseason. Interestingly, close friend and fellow running back Rashaad Penny was also heavily involved in persuading him to come back as well.
Flying out to Seattle to put the pen to paper, Carson officially signed a two-year, $10.425 million contract on March 27. No longer having to fret about his job security or the prospect of not playing in Seattle anymore, he's shifted his focus solely to preparing for the upcoming season and compared to earlier in his career, he has made some significant adaptations to his training regimen.
During his first three seasons in the league, Carson primarily worked out with the same trainer in the Seattle area. But when the COVID-19 pandemic began, that trainer closed down his gym, forcing the running back to scramble looking for other options to stay in shape for the upcoming season.
Carson eventually found another quality trainer in the Seattle who he continues to work with when in the region. But back home in Atlanta, Georgia, he has also been training with Joel Seedman, who he indicated has helped sharpen up areas where he felt he was "lacking" with a differentiated training program.
While Carson wasn't necessarily excited about the idea and doesn't like drawing attention to himself, he agreed to allow Seedman to post a few videos featuring him partaking in several unorthodox exercises, including one where he does push ups while balancing on a yoga ball.
"It's benefited me a lot," Carson remarked. "I just feel like my core and everything has definitely improved. You can see it in the videos and everything like that."
With these modifications to his training plan, Carson once again has his sights set on playing all 16 games, something he has yet to accomplish since being drafted by Seattle. He's also banking on improved core strength among other things allowing him to be even tougher for opposing defenders to bring down on Sundays.
If both of those things happen, there's little reason to believe Carson can't return to the 1,000-yard mark for Seattle in 2021. With Penny back healthy, he believes the duo has a good shot at being one of the most formidable backfield tandems in the sport, which will help take pressure off Wilson and the passing game.
But most importantly, understanding how rare it is for seventh-round draft choices to earn a second NFL contract, he's grateful to remain with the team that took a chance on him five years ago. When when asked to rate returning to the Seahawks on a scale of 1 to 10, he ecstatically replied, "I'm a 10!"
"It's a blessing. It's just part of my story. For me, it's something I can always be proud of. I'm not supposed to be here. The odds are that a seventh rounder doesn't get to free agency like that, so it's a blessing."