The Seahawks offense took a significant hit on Friday with coach Pete Carroll announcing star running back Chris Carson will undergo season-ending neck surgery.
Carson, 27, has been out since Week 5 due to what Carroll called a "spot" issue on his vertebrae that occurred due to wear and tear. He landed on injured reserve the following week and missed each of Seattle's past five games, replaced by Alex Collins in the starting lineup.
Carson was designated to return to practice from injured reserve last week, but despite his best efforts, he didn't progress as the Seahawks hoped he would and didn't practice at all this week. By undergoing cervical surgery now, though his future remains cloudy given the nature of his injury and the position he plays, Carroll remains hopeful the fifth-year back will be ready to roll in 2022.
“He worked as hard as he could at it,” Carroll told reporters on Friday. “We look forward to him getting it all taken care of and having a big year next year... He tried like crazy to get it done, but this is so he can play next year.”
Injuries have unfortunately been a consistent problem for Carson throughout his NFL career. He missed the final 12 games of his rookie season with a broken ankle, fractured a hip at the tail end of the 2019 season, and missed four games with a mid-foot sprain last season. In total, he has missed 24 games over the past five seasons and with this latest setback, he will have missed 32 games, or an average of 6.4 games per season.
After testing free agency and not receiving expected interest from other teams due in large part to durability concerns, Carson eventually returned to the Seahawks on a two-year deal in March that included $5.5 million in guaranteed money. He got off to a strong start with 91 rushing yards in a season-opening win over the Colts and scored a pair of touchdowns the following week against the Titans before suffering the injury.
According to Carroll, surgery had been discussed as a possibility since Carson first sat out against the Rams in Week 5, but the team and the bruising back believed he could make it back to contribute for the Seahawks with rest and time to heal. Unfortunately, it became clear after he practiced twice last week that he wasn't going to play again without first undergoing an operation and the decision was made not to put it off any longer.
“That’s why it has taken so long, it’s precisely why it has taken so long, because of his nature," Carroll elaborated. "He is a such battler, competitor, and is so tough that he wanted to keep taking another shot at it, keep waiting, and see if we could win it, but we couldn’t. This will be a real positive thing that will happen. Had he made it through the season that would have been considered anyway, so he will have more time and get another couple of months at it to get a jump on it.”
With his season now finished, Carson produced 232 rushing yards and three touchdowns in four starts, leaving a major void in Seattle's backfield. While the team has already been playing without him for more than a month, his physical presence will be missed for a running game that hasn't been able to get rolling this year and currently ranks 29th in the NFL.
“Well, we have been dealing with it for some time, so we’ve had to be prepared to move on," Carroll stated. "But Chris has been one of my favorite guys around here for a long time, since we found him, drafted him, and all of the toughness and style that he brought to us. He will always be one of my favorite guys and looking up there at the big 32, there’s something about the way he carried it. We obviously have missed him all season. We have to take care of him and get him right.”
Moving forward, Collins is expected to stay in the starting lineup as his replacement after playing well over the last five games. Behind him, Travis Homer has flashed in limited action as a third down back and Rashaad Penny and DeeJay Dallas remain on the roster as reserve options.
On Friday, Carroll made it sound like Penny, who has struggled mightily with his own injury problems, could be in line for more extensive action with Carson officially done for the remainder of the year. So far, the former first-round pick has been a non-factor, rushing 15 times for 24 yards in four games this season.
“I’m really looking forward to Rashaad, I’m looking forward to see where he goes and what he can contribute this week. He has a really good role for us, and we are anxious to see him get going, obviously, for the reasons why. It’s really his time to help us. As we go through the next couple of weeks, you will see him continue to be a big part of it.”