The Seattle Seahawks have a run game problem; more than one run game problem, actually. Their biggest, however, is who will be the lead back next season. Head coach Pete Carroll’s insistence on establishing the run is more heightened than ever following a season where Seattle almost perfectly split a pass-heavy attack before reverting back to an often unsuccessful rushing attack.
After Seattle’s 12-4 season and another early exit from the playoffs, the team fired offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer for “philosophical differences” and hired former Los Angeles Rams passing-game coordinator Shane Waldron, who, in part, secured the role because of his alignment with Carroll.
“There was so much philosophical alignment between he and I,” Waldron told NFL media during his introductory press conference in early February. “I had mentioned this to him: It wasn't like an interview where you're trying to sell yourself to win the job in any sort of sales pitch. It was a conversation, and it was a football discussion that had so many things in alignment that it felt just like a natural progression as we got to know each other and talk through things.”
Carroll made it clear, with Schottenheimer’s exit and Waldron’s entrance, that it’s his way or no way; and again, in 2021, the Seahawks will continue to focus on the run. It’s part of their game that hasn’t been dominant since Marshawn Lynch was diving into the end zone after running through entire defenses. In the six seasons since Seattle’s consecutive Super Bowl appearances, it’s finished four seasons in the top five average rushing yards per game; and in 2018 the Seahawks bested the Baltimore Ravens’ run game, finishing with a league-leading 160-yard average.
Chris Carson has been RB1 for a bulk of that time, moving into a starting role in 2018 and having back-to-back seasons of 1,000-plus yards. When Seattle moved to a pass-first approach, more affectionately known as “letting Russ cook,” Carson’s stats plummeted. But the fourth-year back is still expecting top dollar as he approaches free agency, and it’s unlikely the Seahawks will match that. According to The Athletic’s Michael-Shawn Dugar, the two parties will likely be unable to agree on a figure. Carson wants at least $8 million per year, and the Seahawks are unlikely to meet that, especially at this position.
It would be surprising if Carroll spent big on a running back, even a ‘homegrown’ one like Carson. Lynch signed a two-year, $24 million extension in 2015 but that was after consecutive Pro Bowl nods and back-to-back Super Bowl appearances. Since then, only draft picks have signed multiyear contracts with the Seahawks. That’s partly because there haven’t been any runners worth multiyear deals, but I do think Seattle’s frugality there is largely tied to the team’s philosophy about paying the position.
The Seahawks’ reliance and commitment to the run won’t necessarily translate monetarily to the position. As Dugar points out, the devaluation of running backs helps Seattle here, and it could find its next RB1 when free agency begins in March.
Carson’s looming fate doesn’t alter the team’s trajectory for 2021. Carroll and Waldron seemed to be walking in unison toward the Seahawks’ offensive approach for the upcoming season. Wilson has vehemently expressed his desire to have more say and more control in the team’s schemes in an effort to return to the upper echelon of NFL success.
The biggest problem here, however, (and the biggest problem facing whoever becomes Seattle’s RB1) is Seattle’s success more often than not comes when Wilson is cooking; taking away from the rushing attack and, in turn, the running back. If the Seahawks can truly have a balanced offense, with the protection of a solidified offensive line to boot, all parties could work in harmony—this just hasn’t happened for a very long time in Seattle.