In three of the last four seasons, excluding 2018 when he was traded mid-season, Carlos Hyde has rushed for over 900 yards.
It may sound pedestrian, but it's not. Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott is the only running back to have successfully capped 900 yards in the last four seasons; Dolphins’ Jordan Howard and Ravens’ Mark Ingram join Hyde as the other three-season winners since 2016. There's a lot of rushers with two seasons with 900-or-more yards, and I imagine given the recent bloom of talented young running backs, there will be more qualifiers soon. But as of right now, Hyde stands in thin company.
I don't use this measure to make the case that Hyde is good. In 2017, he had 938 yards on 240 carries — a 3.9 yards-per-carry average — for the 49ers, in what was a rather disappointing season. Hyde doesn't have a significant role as a pass-catcher, is only an average pass-protection rusher and doesn't have much juice to generate explosive plays. Hyde is a get-what-is-blocked running back and is reliable and consistent as such. Beyond that, he isn't much more.
Hyde penned a one-year, $4 million deal with the Seahawks on Friday. This is a pretty standard veteran contract for a solid player, but some were quick to laugh at the Seahawks, whose current running back room houses Chris Carson, 2018 first-round selection Rashaad Penny, 2019 sixth-round pick Travis Homer, who plays on special teams, 2020 fourth-round selection DeeJay Dallas and now Hyde.
Yes, the Seahawks love running the football and seem fine with pouring resources into the running back position that other squads don't, but it's the fact that Hyde was available altogether that matters. Seattle only got Hyde because another veteran running back — Devonta Freeman, a player who is arguably more talented than Hyde — wasn't interested in a similar one-year deal that maxed out at $4 million in value.
There are veteran running backs on the market; there always are. But Hyde has been productive, generally healthy and is still pretty young. He will turn 30 in September. Hyde has a second-round draft capital and good tenure in the league. Just a few years ago, he would have profiled as a much bigger ticket than he did in the 2020 offseason.
In 2016, the Buccaneers signed home-grown Doug Martin, a 26-year-old RB with 4.4 career yards per carry (YPC), to a five-year, $35 million dollar deal. Chris Ivory had his first 1,000-yard rushing season at the age of 27 and turned around to sign a five-year, $32.5 million contract with the Jaguars. Matt Forte, coming off his age-30 season with 4.2 career YPC and a valuable receiving profile, signed with the Jets for three years and $12 million; it was Hyde’s deal three times over.
The national discussion and valuation of running backs has certainly shifted since then; Hyde’s contract is yet another example. Middle-aged, middle-tier veteran rushers are on the market longer now than ever before, and accordingly, come off the market cheaper than ever before. The more the league adopts the idea that passing is king and rushing success is more so a product of offensive line play than running back play, the more the NFL will continue to devalue the position. It will lead to more committee approaches with cheap rookie running backs and the occasional veteran acquisition.
Teams like the Seahawks will pick up the scraps and more power to them. Their running game is at least protected from injury with the depth they now have. Hyde's contract serves as a good measuring stick for just how far the perception of free-agent running backs has shifted, and in perhaps just another few years, players of Hyde's caliber will only be taking a fraction of what he got this year.