By John Boyle
If former first-round pick James Carpenter is going to be a Seahawk beyond the 2014 season, he’ll have to prove to his team that he’s worth a new contract.
Under the conditions of the league’s latest collective bargaining agreement, teams have the option to use a fifth-year option on that player, but have to decide to do so by a set date prior to the player’s fourth year. Friday was that deadline, and the Seahawks declined to pick up Carpenter’s option, meaning he’ll be an unrestricted free agent after the 2014 season.
The news hardly comes as a surprise given Carpenter’s inability to consistently hold down a starting job. A surprise pick at No. 25 in the 2011 draft, Carpenter was immediately named the starting right tackle, but his rookie season ended after nine games when he suffered a serious knee injury in practice. Carpenter then moved to left guard in 2012, but played in only seven games that year. He was healthy for the entire 2013 season, but traded time at left guard with Paul McQuistan, starting 10 games. Carpenter also got the starting nod in Super Bowl XLVIII after not playing in Seattle’s previous two playoff games.
The move shouldn’t be seen as a sign that the Seahawks have given up on Carpenter—with McQuistan leaving in free agency, Carpenter will be given every chance to win a starting job—as much as a sign that they aren’t yet confident in him as a long-term solution at guard. Most NFL teams picked up players’ fifth-year options, which are guaranteed only against injury (meaning teams could cut the player before next season with no repercussions if that player in healthy, hardly a guarantee with Carpenter). Picking up the option would have meant paying Carpenter more than $7 million in 2015, a big number for a guard, and perhaps the Seahawks, one of few teams to officially announce a declined option, hope Carpenter will be motivated by having what amounts to a prove-it year in 2014.