The 2022 Seattle Seahawks seemed to prove that running backs do, indeed, matter.
When Rashaad Penny and Kenneth Walker III were healthy and at the top of their game, the Seahawks had the kind of running attack that coach Pete Carroll always envisions as being a key to winning.
Either Penny or Walker rushed for 100 or more yards in five of Seattle’s nine wins, with Walker getting 97 in another victory.
And when Penny went down with an injury midway through Week 5, Walker took over and became just the second rookie in team history to top the 1,000-yard rushing mark (the other being Curt Warner in 1983), earning honors as one of three nominees for the league’s official Offensive Rookie of the Year Award.
But as a new offseason begins, Seattle has questions at running back as both Penny and Travis Homer — who each ended the year on injured reserve — can also now be free agents.
As we continue our overviews of Seattle’s position groups heading into the offseason, let’s look at the running back spot:
Kenneth Walker III
Snaps played in regular season: 573
Contract situation: Will be entering second season of four-year rookie deal due to make $1.088 million.
Snaps played in regular season: 170
Contract situation: An unrestricted free agent after playing out the one-year deal he signed last spring that paid him $5.63 million.
Snaps played in regular season: 196
Contract situation: Dallas is entering the final season of his four-year rookie deal due to make $1.01 million.
Snaps played in regular season: 165
Contract situation: Homer is an unrestricted free agent after his four-year rookie contract expired.
Snaps played in regular season: 5 on offense, 90 on special teams where he became the primary kickoff returner at year’s end.
Contract situation: Igwebuike is an exclusive-rights free agent (ERFA).
Tony Jones Jr.
Snaps played in regular season: 28
Contract situation: Jones is a restricted free agent.
Snaps played in regular season: 0
Contract situation: Thompson signed a futures deal last month, so he’s under contract for 2023.
Snaps played in regular season: 17 on offense
Contract situation: Unrestricted free agent.
If Seattle’s 2022 season also did anything, it proved the value of having depth at running back.
A year ago, the Seahawks had Chris Carson on the roster and were hoping to re-sign Penny. But they knew Carson’s career was at risk due to a neck injury — he ended up having to retire in July — which is why they drafted Walker at No. 41 overall in April after they re-signed Penny the previous month.
They hoped for a Penny-Walker 1-2 punch but wanted insurance in case injuries happened — and they did.
Still, what Seattle got out of the Penny-Walker duo was substantial — 1,396 yards on 285 carries, 4.9 per attempt, and 11 touchdowns. And that was with Walker getting just 65 yards on 18 carries and no TDs before taking over for Penny in the second half against the Saints, and with Walker also missing a game and a half due to injury.
The rest of Seattle’s running backs combined for 283 yards on 66 carries, 4.2 per attempt, and no touchdowns.
That included 186 for 35 from Dallas, who got some of his best carries out of the wildcat formation.
Dallas and Homer again largely shared the third-down/two-minute-back role, combining for 33 receptions for 283 yards and a touchdown.
But maybe lost in the shuffle of Walker’s running this year was that he also caught 27 passes on 35 targets for 165 yards. While the 6.1 yards per catch isn’t overly impressive, Walker showed some potential as a three-down back.
With Walker and Dallas under contract, and Igwebuike, who was a fun late-season find as a kickoff returner with some running-back potential, essentially under club control as an ERFA, the big questions are the futures of Penny and Homer.
Carroll said Penny should be recovered soon enough from the ankle injury that ended his season, indicating his health won’t be an issue in any decision on whether to re-sign him. But the question becomes what Penny’s market is and if each side wants to give it another go given what have been obvious injury issues — he has played in 42 of a possible 82 regular-season games in his career.
But another one-year deal at maybe a lesser rate than a year ago would seem worth it considering how well Penny ran when he was healthy last year. And with what could be a pretty strong group of free agents hitting the market, Seattle might be a good option for Penny, as well.
Certainly, with Walker showing he can handle the job, it doesn’t seem Seattle would need to make much of an investment in the RB spot in free agency.
Seattle might also have the same question about Homer, who has also been an especially valuable special-teams player when healthy but missed 17 games the past three years.
But the Seahawks have shown a proclivity for liking continuity, and with the offensive system remaining intact they might try to reunite with Homer for another year.
The Seahawks also retained Thompson, who showed flashes in the preseason, and Jones, to fill out depth.
But a veteran third-down back set to be a free agent who might be intriguing is Jerick McKinnon of the Chiefs, who played this year on a one-year, $1.272 million deal. He is set to be 31 next year and might not command a whole lot more.
While Seattle probably wouldn’t go after a running back again as high in the draft as it did in 2022 to get Walker, it could be tempted to take one again with one of its 10 picks — especially depending on what happens in free agency — as this is regarded as an especially deep draft class.
Bellore also represents an interesting decision. He again was one of Seattle’s best special-teamers and provides versatility with his linebacker background and ability to play there — he actually played nine snaps on defense this year. But he turns 34 in May. However, a one-year deal at the veteran minimum, which in his case would be $1.165 million, might be in order for a player who is also a valuable locker-room presence, as witnessed by being voted by teammates a special-teams captain each of the last two years.
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