By Bob Condotta The Seattle Times
The Seahawks’ pursuit of a veteran running back to add depth at a position that last year was decimated by injuries ended Friday as the team agreed to a one-year deal with free agent Carlos Hyde, who gained 1,070 yards during a resurgent 2019 season with the Houston Texans.
The news of Hyde’s signing was first reported by The NFL Network, and it came after a source told The Seattle Times that the team was zeroing in on Hyde after contract talks stalled with longtime Atlanta Falcons standout Devonta Freeman.
The NFL Network reported that the 6-foot, 229-pound Hyde will get a deal similar to what Seattle had been offering Freeman - a one-year contract worth up to $4 million, though likely also including some significant playing time incentives to get the entire amount.
That Seattle had made an offer of $4 million to Freeman was first reported Wednesday as it became clear the Seahawks were getting serious about adding a veteran running back before the end of the team’s offseason training program.
But Freeman - who in 2017 signed a contract with Atlanta that guaranteed him more than $22 million before being released earlier this year - wanted more. In fact, Michael Silver of the NFL Network reported Friday that Freeman is willing to sit out the season if he does not get an offer he feels is in line with his value.
A source confirmed to The Times that the Seahawks made a serious play for Freeman but that once he turned down a final offer they decided Friday to move on to Hyde, who quickly accepted.
Last season, Hyde made $2.8 million with Houston, playing in all 16 games as well as two playoff games, after spending the 2018 season with Cleveland and Jacksonville.
Hyde, who played for the 49ers from 2014-17, gained just 571 yards on 172 carries in 2018 for a 3.3-yard per carry average before looking like his old self again last season after joining the Texans and averaging 4.4 per carry - the same as Chris Carson did for the Seahawks.
The Seahawks still intend on Carson to be one of their primary offensive weapons in 2020, one reason why they didn’t want to pay too much for Freeman.
But after the merry-go-round of the end of last season and some uncertainty about the health of key players entering 2020, Seattle had made it known that it wanted to beef up the position some, especially given the running game’s importance in the team’s offence - Seattle was fourth in the league last year in rushing yards per game at 137.5.
In fact, coach Pete Carroll said at the NFL combine in February to expect the Seahawks to add to the running back corps, saying “we have to make sure we have enough depth.”
Carson has been a workhorse in rushing for more than 1,000 yards each of the past two years and Seattle will still pencil him into the top spot on the depth chart when camp begins.
But Carson has battled some significant injuries in his Seattle career, including suffering a fractured hip last December 22 that sidelined him for the final regular-season game and the playoffs. Carson is expected to be fully recovered by the time the regular season rolls around but he might not do much in training camp.
Seattle remains unclear on exactly when 2018 first-round choice Rashaad Penny will return to full duty.
Penny suffered a knee injury that included an ACL tear and other damage in a game against the Rams on December 8 and he is likely to start the year on the Physically Unable to Perform list. It was Penny’s injury that first dealt a significant blow to a Seattle running game that sputtered down the stretch as Penny and then Carson were sidelined.
If Penny were to remain on the PUP list when the regular season begins he would have to sit out the first six games of the season, and general manager John Schneider said in a recent interview with KJR-AM 950 that it would be hard for Penny to be ready for the start of the season.
Hyde’s history means he projects more as an early down running back, but he did catch 59 passes in 2017 so he would have some ability to handle the third-down/two-minute role if needed.
Besides Carson and Penny, Seattle’s running back group includes Travis Homer, who played significantly at the end of last season as a rookie, 2020 fourth-round choice DeeJay Dallas, and undrafted rookie free agents Anthony Jones and Patrick Carr.
Homer rushed for 114 yards in the regular season in 2019 including 62 on 10 carries in his lone start in the final regular-season game against the 49ers the week after Carson was lost for the season.
But Homer was held to 25 yards on 14 carries in two playoff games and exactly where he fits best in the tailback competition is still being sorted out, but the team might view him as a best fit for the third-down/two-minute back role for now.
The injuries last December compelled the Seahawks to bring Marshawn Lynch out of retirement. The Seahawks have again had talks with Lynch’s agent, according to Lynch himself in a recent ESPN interview.
But at 34, Lynch is more of a fallback option who the team knows it can call on if needed, as was the case last season when Carson, Penny and C J Prosise all suffered season-ending injuries in December.
Lynch rushed for 67 yards on 30 carries in his three games with the Seahawks and it’s thought he’d likely only continue to play if Seattle wanted him at some point this year.
Hyde will turn 30 on September 20 and has played for four teams in the past three years after initially being drafted by the 49ers in the second round out of Ohio State in 2014. Hyde’s bounceback season last year helped Houston win the AFC South and then advance to the divisional round of the playoffs.
Freeman earned a contract that made him the highest-paid running back in the NFL at the time in 2017 in the wake of Atlanta’s run to the Super Bowl in 2016, a season in which he was named to the Pro Bowl for the second consecutive year.
But his production has slid since then as his injuries have piled up. He has played in just 16 regular-season games over the past two years and averaged a career-low 3.6 yards per carry last season (656 yards on 184 attempts). Freeman also was used extensively in receiving roles and that might have been one reason Seattle avidly pursued him first among the running backs who are available. He was released by Atlanta in March in a move that saved the Falcons $3.5 million in cap space.
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