Chris Carson’s neck is fused. He is just 27 years old.
Playing football again for the Seahawks, for anyone, remains a huge risk. His career is in considerable doubt.
And he knows it.
“It’s just hard on him,” coach Pete Carroll said Thursday.
Ten days earlier, Carroll spent a long time meeting with his running back at Seahawks headquarters to discuss his future, in life and football.
“I mean, our guys love this game that they grow up playing, and when they sense that there may be an end to it, it’s hard,” Carroll said. “It’s difficult and it’s real.
“And we’re going to love him through it and help him as much as possible, if that’s the case — like we do with everybody when it comes to the end of it. It’s inevitable. It’s coming, but it’s always too soon.
“We’re trying to fight that off. And he knows that.”
Carson had vertebrae-fusion surgery in his neck this past winter. Seattle’s leading rusher failed a first examination late last month to clear him to return for the 2022 season. He will have a second one this month.
It will determine if he ever plays again.
“We are waiting for, there is kind of a big assessment to be done, it’s about two weeks from now, from the docs and the surgeon and all that. They will reconvene and see where he is, and let us know,” Carroll said.
“We could have made the decision that he is ready to go (in an exam in late May). That could have happened. That didn’t happen. Now we are into the next phase of it. We’ll see what happens here. Just holding good hope, because he’s worked really hard and wants to come back. …
“The fact that we could have known — give us the green light, here we go — that didn’t happen.”
Carroll said Carson is concerned. Understandably.
“He’s concerned because he wants to play, and he loves the game and he’s a worker,”” Carroll said. “He wants to work and push and all that, and there’s some things that he was still a little bit restrained to do, so he wasn’t quite ready to do everything at that time.
“It’s just hard on him. …He’s battling. He’s doing everything he can, and he wants to compete all the way to the last word. So he’s going for it.”
Carroll’s bond with Carson
Carroll has a particular bond with Carson.
He championed the Seahawks drafting him in the seventh-round in 2017 after just two, injury-shortened seasons in major-college football at Oklahoma State, as a junior-college transfer. Carroll loved Carson’s relentlessly battering running style that punished defenders.
After Carson broke his leg four games into his rookie season of 2017, Carroll made him Seattle’s lead back in 2018. He was as close to Marshawn Lynch in style, toughness and production as the Seahawks had had since Lynch was bulldozing into consecutive Super Bowls in the 2013 and ‘14 seasons.
That style contributed to the situation Carson is now facing.
Just two seasons plus four games of 2021 since he first became a starter, he is facing the possibility his career is over. He’s earned $9.2 million in his five-year career, the first and last of which he played in only four game because of injuries.
Less money than he sought
He sought tens of millions in a new deal before the 2021 season. He was upset the Seahawks hadn’t talked to him about a new deal in all of 2020.
The team was afraid to commit the big, guaranteed money Carson sought because of his injury history. He’s not alone. Running backs in the NFL have the sport’s shortest of short shelf lives: less than three seasons in an average career.
That’s why the league’s market bottomed out on Carson last year. He shopped in free agency last spring but settled on returning to Seattle on a two-year, $10 million contract with $5.5 million guaranteed.
The guaranteed money, while far less than he sought, was important. Carson bought his mom a new house with some of it.
In the spring of 2021 Carson purchased the house his mother, Dina Rowe, had been renting from a family friend since a fire burned down Carson’s family home in Lilburn, Georgia. That was in 2013, two days after Christmas, when Carson was home on break from a life detour at Butler Community College in Kansas.
“We just paid her house off. That was something that I wanted to do,” Carson said last year with pride in his voice.
He hoped to produce for the Seahawks, then earn more money in free agency after this coming season.
He may not get that chance.
‘One of my favorite Seahawks, ever’
Carroll didn’t hide his love for Carson Thursday.
“He’s been one of my favorite Seahawks, ever. And I loved what he stood for and what he brought,” Carroll said.
“We’d love to have him back again. He’s a very special player and a very special competitor on the team and personally.
“So we’ll keep our fingers crossed.”
The issue, Carroll said, is that Carson still doesn’t have full range of motion in his neck to play football safely.
It’s a huge issue for an NFL running back, who hits and gets hit on just about every play, harder than most players.
It’s a quality-of-life issue as much as a football one.
Carroll said Carson is “right at the cusp of getting there” with the range of motion in his neck that would convince doctors to clear him to play.
He has six weeks until training camp begins.
“The time is on him now. Can he beat the clock here a little bit?” Carroll said. “So, he’s close. He’s really close, and he knows that. He’s frustrated that he couldn’t show it this time around, but he knows, OK, here’s our next loop, so he’s going for it — just like our guys know how to do. We’re all pulling for him.”
This story was originally published June 9, 2022 8:39 PM.