NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Seattle Seahawks

Seattle Seahawks running back Chris Carson (32) rushes against the Dallas Cowboys during the second quarter at CenturyLink Field. Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports

RENTON — NFL reality dictates that, as much as Chris Carson has to play for this season with the Seahawks a legitimate Super Bowl contender, the future is always looming.

Carson can be an unrestricted free agent after the 2020 season. While the Seahawks can re-sign him at any time, at the moment it's unclear if they will, and Carson could find himself hitting the market in March.

That's one reason Carson decided this year that as long as he can walk, he's playing on Sunday (or Monday or Thursday) for all 16 games. He's never done that. He played 14 games in 2018 and had season-ending injuries in 2017 and 2019, holding him to four and 15 games, respectively.

Last Wednesday, once he realized he had suffered no significant damage in his knee after being tackled by Dallas' Trysten Hill, who gave Carson's knee an extra twist that earned him a fine from the NFL, Carson told Seahawks coach Pete Carroll he was playing in Miami.

"That's a goal that I set for myself this year," Carson said to media via Zoom on Thursday. "I wanted to play 16 games, no matter what the situation is. Injuries, stuff like that, I want to tell myself if I can play through it, I'm going to play through it. I know that's one big notch that a lot of teams have on me is, 'Can you play a whole season?' And I want to prove to myself and prove to everybody else that I can."

The play by Hill drew loud condemnation by a few of Carson's teammates as well as Carroll, who said on his radio show that, "I was really pissed about that."

Thursday marked the first time Carson had talked to media since that play.

What did he think of it?

"Kind of what everybody thought about it," Carson said. "I thought it was a bullshit-ass play."

Carson took some solace that Hill apologized.

"Yeah, he reached out to me," Carson said. "I read it and I appreciate him reaching out and apologizing for everything."

But in the moment, Carson was as angry as his teammates, coaches and Seahawks fans.

"Yeah, I was nervous (about how bad the injury could be)," Carson said. "I mean, that's one of my injury legs that I had during high school (when he suffered an ACL tear), so my first initial reaction was something happened again, you know. I felt a sharp pain. I was relieved once the MRI results came in and said that I was good, just a sprain and everything like that. So I was kind of relieved about that."

It goes without saying the Seahawks were too. Despite their increased commitment to the passing game this season, they know a time will come when they may need Carson to carry them.

Not that Carson hasn't been doing his share. While his carries are down this year — averaging 13.3 per game compared to 18.5 a year ago — his receptions are up, to 3.8 per game from 2.5 a year ago (he has 15 catches for 113 yards and three TDs).

Carson made a humorous allusion to that when asked what Russell Wilson is doing better this year.

"Checking down to the backs," Carson said with a smile.

Carson leads the Seahawks with five touchdowns and against Miami had two rushing touchdowns to move into 10th place on the Seahawks' career rushing touchdowns list.

But what may be impressing teammates and coaches more this year is Carson's toughness.

Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said Thursday the team really wasn't sure what Carson would be able to contribute during the week until seeing on gameday that he was the same as ever.

"I think it just speaks to the type of heart he has," Schottenheimer said. "The type of competitor he is."

After shaking off the knee injury to start against the Dolphins, Carson took a hard shot midway through the second quarter from Elandon Roberts.

"He caught me on the chin," Carson said. "Just a good play."

When Carson, who leads the team with 237 yards on 53 carries, went to the sideline it was tempting to think he might be done for the day.

But after being checked out and cleared to return, Carson gutted out 55 yards on 10 carries in the second half to help salt away the win.

"If it was a small percentage I could play, I'm going to play," Carson said. "So that was my mindset. Once I found out I was good, it was a no-brainer."

Some might think it a no-brainer for the Seahawks to re-sign Carson given his contributions the last four years. He's always been something of a favorite of Carroll, who, when Carson was taken in the seventh round in 2017, said he fell in love with Carson's film in the pre-draft process and hoped the team could get him.

But lots of things are at play: Rashaad Penny is potentially waiting in the wings to take over if Carson were to leave, if he can prove healthy after suffering his own ACL injury last year; rookie DeeJay Dallas' potential (and that of second-year man Travis Homer); and the running-back market continues to fluctuate. The Seahawks could gamble that they can continue to supplement the position with relatively inexpensive veterans, as it did this year with Carlos Hyde.

Carson isn't playing it cautious, even with his future on the line.

After returning to the game last week, Carson took a short pass, headed down the sideline and leapt over Miami cornerback Noah Igbinoghene for an 11-yard gain.

A few years ago, after a similar play, Carson said he'd promised his nervous mother he'd stop jumping over opponents.

"I mean, sometimes you gotta go back on promises," Carson said. "But I talked to my mom after the game, and she said it was straight. She said it was a good play. So I think she gave me the green light."

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