The Seahawks on Tuesday released running back Chris Carson with a failed physical designation due to a lingering neck injury, and it is expected that he will be forced to retire at the age of 27.
The NFL Network first reported the news Tuesday stating “won’t make a retirement statement, just in case his neck dramatically improves.” But if Carson cannot pass a physical he would not be able to play again. As the NFL Network reported, the failed physical designation given to him by the Seahawks will allow Carson to receive “several million” in injury protection benefits. A source confirmed the report to The Seattle Times.
Carson had one year remaining on a contract he signed in March 2021 that was due to pay him a non-guaranteed salary of $4.5 million this year. That contract included $5.5 million in guaranteed money.
Carson did not play after the fourth game of last season due to a neck issue that coach Pete Carroll said at the time was something Carson had been dealing with for a while and flared up after he played one half against the 49ers on Oct. 3. He then had cervical fusion surgery in December that the team hoped would allow him to continue to play.
However, Carson was not cleared to take part in OTAs and minicamp in the spring, and a statement from the team on Tuesday reported that he was again unable to pass a physical this week with training camp set to begin Wednesday.
“It’s a big disappointment,” Seahawks general manager John Schneider was quoted as saying via the team’s website. “We took it as long as we possibly could with him, he saw a number of specialists, but unfortunately he wasn’t able to pass our physical.”
Carroll was also quoted by the team’s website saying: “Ever since the first time I saw Chris on film, I loved his style, and I was thrilled when we were able to get him when we did. To see him grow and become such an impacting part of our program with such a great style and all of that, it was a thrill to watch. We’ll miss him and everything he brought to our program.”
Carroll in October said that Carson had been dealing with a neck injury for some time.
“He’s got an old injury that you can see (in exams),” Carroll said then. “It’s kind of, I don’t know if it’s chronic, but it occasionally pops up. It hasn’t been an issue in the past. He didn’t get hit, and that’s how he got hurt. It’s a condition he’s got probably from weightlifting and all of the stuff he’s done over the years. It could have been something a long time ago. It’s just flared up some, so we’re being real careful with him. He was too uncomfortable to play.”
When Carson was not able to get cleared to take part in the offseason program, Carroll spoke ominously of his future, admitting the team had talked with him about retiring.
“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. It’s difficult, and it’s real,” Carroll said. “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, so we’re trying to fight that.”
Carson told Heavy.com in June he hoped to keep playin,g saying: “Oh, we still going right now. I see myself playing until I feel like stopping. My mindset is never to give up. So I’m staying positive like I said, and continue to fight and get back onto the field.”
But Tuesday’s news revealed the sad reality that Carson’s career appears over.
Carson leaves Seattle with a legacy of physical and powerful running style rivaled only by Marshawn Lynch during the Carroll era of Seahawks football, and of being one of the team’s best late-round draft picks in franchise history.
Carson came to Seattle as a seventh-round draft pick in 2017 out of Oklahoma State but immediately earned a starting role. But his rookie season was cut short when he suffered a broken leg after four games and had to miss the rest of the year.
He played 41 of a possible 48 games over the following three seasons, though, rushing for a career-high 1,230 yards in 2019 — the highest single-season total for any Seahawk since Lynch in 2014.
Carson leaves the team eighth in franchise history in rushing with 3,502 yards and sixth in rushing touchdowns with 24. His 12 100-yard games since 2018 is fifth-most in the NFL.
Seattle anticipated that Carson might not be able to play this season by drafting Ken Walker III out of Michigan State 41st overall in the second round in April. Seattle also re-signed Rashaad Penny to a one-year deal in March, and Penny and Walker now become the team’s running-back duo heading into 2022 with Tuesday’s news on Carson.
Besides Penny and Walker, Seattle has four other running backs on its roster: Travis Homer, DeeJay Dallas, Josh Johnson and Darwin Thompson.
But there will never be another Carson, a player who drew respect not only for his relentless running style but for his rags-to-riches story of overcoming an ACL injury in suffered during the homecoming game of his senior year at Parkview High in Lilburn, Georgia, that led to him attending a junior college — he had been committed to Georgia — before resurrecting his career at Oklahoma State. He also talked often of his goal of buying a house for his family with his NFL money to replace one burned in a fire in 2013.
“It was something that we wanted to do and something I’m really blessed (to be able to do),” Carson said in April 2021.
At that time, he also marveled at his NFL road, from seventh-round pick to sought-after free agent.
“Me, I’m not supposed to be here,” said Carson, who made $3.7 million total in his first four years before signing his new contract in the spring of 2021. “You know, the odds are a seventh-rounder doesn’t get to free agency like that.”
“He’s been an incredible pro,” Schneider said in the release Tuesday. “A guy who brings an amazing energy about him. His running style is what we’ve always wanted here in Seattle. He’s the type of runner that the whole team feeds off of. The type of player defensive players get off the bench to watch him run — they can feel his energy. He’s the type of runner whose style affects the whole team, not just the offense.”
“He’s been one of my favorite Seahawks ever,” Carroll said in June. “I’ve loved what he stood for and what he brought, and we’d love to have him back again. He’s a very special player and a very special competitor. We’ll keep our fingers crossed. … We’re all pulling for him.”
Some of Carson’s teammates took to social media after the news broke to pay tribute. Penny simply posted a picture of himself with Carson while fellow running back Travis Homer posted a clip of a Carson TD run with the words “dog mentality.”