Realistic Landing Spot Predictions for Chris Carson in 2021 NFL Free AgencyMarch 9, 2021
Realistic Landing Spot Predictions for Chris Carson in 2021 NFL Free Agency
Running back will be one of the most unpredictable positions in 2021 NFL free agency in large part thanks to Chris Carson.
The 2017 seventh-round pick has run for 3,062 yards and 21 touchdowns and caught 94 passes for 716 yards and six touchdowns over the past three years. He has started 41 of a possible 48 games for the Seattle Seahawks over that span and helped them make the playoffs in every season.
The Seahawks are currently projected to have $25.6 million in salary-cap space heading into free agency, but Carson isn't their only notable free agent. Between cornerbacks Shaquill Griffin and Quinton Dunbar, linebacker K.J. Wright, defensive end Bruce Irvin and guard Mike Iupati, Seattle likely won't be able to bring everyone back.
Because of Carson's likely asking price, Michael Shawn-Dugar of The Athletic believes he "will be running through defenders for another team in 2021." The following five teams should be interested in him based on positional need and their spending power.
New York Jets
The New York Jets need all of the skill-position talent they can get as they look to either build around quarterback Sam Darnold or a rookie passer whom they select second overall.
Which is another way of saying that leaning on 37-year-old Frank Gore won't work again.
Gore led the Jets in rushing last year with only 653 yards and two scores. His 187 attempts were far ahead of rookie La'Mical Perine (64) and Ty Johnson (54) even though he averaged only 3.5 yards per carry.
If the Jets don't want to spend some of their $82.3 million in cap space on a running back, they could hope Perine or Johnson breaks out or select a running back prospect in the draft. But they'd be better off signing a 26-year-old workhorse with two 1,000-yard seasons under his belt over the past three years.
Regardless of whether the Jets roll with Darnold or a rookie under center, they'll need to supply their quarterback with more backfield help to keep defenses honest.
Fresh off an appearance in the AFC Championship Game, the Buffalo Bills should be in win-now mode. Although they spent third-round picks on running backs Devin Singletary in 2019 and Zack Moss in 2020, that shouldn't preclude them from signing Carson in free agency.
Singletary led the Bills with 687 rushing yards and two scores while averaging 4.4 yards per carry, and Moss added 481 rushing yards and four touchdowns while averaging 4.3 yards per carry. However, Singletary has fumbled five times across his 28 regular-season games, while Moss didn't offer much as a pass-catcher during his rookie season.
The Bills have two running backs hitting free agency in Taiwan Jones and T.J. Yeldon, so they'll have to bolster their backfield depth chart either way. Adding Carson to the mix with Singletary and Moss could give them one of the league's top rushing attacks.
Buffalo is currently projected to have only $4.6 million in cap space, but contract restructures could free up additional money to spend on Carson.
San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers aren't strangers to making a big splash at running back in free agency.
In 2018, the Niners signed Jerick McKinnon to a four-year, $30 million contract. However, injuries derailed his tenure in San Francisco, and both he and fellow running back Tevin Coleman are now heading into free agency.
Jeff Wilson Jr. led the Niners last year with 600 rushing yards and seven touchdowns while averaging 4.8 yards per carry. Raheem Mostert was close behind with 521 rushing yards and two scores on a 5.0 yards-per-carry average in only eight games.
Moving forward, the Niners might not be comfortable relying on Wilson, who has never played more than 12 games in a season or caught more than 13 passes. Mostert erupted for 220 yards and four touchdowns in the NFC Championship Game two seasons ago, but he has played more than 11 games in a season only once.
Armed with nearly $30 million in cap space, the Niners could sign Carson to create a strong three-headed backfield and insulate their shaky quarterback position.
Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers are currently projected to be nearly $6 million over the cap, which may make it difficult for them to re-sign Aaron Jones in free agency.
According to ESPN's Dianna Russini (h/t Zach Kruse of Packers Wire), the Packers are eyeing Carson as a possible fallback option if Jones signs elsewhere.
Jones rushed for a career-high 1,104 yards and nine touchdowns while averaging 5.5 yards per carry this past season, which would be a tall task for Carson to follow up. But he might come close as the lead back in an Aaron Rodgers-led offense if his 2018 and 2019 campaigns are any indication.
Restructuring Rodgers' contract could get the Packers back in the green, and adding Carson would be a nice win-now move if they can't afford Jones' asking price.
Regardless of whether the Miami Dolphins roll with Tua Tagovailoa or another option at quarterback in 2021, they could use some backfield reinforcements.
Myles Gaskin led the Dolphins in rushing last year with 584 yards and three scores while averaging 4.1 yards per carry over 10 games. Salvon Ahmed and Matt Breida also contributed to a ground game that averaged only 3.9 yards per carry, the fourth-worst mark in the league.
Carson, who has averaged 4.6 yards per carry across his four-year career, could slot in as Miami's backfield workhorse. The Dolphins are projected to have more than $36.6 million in cap space, so they should be able to make the money work.
Although the Dolphins might be able to squeak by with their current crop of runners, adding a standout like Carson alongside a quarterback on his rookie contract could help their chances to contend.