After putting together a five-week stretch during which he was the most productive running back in the NFL, Rashaad Penny said he felt like that impressive run of games was only "the start of my journey."
On Monday, Penny and the Seahawks made it official that that journey will continue in Seattle in 2022.
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"I really wanted to be back here," Penny said Monday after re-signing with the Seahawks. "I felt like this was really home, and I felt the bond and chemistry of where we can go, the direction this team can go. We've still got a lot of great pieces. I just want to win, and I feel like that's the same thing the coaches and staff and everybody in the building wants to do."
Being able to bring Penny back was a big priority for the Seahawks, who down the stretch last season saw just how affective the offense could be with a dominant running game setting the tone.
"The running game is always such a big deal," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Monday. "It's so crucial to our success as it complements the rest of our style of play. It helps us with the throwing game too to continue to be an explosive passing team. The running game is always at the center of that. To get Rashaad coming back to us, coming off the great finish he had last year, is really a great statement for us going forward. To me it's really one of the highlights of this offseason."
For Penny, the finish to the 2021 season was in all likelihood a career-saving, or at least career-changing stretch of games. For three-plus seasons, the former first-round pick struggled with injuries, both minor and serious, most notably a torn ACL in 2019 just as he seemed to be finding his place in the offense. And when a calf injury landed Penny on injured reserve again early in what was the final year of his rookie contract, it seemed unlikely that he would have a future in Seattle.
"Not really," Penny said when asked if, prior to his big finish to the season, he though a second contract was in his future. "The adversity was crazy… No, I didn't. I thought that football was really over for me at one point."
But now football is far from over for Penny, who over the final six weeks of the season looked not only like a first-round pick, but arguably like the best running back in the league.
Over Seattle's final five games, Penny rushed for 671 yards, the most in the NFL over that span, and scored six touchdowns. For the season Penny averaged an NFL-best 6.3 yards per carry, and during that five-game finish stretch he had eight runs of 25 or more yards, tied for the most in the entire season with All-Pro running back Jonathan Taylor, who had 332 carries to Penny's 119. Penny and Taylor were the only two running backs to have two games of 170 or more yards, and Penny's 190-yard game in Week 18 was the second highest single-game total in the league in 2021 behind Minnesota running back Dalvin Cook's 205-yard game in Week 14. Penny and Taylor were also the only two players to rush for 135 or more yards four times (Taylor had five such games).
"It's really great to have him back," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said late in the season. "He is legit… He looks really good playing ball, and we need him on our team."
Penny is indeed back with the Seahawks, as Carroll had hoped, and again, he feels like he's just getting started.
"I feel like there's still a lot on the table," Penny said. "I feel like my legs and are young and fresh still, and they haven't really gotten a chance to be used a lot. Being back here, this is the best position for me, I'm in the best situation."
Penny also pointed to the presence of fellow running back and close friend Chris Carson, with whom he talks daily, as a factor in returning to Seattle.
"Our goal is to be the best 1-2 punch that's ever played the game of football," Penny said. "I feel like we really have the potential. Obviously there's health, but I think we're over that. Me and him both talk every day about it—me and him both talk every day about it. We know what we're capable of doing, and we're just blessed and thankful we get to play this game still, and just try to win games and have fun… Chris has been one of the guys I've leaned on the most since I've been here. I'm just thankful to have him around. The decision wasn't hard at all. I knew where I wanted to be."
When Carroll and general manager John Schneider held a press conference last week to discuss offseason moves that included the trade that sent Russell Wilson to Denver, Carroll spent a lot of time talking about players making the most of second chances. Penny hadn't yet re-signed by then so Carroll didn't bring him up at the time, but to Seattle's coach, the running back is an ultimate example of a player making the most of another shot. And by taking advantage of last season's opportunity, Penny has now put himself in the position to have a big impact on the offense in 2022.
"That's really what Rashaad has done," Carroll said. "He sends us into the offseason with really great hopes of having a huge impact on the Seahawks."
A look back at some of the best photos of Seahawks running back Rashaad Penny from the 2021 season.