If you’re struggling to imagine life without Marshawn Lynch, or consider a mutual parting of ways this off-season to be a dumb mistake, remember this — the Lynch era in Seattle is almost certainly done in 2016 anyway. He’ll be out of contract barring an extension. He’ll be into his 30’s. He’s already being rested to start games. What some might consider to be a preposterous move might actually just be sound judgement — accepting the situation for what it is and making a difficult decision one year earlier than you might prefer.
So why might the Super Bowl be his final game for the Seahawks on Sunday?
Firstly, he’s asked for more money in each of the last two off-seasons. I don’t see any reason why this won’t be an issue again in 2015. Lynch wants to be paid an amount he feels, not unfairly, he deserves. The Seahawks were willing to pay Percy Harvin more money to join the club. They will hand Russell Wilson probably the most expensive contract in the NFL in a few weeks. Lynch has done as much as anyone to establish the identity of this team under Pete Carroll — and he knows it.
The position of the front office is equally understandable. They only handed Lynch a new contract in 2012, worth $30m ($17m guaranteed). Nobody forced Lynch to sign that deal. And yet his representatives have a counter — the subsequent addition of Harvin on mega-money for example. His continued production and performance — leading the team to two Super Bowls. Or the fact there are five other running backs on better contracts (according to Spotrac). Assuming DeMarco Murray receives a handsome contract in free agency, Lynch could be the 7th best paid running back in the league. There are not seven better running backs than Lynch in the NFL.
Ultimately we return to a familiar crossroads. An unhappy Lynch wanting his due, a team insisting he’s under contract for 2015. I think it’d be naive to think the two parties will just continue on in harmony without some form of pay increase or extension. I can’t imagine Wilson’s +$20m a year deal will have a positive impact here. I also can’t imagine there’s much appetite for another dose of hold outs and uneasiness — leading to more weekly national news coverage.
A report this week suggested the Seahawks are prepared to welcome him back. That’s an upgrade from a prior report suggesting Lynch and members of Seattle’s front office were expecting to part ways. But any return is almost certainly based on either the team conceding their position and paying up or Lynch accepting he won’t be getting any more money. Is that a step either party is willing to take?
It’s a tough one, because Lynch is still such a fantastic player. He is much loved by his team mates. But such is the business of football — and the dynamic of the team will change when Russell Wilson signs a contract worth over $100m. If Lynch is willing to accept his salary for 2015 — there’s no reason to believe he won’t return. I just have a hard time imagining that happening. And ultimately it might be decided it’s best for both parties to go their separate ways — as agonizing as that would be I’m sure. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. The run against Arizona, the touchdowns against the Giants. The crotch-grabbing, media-snubbing enigma. I think everyone would like to see one more year. But for the purpose of this article — I’m going to take the position that we’re, sadly, coming close to the end.
So what would happen next?
Finding a replacement could be seen as a big priority. Especially considering how important the run game is to Seattle’s offense. We should also expect the Seahawks to place a high priority on adding players that will mesh with Wilson. That means a similar work ethic and love of the game. Possibly similar characters. You can never force two people to become great friends, but you can take steps to avoid the opposite happening.
Building around Wilson is going to be absolutely crucial when he signs his new contract. They have to add players that will follow his lead, not resent his new found wealth. Will they place anything in Turbin and Wilson’s close bond? Wilson regularly refers to Turbin as his best friend on the team. They room together on road trips. Turbin ended the season with 10 carries against Arizona and 11 against St. Louis. He might have the inside track to replace Lynch. But the jury’s out as to whether he can be an effective starter. The Seahawks don’t have many X-Factor playmakers — and they’ll lose a big one if Lynch moves on.
If they do decide to draft another running back to act as a ‘feature’ back — I keep returning to Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon. He’s the polar opposite of Lynch — not a great between-the-tackles runner, but an explosive home-run hitter who only needs a small crease to explode and break off big runs. That doesn’t mean he can’t get the tough yards — and anyone doubting the credentials of another productive Big-10 runner needs only to watch his two games against LSU and Auburn. He has a different running style to Lynch, but he’s no less effective.
Gordon appeals because he pretty much ticks every box. He’s a dynamic athlete and a dedicated gym-rat. There are legendary stories on campus about Gordon’s love for a work-out, as ESPN’s Chris Low explains:
It’s nearing 3 A.M. in Madison, Wisconsin, and many of Melvin Gordon’s teammates are lounging at home after a June night out — splayed on couches, winding down, getting ready to call it a night. Gordon is not. To find him, you’d need to look to the front yard, where the 6-foot-1 junior has tossed a rope ladder to the ground and chosen this time, as good a time as any, to run a few agility drills. Bouncing on his toes, knees raised high, legs pumping like pistons, soaked in sweat, he’s darting between each rung, an athlete’s version of hopscotch. Leftrightleftright, ininoutout, leftrightleftright, ininoutout. If you didn’t know better, you might think he was chasing something.
Gordon pauses, just long enough to catch his breath, and fires off a Snapchat to Kenzel Doe, a senior receiver for the Badgers: “Are you sleeping or getting better? I’m getting better.”
Doe knows the routine well. “We’ll all be hanging out, and Melvin will go home … and do drills before he goes to bed,” Doe says. “He’s always going to do a little bit extra, something to help him get to where he’s going.”
It sounds kind of Wilson-esque. We’re talking about a likable, hard-working individual with a passion for the game. And another former Badger. You can see why the Seahawks might have a lot of interest in creating a potential Wilson/Gordon partnership.
“I would expect them to target a running back high in the draft. Pay attention to Melvin Gordon, who just set the national rushing record. He’s from Wisconsin, (Seahawks GM) John Schneider (is) from Wisconsin …”
The Seahawks aren’t known for tipping their hand to reporters in terms of what they plan to do in the draft, but I’m not prepared to 100% write this off as mere speculation. Chris Mortensen told Russell Wilson he was going to be a Seattle Seahawk on the set of ESPN’s NFL32 prior to the 2012 draft:
Mortensen knew of Seattle’s strong interest in Wilson, he just didn’t report anything. But that information was probably doing the rounds within league circles. And it’s not that big a stretch to wonder if similar noises are being made about possible interest in Gordon this year.
Even so, he’s considered a top 10-15 prospect. So how will the Seahawks, selecting at #31 or #32, have any shot at getting him?
Daniel Jeremiah ranks him as the tenth best player in the draft, but had him dropping to #27 overall and the Dallas Cowboys in his first mock draft. It’s quite a good review of the situation. Gordon is considered by many (not all) to be one of the top prospects in the draft. But he plays a position that recently has been ignored in the first round with only a few exceptions. Would it be a big shock if he lasts into the 20’s? Honestly, no.
Draft Tek uses a group of local experts to rank team needs for all 32 clubs. Here are the teams they rate as having a ‘priority’ (Grade ‘1’), ‘great need’ (Grade ‘2’) or starter required (Grade ‘3’) at the position:
Baltimore Ravens (Grade ‘3’)
A legit consideration given the overall quality of their roster and the recent Ray Rice fiasco. They were able to ride Justin Forsett for a year, which makes you wonder if they’ll be confident enough to avoid using a first round pick at the position. Draft Tek says they have similar needs at receiver, guard and corner (all rated Grade ‘3’). They see a 3-4 DE (or 5-technique) as a greater need (Grade ‘2’)
Buffalo Bills (Grade ‘3’)
The Bills don’t have a first round pick following the Sammy Watkins trade last year.
Denver Broncos (Grade ‘3’)
They recently spent a second round pick on another Wisconsin back (Montee Ball) and got some use out of 2013 UDFA C.J. Anderson this season. The Josh McDaniels regime spent a high first round pick on Knowshon Moreno in 2010. According to Draft Tek they have similar needs at right tackle, guard and free safety (all rated Grade ‘3’). It could be an option, especially if Peyton Manning retires and they have to build around Brock Osweiler or another quarterback.
Jacksonville Jaguars (Grade ‘2’)
The Jags need a feature runner and could be a candidate to jump back into the first round if a player like Gordon or Todd Gurley lasts long enough to make a deal viable. They almost certainly won’t draft a runner with the #3 overall pick. Without moving up, they’re no threat to any team picking late in the first round who might be targeting a running back. Draft Tek says they have a bigger need at defensive end (Grade ‘1’) — an area they could address in the top-five.
Minnesota Vikings (Grade ‘3’)
You have to assume whoever made this grade did so believing Adrian Peterson would not be on the team next year. At the moment I’m not sure why anyone would expect that. Are they seriously going to cut him? I think it’s doubtful. And considering he will play again for someone, it might as well be the team that currently employs him. Inside linebacker is considered a bigger need according to Draft Tek (Grade ‘2’) with receiver and strong safety seen as needs of equal priority (Grade ‘3’).
New York Giants (Grade ‘3’)
New York’s big problems are all on defense. They run the risk of losing Jason Pierre-Paul in free agency. Their defensive line is a shadow of its former self. They could use extra help at linebacker and in the secondary. Plus they have a few issues on the offensive line. Given the relative production of Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams, I think it’s unlikely they’d spend the #9 overall pick on a running back.
Washington Redskins (Grade ‘3’)
The Redskins pick on day one of the draft for the first time since 2012. Considering the major holes they have all over the defense (plus the likely loss of Brian Orakpo), spending the #5 pick on a running back is a nailed on certainty not to happen. Like Jacksonville, they could trade up. But I don’t think replacing Alfred Morris will be deemed enough of a priority for a team that is desperately lacking at at defensive tackle, defensive end, linebacker, cornerback and safety. Yes, I just listed every defensive position.
There are others who might consider a ‘best player available’ approach — Miami (#14), Houston (#16), San Diego (#17), Arizona (#24), Dallas (#27) and Indianapolis (#29). But the point is — it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that Gordon even as a consensus top-10/15 prospect lasts into the late 20’s as Daniel Jeremiah predicted.
Would the Seahawks trade up five or six spots in a scenario like that? For the sake of making life easier after Marshawn Lynch they might. In 2013, the Atlanta Falcons traded from #30 overall to #22 overall with St. Louis to take Desmond Trufant. It cost them a third round pick and the swapping of 6th and 7th rounders. That was to move eight spots. In 2012 Tampa Bay traded from #36 to #31 with Denver to draft Doug Martin. The two teams merely swapped fourth round picks. That was for a jump of five spots. Basically, you can throw out the outdated draft chart. Such a deal could be expensive or a bargain — it really comes down to a teams desire to move up or down. It’d be impossible to predict what Seattle might have to cough up to go from #31 or #32 to get to about #25 or #26. The point is, it doesn’t have to be much. And the Seahawks could have 11 picks this year.
I’m not completely convinced Seattle would take a running back in round one, let alone move up for one. I suspect it’s one of those positions — and by that I mean it’d take a special talent to make an exception. Because of their track record developing cornerbacks, I can’t see them taking one in the first round unless it’s a spectacular player they just can’t refuse. I think the same would apply to the defensive tackle position. Gordon might just have enough about him to warrant that ‘special’ tag.