— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) November 25, 2015
It’s been a strange 12 months for Marshawn Lynch. A year ago Chris Mortensen was predicting his imminent departure from Seattle, reporting that the Seahawks had “grown tired of his ways”.
Lynch’s play down the stretch changed the dynamic completely. He became the focal point of the offense again as the Seahawks marched back to the Super Bowl. Life was bearable for team and player. He signed a handsome new contract and put off retirement.
Yet after an injury-ravaged 2015 season — and the emergence of Thomas Rawls — what happens now?
Lynch cap hit in 2016 is $11.5M, none gteed, $5M dead money, $6.5M cap hit savings if cut or dealt or retires-
— DAVIS HSU (@DavisHsuSeattle) November 23, 2015
Davis Hsu’s Tweet above sums it up. You can save $6.5m by moving on from Lynch in 2016. That’s money that could, theoretically, be reinvested in the offensive line. It could go towards luring someone like Alex Mack if he voids his contract in Cleveland. It could go towards someone like Alex Boone. It could help you keep your best existing lineman in Russell Okung so that you don’t need to replace him in the draft (or hope Garry Gilliam is a better left tackle than right tackle).
On the other hand, are the Seahawks ready to lose such an important part of what they are? And how will it impact the locker room if Lynch is moved?
It’s a tough call for many reasons. And yet this is the big debate people in Seattle will be having until the off-season.
"They got rid of Robert Turbin, Christine Michael. Because they KNEW they had something special." https://t.co/ydSrbidu0L
— NFL (@NFL) November 23, 2015
Replacing Lynch looked like the greatest pending challenge for Pete Carroll and John Schneider. For years they’ve been able to rely on Lynch’s punishing, physical style. It was as much about tone-setting and the identity of the team as it was production.
Without Lynch what were the Seahawks?
Watching Rawls has somewhat tempered concerns about life after Beast Mode. He’s not Marshawn Lynch — but even Carroll has dared to compare him loosely to Hall of Famer Earl Campbell.
In some cases he’s even offered a little bit more than Lynch. Does Marshawn run in the long touchdown against Cincinnati? Rawls has a second gear the 29-year-old Lynch currently lacks. When he gets to the second level he has the speed to break it into a big play. And while he might never be the grinding, wear you down over four quarters type — his ability to stretch a play out, find the edge and turn and explode at the second level is a real benefit against any defense that is already accounting for Russell Wilson and Jimmy Graham.
In an ideal world you’d combine the two running backs and share out the snaps. It’s strange, however, that they never really made this a two-headed monster even after Rawls’ 169-yard performance against the Bengals. The following week, when Lynch returned, Rawls had one carry against the Panthers. He had 12 total carries against the 49ers, Cowboys and Cardinals combined. It seems like if Lynch is playing — he’s getting the workload.
Maybe he feels he needs to get into a rhythm? Maybe it’s the way he wears down a defense? Whatever it is — a Lynch/Rawls double act seems unlikely based on the snaps this year. Rawls and another in 2016? That could be a more even split.
Lose Lynch and you lose more than just the on-field production. You lose an icon. A genuine Seahawks great who provided some of the best moments in franchise history. His career will be defined by one particular play against New Orleans.
The Pete Carroll story in Seattle has a whole chapter on Lynch. Maybe even two. Without Lynch — you never truly create the identity Carroll searched for. He’s been at the front and center of everything.
As a consequence he’s also become a powerful locker room presence. Was that a problem at times — as suggested by Mortensen in his report last year? Maybe. But not having Lynch around might be an even bigger problem. He and the likes of Kam Chancellor seem so closely aligned. Can this team remain tight with vital veteran leaders starting to move on?
It really comes down to what gives you the best chance to win. The Seahawks know this is their Championship window — and it’s a window that won’t necessarily extend for years. Key parts of the franchise — Lynch, Chancellor and even Carroll — aren’t going to be around another decade. They might not be here in another 3-4 years. Every decision — whether it’s trading a first rounder for Graham or making the decision to trust Tom Cable to build a cheap, functioning O-line — is made with a ‘win now’ mentality.
If this team can run the ball minus Lynch while improving the offensive line and pass protection — it has to be considered. There won’t be any room for sentimentality. It’s just whether they’re ready to move on if it’s their decision. Lynch could make it easier for them by retiring. What if he doesn’t though? What if he forces the Seahawks to make the decision?
It’d be a heck of a ruthless move by the Seahawks to just move on and save money. And yet it seems like they’ve been planning the future for some time. Mortensen’s report. The drafting of Christine Michael. If they wanted to move on and couldn’t before, will it be right in 2016? If so, you better believe they’ll be ruthless.
Lynch had a procedure for his hernia/groin issue today. Again, Seahawks expect to re-evaluate him in 3-4 weeks
— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) November 25, 2015
Perhaps there is still a chance for the storybook ending. Lynch returning in week 16 or 17 feels ambitious — but this is Marshawn Lynch. Nothing has been conventional to date with Beast Mode. The emotional pull of his last days in Seattle/the NFL could be a secret weapon for the Seahawks if they make the post season. They have to get there to see if there’s any benefit though.
In terms of the draft, it’s a nice class of running backs with some depth. The priority will probably be to go O-line early and then possibly look at a linebacker with Bruce Irvin a free agent. They should be able to find some value in rounds 3-7 (and after all, they found Rawls as a UDFA). Alex Collins (Arkansas), Paul Perkins (UCLA) and Jordan Howard (Indiana) are personal favourites.