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Seahawks must plan for the future without Marshawn Lynch

Has there ever been a player who said less and was heard more than Marshawn Lynch?

This man of few words certainly has a way of getting his message across to the people who need to know. And what is that message from the enigmatic Seattle Seahawks running back?

“I’m going to keep you guessing.”

Lynch didn’t actually say those words, but that’s his current mantra, open to interpretation, of course, from the man who is sitting back and playing a game of mystery about his intentions.

The guessing game on Lynch is whether he will walk away from the game saying, “I’m all about retirement, boss.” It seems like a preposterous notion for a player at the top of his game with millions of dollars on the table for him to return.

But we’re taking about Lynch, a man who makes preposterous seem routine.

“He’s a guy that kind of just beats his own drum,” Seahawks general manager John Schneider said Thursday at the NFL scouting combine. “He does what he wants. He would never let you know one way or the other. There have been a lot of great running backs who just walked away. I have no idea. We’d like to know soon.”

Whatever you think The Beast of Bizarre will do, he will probably do just the opposite. In this case, that would mean he will quit because the vast majority of people think it’s all a bluff.

As unpredictable as Lynch is, I don’t see him walking away from more than $10 million of guaranteed money. Lynch is on the books for $7 million in 2015, the final year of his current contract.

The Seahawks, however, have made it clear they are willing to extend Lynch’s deal in some fashion to entice him to return. Without going into all the mathematical intricacies of how that might work, a new deal would guarantee him more money (probably $10 million to $11 million overall), whether he played past 2015 or not.

“He’s the ultimate teammate,” Schneider said of Lynch. “He’d really be missed. He hasn’t given us an indication that he would leave. I was asked if it would surprise me, and it wouldn’t, just based on the individual. That’s a hard job he has.”

Lynch might be hard to figure out, but he’s not walking away from that kind of money. It can help fund his foundation for underprivileged children in his hometown of Oakland, California, something that is near and dear to his heart.

Regardless of what Lynch decides, the Seahawks have to look to their future as a team without him. Lynch will be starting his ninth NFL season in 2015. In the past four years, he has 1,181 carries for 5,357 yards in the regular season, playing 63 games. That doesn’t include eight playoff games over that span, with 164 more carries for 784 yards.

For a man who runs with such a powerful and punishing style, it takes a huge toll on his body. Lynch has back issues that keep him from practicing most days during the season. It doesn’t take a Rhodes scholar to realize he can’t carry that workload and produce at that level much longer.

So the Seattle organization has to look ahead with two questions: Does it have the players in place who can get the job done when Lynch leaves? Does it need to draft a top running back for the future?

I'm of the opinion (a minority opinion, I realize) that this team can continue to play at a championship level without Lynch in the future.

Robert Turbin has rushed for 928 yards on 231 carries in his three seasons with the Seahawks. If you were to project that out over the average number of carries Lynch has had in those three seasons, Turbin would have rushed for an average of 1,201 yards per season. Lynch averaged 1,384 yards in those three seasons.

Consider the last two seasons with Christine Michael as the third running back. In that span, Turbin and Michael rushed for 564 yards on 126 carries. Lynch rushed for 2,563 yards the past two seasons. If you project the same number of carries for Turbin and Michael combined, based on their rushing totals in 2013 and 2014, they would have rushed for 2,600 yards as a duo.

Listen, I’m not trying to prove Turbin and Michael could be Lynch. No one can. He’s a once-in-a-generation type of running back, a relentless, fearless ball carrier who gives you everything he has on every play.

Nobody knows whether Turbin or Michael could handle the workload Lynch has endured. And some of their carries came at times when the game was decided. Turbin and Michael have not played enough to know what they could do, but the stats indicate they could play well because Seattle is a team built around a power-running offense with strong run-blockers.

“Robert’s a great player because he’s so knowledgeable about the position,” Schneider said Thursday. “He can just step in the game and roll. He has more experience than Christine, but we expect big things from him moving forward.”

If the Seahawks feel unsure of the capabilities of those two backs, they could look toward the draft this year.

“I personally think this is a pretty good crop at running back this year,” Schneider said.

Todd Gurley of Georgia is a Lynch type of runner and would have been the first running back taken in 2015, but he’s coming off ACL surgery. Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin likely won’t be around when Seattle picks at No. 31, but Indiana running back Tevin Coleman is rising on draft boards as a bruising runner with unlimited potential.

Lynch is going to keep everyone guessing about his future for a while longer, but whatever he decides, Seattle has to move on and make decisions about the future without him.

“He’s a heartbeat guy," Schneider said. “When you have a guy like that, you are going to do everything you can to let him go to work. He needs a little time to hit the reset button. I’ve talked to his people a bunch. He knows we want him to play.”