Seahawks don't owe Marshawn Lynch
The Seattle Seahawks just ran into the first major reality check that comes with being defending Super Bowl champs -- not everybody on the roster is going to feel appreciated. This is a key reason why Pro Bowl running back Marshawn Lynch hadn't participated in any offseason workouts before attending this week's mandatory minicamp. According to the smattering of information that has emerged in this story so far, Lynch is looking for the Seahawks to give him a raise, a nice bump to symbolize their gratitude. If the Seahawks are wise, they would avoid the demands of a player who has become the foundation of their offense.
Anybody who has watched the Seahawks' rise over the past four years understands that Lynch, aka Beast Mode, has been the most critical element of their success. His rugged running style has made life easier for quarterback Russell Wilson, as well as a defense that has turned into the league's best. Anybody who knows the NFL also realizes that, at 28 years old, Lynch is precariously close to losing his effectiveness, especially after averaging 300 carries and 1,350 yards over the past three seasons. This is the hard truth Seattle coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider must consider as they try to keep one of the league's youngest teams in championship contention.
The last thing the Seahawks want to do is upset Lynch. He's a popular, strong-willed player who could easily become difficult if he felt like he was being disrespected. That said, Carroll and Schneider can't afford to cave to every player who feels like his contract isn't all that great anymore. They certainly shouldn't indulge a talent who is nearing the end of his days in Seattle, one who likely reported to minicamp to avoid a $70,000 fine for blowing it off.
If Lynch is unhappy with his current deal -- he is due to be paid $5 million this year and $5.5 million in 2015, the final year of the contract -- he needs to take a long look at how the Seahawks have treated him since his arrival via trade during the 2010 season. Carroll made it clear from the start that he didn't see Lynch as a player with a sketchy reputation, a Pro Bowl talent who was hit with a three-game suspension in 2009 following his second run-in with the law while playing in Buffalo. Carroll saw Lynch as the key to the hard-nosed attitude he wanted to create in Seattle, the runner who would provide a necessary edge to a team that was rebuilding its identity.
Lynch embraced all that support from the moment he donned a Seahawks uniform, with his most memorable moment coming on a jaw-dropping touchdown run in a 2010 wild-card playoff win over New Orleans. By 2012, Carroll and Schneider had seen enough to know they had the right workhorse on their roster. They gave Lynch a four-year extension worth $30 million that included a $6 million signing bonus. They didn't even second-guess the decision when Lynch was arrested in Oakland later that summer for allegedly driving under the influence.
It's fair to say the Seahawks shouldn't give Lynch more money because their potential return on investment isn't strong. It's also valid to point to the fact that he's only two years removed from the last deal they gave him. But the most important argument to make on behalf of Seattle is that they've been very, very good to Lynch. It would be a mistake to think they have to do even more to prove how grateful they are for having Lynch as a part of their franchise.
The Seahawks had to suspect somebody was going to gripe about money this offseason, and it was fairly predictable that Lynch would be that person. The team already has lavished fat contracts on key defensive players this offseason -- specifically defensive end Michael Bennett, cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Earl Thomas -- and it would difficult for a star like Lynch to not think he deserved a raise given his own contributions. Lynch also has support inside and outside the team. Bennett wants to see his teammate get paid more, while former Seahawks safety and current NFL Network analyst Jordan Babineaux recently told the Seattle Times that Lynch feels like he has to earn more money this season.
Such support means the Seahawks have to delicately manage how they handle Lynch's unhappiness. But the team also has been quite clear about how it wants to move forward. The Seahawks have been high on Christine Michael, and it's likely that he'll receive more carries this fall. There also have been rumors that the team will release Lynch after this coming season -- presumably to clear more cap room to sign Wilson to a long-term deal -- which further explains the urgency in Lynch's offseason approach.
The bottom line here is that Lynch is fighting a battle that will be hard to win. The Seahawks control all the leverage, and there's ample evidence to suggest what happens to ball carriers with too many touches as they near the age of 30. Babineaux did suggest in recent comments that Lynch might ponder retirement if the Seahawks don't display the appropriate amount of love. That's also another possibility that doesn't seem to make much sense.
Whatever unhappiness Lynch feels for his current deal, his average salary does rank him among the top five backs in the NFL. He's also still working for a franchise that values the idea of a strong running game, which means he'll have more opportunity to prove himself to other teams if this is his last contract in Seattle. Let's also not forget that the Seahawks did win the Super Bowl last year. With the talent they have, it's not hard to see them returning to that stage this coming season.
There's no doubting that Carroll and Schneider want to see Lynch play another huge role in whatever success they enjoy this fall. They've built too much around him to see a contract dispute turn ugly, and Lynch seems to think the team will try to do right by him now that he's reported to camp. But as both the player and the team understand, the NFL also is a business. When you look at it through that lens, the only sensible choice the Seahawks have is one their star running back wouldn't like hearing.