SEATTLE — The happy-go-lucky portion of the Seahawks’ championship offseason is over now. Marshawn Lynch is reportedly upset and seeking a new contract. And it doesn’t take the New Orleans Saints to fear what happens when Beast Mode makes a run for the money.
He’s threatening to skip a mandatory minicamp next week, which could result in a fine of about $70,000. There are reports that he could just retire if the Seahawks don’t meet his demands. It’s impossible to believe he would exit the game at age 28, but when it comes to the eccentric Lynch, you should proceed into the unknown with caution. He’s the ultimate wild card, always.
On the other hand, the Seahawks built a dominant team with shrewd and cutthroat business decisions. Two years ago, they made Lynch one of the five highest-paid running backs in the NFL, signing him to a four-year, $30 million contract. Lynch is only about to enter the third year of that deal. The organization is adamant about not setting a precedent of renegotiating contracts this early, especially under pressure. And that’s a smart way to manage the NFL’s hard salary cap.
It’s also hypocritical because, in this league of partially-guaranteed contracts, the system allows the team to tear up contracts whenever they want to, but when a player wants to do the same, the message is that a deal is binding.
When you think about it that way, it’s understandable that Lynch would request a new deal. The Seahawks were quite generous in giving him that $30 million contract in 2012 because, at that time, Lynch had posted just one 1,000-yard season in Seattle, and, really, the running back had performed at an elite level for only half a season. Now, though, Lynch is the most important offensive weapon on a Super Bowl-winning team.
Over the past two seasons, he has had the best two years of his career, amassing 2,847 rushing yards (1,423.5 yards per season) and 23 touchdowns in the regular season. And in five postseason games since he signed that contract, he has averaged 93.2 rushing yards, 4.6 yards per carry and scored six touchdowns.
Does he deserve more money? Absolutely, he can make that claim. And with all the chatter about the Seahawks cutting Lynch after next season or needing him to take a pay cut, he’s right to explore getting more money while he has the leverage of being the smash-mouth inspiration of a team aiming to win back-to-back championships.
But Lynch won’t be successful trying to force the Seahawks into a new deal by skipping voluntary workouts (as usual), missing next week’s mandatory three-day session and hinting at retirement. If Seahawks general manager John Schneider responded to Lynch’s fit by caving to his demands, the rest of the team could take that as an effective way to renegotiate. And that would go against the team’s all-in, bring-it-every-day culture.
Lynch has made his own rules because he can. He’s simply that good. Since joining the Seahawks four years ago, he has matured, reduced the off-field incidents and become one of the best players in the NFL. As a result, the Seahawks have allowed him freedom and space and embraced his many quirks.
“He has his own things going on,’’ center Max Unger said of Lynch’s probable holdout. “We’d love to have him, but by no means would it change my view of him. Not at all. The guy has more than proven himself and shown he’s capable of coming to training camp in shape. As long as he does his thing on Sunday, I’ve got no problems with him at all.”
It has been an ideal marriage. But this week’s ruckus is a clear sign that we’re nearing the end. This is the beginning of Lynch’s final chapter as a Seahawk. And it doesn’t figure to be a happy, graceful, storybook ending.
How long will this chapter be? Well, I don’t think it has to be as short as speculated. If Lynch comes back this season and performs like he did in 2012 (1,590 yards, 12 touchdowns), then he’ll get both the $5.5 million he’s scheduled to make in 2014 and the $7.5 mil he could earn in 2015. And if he doesn’t get all that money, he’ll have a new contract that gives him the financial security he wants.
There’s no certainty about how Lynch’s future will play out. In fact, he’s still in complete control. His plea for a new contract is being portrayed almost as a desperate attempt to stave off the inevitable. But the Seahawks’ master plan should be more flexible than that, and Lynch’s performance in 2014 will dictate what happens.
Right now, the best solution is for Lynch to come to minicamp in good faith next week while emphasizing that he wants a more certain future. He won’t get a new contract immediately, but the Seahawks appreciate his talent and toughness, and if there’s a way to give him more money in a deal that is structured to be cap-friendly, Schneider would be open to exploring it. He doesn’t rule out anything.
But one thing is certain: If Lynch tries to stiff-arm his way to extra cash, he’ll find his franchise is harder to budge than Tracy Porter, his infamous Beast Quake victim.
I’m not sure Lynch knows any other way, however. If that’s the case, we should brace for an ugly ending to a great partnership.