BY Steve Rudman 06:30AM 02/12/2015

Lynch decision: Huge impact on Seahawks

The Seahawks are eager to get word from Marshawn Lynch on whether he will accept an extension, or retire. Much of what they do this off-season Seattle will be influenced by the decision.

If Marshawn Lynch returns, he will need a rare season to duplicate what he did in 2014. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

As general manager John Schneider explained to 710 ESPN Seattle Tuesday, the Seahawks are asking a favor of Marshawn Lynch: They need the enigmatic, entertaining running back to decide ASAP whether he intends to play in 2015, so the franchise can plan accordingly. Given Seattle’s salary cap considerations, Lynch’s decision will have a major impact on next season’s roster.

“Obviously we think he’s a helluva player,” Schneider told the station. “We want to have him back. He knows that, and his representatives know that. He knows if he comes back he’s not going to be playing at the same (lesser) number he’s scheduled to make.

“Now, whether or not he wants to play next year, I can’t answer that. I don’t know if he knows at this juncture. He needs to find out where he’s at. We’ve played a lot of football over these last two years, and especially with the way this guy runs the ball, it’s taxing on his body. So he has to reset himself and get in that mind frame and get prepared for another season of this.”

Lynch has one year remaining on a four-year deal that calls for him to receive $7 million ($5 million guaranteed, $2 million roster bonus) next season. Reportedly, the Seahawks are willing to go as high as $10 million for 2015 — good thing Lynch isn’t paid by the sentence — as part of an extension, coming off a season in which he accumulated 1,673 yards from scrimmage, scored 17 touchdowns, and averaged 4.7 yards per carry.

But Lynch, with 2,220 carries (regular season and playoffs), turns 29 April 22, and will have to produce an exceedingly rare season in 2015 to duplicate his 2014 numbers: 1,306 rushing yards, 13 TDs.

Only six backs since the adoption of the 16-game schedule (1978) have run for 1,300+ yards and 10+ TDs in their age-29 seasons (ranked by total yards):

Tear Player Age Team Yards TDs Next Year
1997 Barry Sanders 29 Det 2053 11 1,491 yards, 4 TDs
2002 Priest Holmes 29 KC 1615 21 1,420 yards, 27 TDs
2004 Tiki Barber 29 NYG 1518 13 1,860 yards, 9 TDs
1987 Charles White 29 Rams 1374 11 323 yards, 0 TDs
2011 Michael Turner 29 Atl 1340 11 800 yards, 10 TDs
1998 Emmitt Smith 29 Dal 1332 13 1397 yards, 11 TDs

An extension of two or more years means the franchise will take a major gamble that Beast Mode hasn’t run its course, since the six running backs listed above represent less than five percent of all backs who have played an age-29 season.

“We would like to work this out as quickly as we can so we can move forward,” Schneider said. “It may not happen overnight. He (Lynch) is extremely important to what we have here and the decisions we make.”

With the Seahawks expected to have about $23 million available under the cap, they could make good use of Lynch’s potential raise by allocating it elsewhere. Some of it could go to CB Byron Maxwell, who will have plenty of suitors (former defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, now head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, covets Maxwell), or to OG James Carpenter.

But no player is more important to Seattle’s offense than Lynch. How much more can Lynch do, and for how much longer, assuming he still has a hankering to play?

While most backs reach their expiration dates by about age 30, Lynch has given no indication he has reached his. Still, when the end comes for the majority of backs, it does so quickly. Unless Lynch is a freak on the order of the Redskins’ John Riggins, who had his best years at ages 34 and 35, Lynch has a three-year window in which to remain a back who produces elite numbers.

An elite season by a back is 1,200-plus yards and 10 or more touchdowns. In the NFL’s expansion era (since 1960), 37, including Lynch, have recorded at least 2,000 career rushing attempts, Lynch is 37th.

As Schneider suggested, not all attempts are equal. Lynch’s running style, amazing to behold, makes him absorb a tremendous amount of abuse. Lynch’s 2,033 regular-season carries might have been far more debilitating to him than, say, Eric Dickerson’s 2,996 were to him.

Consider that only seven backs produced an elite season at 30 or beyond, with Riggins and Thomas Jones the only ones to do it twice:

Year Player Age Team Yards TDs Skinny
1983 John Riggins 34 Wash 1347 24 Career-high 375 carries
1984 John Riggins 35 Wash 1239 14 Entered HOF in 1992
1984 Walter Payton 31 Chic 1684 11 Entered HOF in 1993
1999 Emmitt Smith 30 Dal 1397 11 Entered HOF in 2010
2003 Priest Holmes 30 KC 1420 27 Scored 14 TDs in ’04
2004 Curtis Martin 31 NYJ 1697 12 Entered HOF in 2012
2004 Corey Dillon 30 NE 1635 12 25 TDs at ages 31, 32
2008 Thomas Jones 30 NYJ 1312 13 Only Pro Bowl season
2009 Thomas Jones 31 NYJ 1402 14 591 carries in 2008-09

Excluding Riggins, the greatest “old” running back ever, all of the above were out of the NFL within an average of three years following their elite seasons. Most were barely productive in two of those years.

Payton had a pair of 1,000-yard years following his final elite season, then was done. Smith had 1,000-yard seasons at ages 31 and 32, but closed his career with three mediocre years. Dillon was a Pro Bowler in 2004 at age 30 and out of the league at 32.

No running back in NFL history went from hero to zero faster than Shaun Alexander, the league’s MVP in 2005 at 28 (1,880 yards, 28 touchdowns) and an ex-player at 31. Injuries had a lot to do with that, but backs become more susceptible as they age, making any kind of long-term extension for Lynch problematic.

As much as the Seahawks need Lynch, it also doesn’t seem likely that Lynch would retire with $10 million, or whatever, on the table, especially with his skills not in obvious decline. Besides, a couple of more years at his current production rate would place him in Hall of Fame conversation — should he care.

Only Lynch knows how his body feels. Lynch is also wired so differently that he might walk away from $10 million. If he does, don’t expect a press conference.



  • jafabian

    There’s so much comparison to the Super Bowl XL team to todays team that can be drawn off of. Lynch means a lot to the offense, just like Shaun Alexander did. But once Steve Hutchinson left the overall team offense was affected. Would the departure of Carpenter via free agency cause a repeat? Also at age 29 Alexander, as all 12’s are familiar with, went from 1880 rushing yards to 896. And then the following season to 716. Curt Warner’s career ended at age 29. Lynch seemed more banged up this season than he ever has in his NFL career.

    Is Lynch more along the lines of former Jet Curtis Martin who ran for 1094 yards at 29 and then actually improved at age 30 with 1308 yards? Lynch could probably be helped if there was more of a RB by committee approach in the rushing game but his success actually prevents the growth of RB’s Turbin and Michael.

    Ultimately, I’d be surprised to see him play elsewhere. He won’t have the kind of success elsewhere that he enjoys as a Hawk. He’d have to learn a new offense, adapt to new teammates if he left whereas he knows the system inside and out here. And he has the best chance at returning to the SB in Seattle.

  • Kevin Lynch

    Marshawn is such a big part of the Seahawk brand. There is no statistical qualifier for that. How can you quantify his hard nose play and what that does as a motivator for his teammates? What is he worth in terms of modeling extra effort? Jamie Moyer didn’t have great stats in his final years with the M’s. But when you saw him working out on off days, wind sprints, this and that, you realized what leadership value he had for the younger players.

    Sometimes, contracts are not about smart decisions. They are about avoiding stupid ones. Sometimes you just have to find a way, any way, to get the glue guy in the door.

    I am going to be surprised if Marshawn signs in front of Russell. Something tells me that he and his agent don’t wish to do that.

    • 1coolguy

      The Hawks have to figure out the draft and also what to pay players and a Lynch contract or not affects those decisions greatly.

      • Kevin Lynch

        Granted. But no one controls Marshawn. I would sign Russell next week. Then the dominoes would fall.

    • John M

      You make some interesting points, but it would not be smart of Lynch or his agent to use RW’s contract as a yardstick . . .

  • ollie swensen

    As I listened to John Schneiders’ interview yesterday the first thing that struck me was the stark contrast in the way that he is conducting Marshawns negotiations and John Elway has handled the Manning issue. In that Elway immediately after the season ended gave Peyton a very flexible amount of time to make a decision to come back next year while Schneider is pushing a decision publicly less than a week and a half after the Superbowl. Granted Mannings season ended three weeks prior to the Seahawks. Mindful that Marshawn is as important in the context of the void left in either teams plans to succeed as Peyton. A curios thing indeed.

  • poulsbogary

    they should probably just arrange give russell an ownership piece of the team.

  • 1coolguy

    “But no player is more important to Seattle’s offense than Lynch”. Wilson is the most important player, by a mile.