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Originally published December 10, 2011 at 6:10 PM | Page modified December 11, 2011 at 1:43 PM

Danny O'Neil

Are Seahawks ready to give Lynch payday?

After all Seattle has done to find its stride in the running game, are the Seahawks really ready to start looking for a running back again?

Seattle Times NFL reporter

quotes No need to sign him until after the season is over.............it would be insane to... Read more
quotes I say offer him a 3 year deal for top 10 RB $$$, and if he turns it down, we put the... Read more
quotes Good God Mr. Martin, he's not a horse.....do you want to check his teeth too?????? But... Read more

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You can find a running back.

That's become a refrain around the NFL. Houston's Arian Foster led the league in rushing last season. He was undrafted. Buffalo's Fred Jackson was on his way to a second 1,000-yard season in the past three years until he suffered a broken leg. He wasn't drafted, either.

You can make it sound like running backs can be found just about anywhere from the crawl space of your house to the cushions of your couch if you'll just bother to look.

Funny, because the Seahawks have been searching for a running back for years without all that much success, and that's not for a lack of trying. They've re-signed an MVP (Shaun Alexander), recycled a Hall of Famer (Edgerrin James) and burned through free agents like Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett. Seattle tried to plug in Maurice Morris and found some success with Justin Forsett.

And after all that, Seattle hasn't had a 1,000-yard rusher since 2005. Only the Detroit Lions have gone longer without a player reaching that milestone.

Marshawn Lynch stands at the cusp of that mark. He has rushed for more than 100 yards in four of the past five games and stands at 854 with four games left in the season as Seattle has found a productivity on the ground unseen since the Super Bowl season.

And after all Seattle has done to find its stride in the running game, are the Seahawks really ready to start looking for a running back again?

Lynch is a free agent at the end of this season, ready to cash in on more than just a two year's supply of Skittles the candy company offered him. He's making a compelling case for a big payday. If Baltimore's Ray Rice and Chicago's Matt Forte receive the franchise tag — as many expect — Lynch will be the best running back on open market.

Should the Seahawks pay what it takes to keep him?

It's one of the biggest questions facing this franchise going forward. One in which Seattle must consider the shelf life of running backs while acknowledging the reality that DeAngelo Williams' five-year, $43 million contract with Carolina stands as a landmark in negotiations. There's a compelling case to be made that Lynch has been more productive with this looking like it will be his third 1,000-yard rushing year in his five NFL seasons.

It's not going to be cheap, and there are compelling counterarguments from the mileage Lynch has on his odometer to the physical running style that's bound to exact a toll. Then there's the elephant in the room that is Alexander's final two seasons in Seattle. Alexander was even more productive, not to mention healthier, than Lynch, and bringing him back didn't exactly work out for Seattle.

Alexander was also turning 29 the year Seattle re-signed him. Lynch is now 25, younger than Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew (26), the Bears' Forte (26) and the 49ers' Frank Gore (28).

Michael Turner was 26 when the Falcons signed him to a big-budget deal four years ago, and he's about to surpass 1,000 yards rushing for the third time in his four seasons in Atlanta.

Seattle has salary-cap room. Plenty of it, in fact, considering that Lynch, defensive end Red Bryant and linebacker David Hawthorne are the prime free agents unsigned for next season. Lynch has become the face of the offense, a personification of the tough, punishing style that coach Pete Carroll set out to make part of this team's offensive foundation.

That's not something that's easy to find. Seattle's past five seasons speak to that, and now that the Seahawks have regained their stride, can they really afford to start looking all over again?

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or doneil@seattletimes.com




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