Seattle again playing the role of Leverage City 6/18, 05:42 PM
Next for the Seahawks: Handling the burden of expectations 6/14, 01:45 PM
What is Marshawn Lynch's worth?
Posted by Jerry Brewer
I started advocating that the Seahawks pay Marshawn Lynch, who will be a free agent at season's end, in my latest column.
Of course, that's easy to say. But there are several things to consider that I couldn't fit into a 710-word opinion written on deadline after a night game.
First on the list is this: What is Lynch's worth? And what will he ask for?
Neither Lynch nor his agent figures to go public with any demands. It's bad negotiating form, and with four games remaining this season, it's too early to talk contract anyway. But it's never too early to speculate.
It's a no-brainer that the Seahawks will want to keep Lynch, even if they have to place the franchise tag on him. Because Pete Carroll is committed to fixing the running game and loves to make statements about the importance of it to his team, you'd think the Seahawks would rather sign their best player to a new deal. Lynch deserves it, and it's important for the morale of a young team for an organization to reward its worthy players and place a value on hard work.
Still, it's tricky to determine how much of a commitment the Seahawks should make to their Skittles-chomping star. Lynch is on a seven-game tear: 713 rushing yards, 4.6 yards per carry during that span. He has scored a touchdown in eight straight games. While his production is a sign the Seahawks offensive line has improved, it's also a testament to Lynch's tough running. Holes are opening more frequently, but the line play isn't consistent. It doesn't matter. Lynch only needs a little room; he'll break tackles and drag defenders to take care of the rest.
It's getting harder to remember that, in the first four games, Lynch ran for only 141 yards (35.3 per game) and averaged a mere 3.1 yards a carry. Just a month ago, when Lynch was just getting going, you would've figured that the Seahawks could re-sign him, perhaps, a three-year deal worth about $10 million guaranteed.
Now, though, he currently ranks eighth in the NFL with 854 rushing yards, though he's likely to slip out of the top 10 by the time Week 13 is over. If he averages just 65.5 yards in the final four games, he will surpass his career high of 1,115 rushing yards, which was set during his 2007 rookie season in Buffalo. Lynch ran for 1,036 yards in 2008. Since then, he has not reached 1,000.
So, how much do you pay for a good running back who has a history of solid (but not stellar) production but who seemingly still has an upside?
Well, let's start with the easy part. Lynch doesn't have an elite track record, so he won't be getting Chris Johnson money ($30 million guaranteed) or Adrian Peterson money ($36 million guaranteed).
He's in a different tier, and there is a comparable running back who recently got paid, and his big contract complicates matters. Carolina gave DeAngelo Williams $21 million guaranteed before this season. Williams and Lynch have differing styles, but their production is similar. Both have two 1,000-yard rushing seasons on their resume. Williams is more of a big-play threat, Lynch has a more physical running style. Williams' best season was more impressive than Lynch's. He rushed for 1,515 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2008. But since then, Williams has struggled to stay healthy. Lynch is more durable.
Many were shocked to see Williams receive that much money. A bidding war drove up his price in free agency. Denver and the New York Giants were reportedly competing with the Panthers for his services.
I'm sure Lynch's camp will argue that he's every bit the back that Williams is. Right now, he's much better. But there's probably a middle ground that he and the Seahawks could find -- provided the Seahawks re-sign Lynch before he hits the open market. If the Seahawks didn't franchise him and let Lynch explore free agency, things could get crazy. It's best to start talking about this deal now and finalize it before the free-agency period.
Of course, the Seahawks must scrutinize Lynch heavily as they evaluate his worth.
- They must determine whether his increased production of late has occurred because he's playing for a contract. Or is he truly growing and evolving into an even better player (I think he is)?
- Lynch has 1,054 carries worth of mileage. How long before his body can't handle the punishment? My guess is he can be a big-time performer for at least three more years.
- Are the days of Lynch's off-the-field troubles behind him? He has been a model citizen since the Seahawks traded for him early in the 2010 season. But is that enough to make a team invest significant millions?
If everything checks out, it would seem fair for the Seahawks to offer Lynch a five-year deal (backloaded like typical big NFL contracts, so that the Seahawks could get out after three years if need be without much financial bleeding) with guaranteed money in the $15-18 million range. I think he would be both satisfied with that contract and able to perform up to it. If Lynch and this young offensive line stays healthy and stays together, it's possible to envision Beast Mode having multiple seasons in the 1,200-1,400 yard range with 10-12 touchdowns.
Obviously, with running backs, the question is always whether it's best to pay players who break down quickly. The Seahawks were burned after giving $15 million guaranteed (a huge amount back then) to Shaun Alexander after his MVP season in 2005. He rushed for 1,880 yards behind a potent offensive line and scored 28 touchdowns (27 rushing, one receiving) as the Seahawks went to the Super Bowl that year. After he signed his new deal, he played two unimpressive, injury-plagued seasons in Seattle, got cut, played a four-game stint in Washington and was forced to retire. He rushed for only 1,636 yards after his payday.
There are a couple of major differences to consider, however: Alexander was 29 when the 2006 season began. Lynch will only be 26 when next season opens. Alexander was criticized for not being a tough runner, and when guard Steve Hutchinson left and the holes weren't as gaping, he lost his edge. Lynch almost runs too hard, and he has a special ability to make something out of nothing.
Eventually, the Seahawks would love to get where Mike Shanahan's old Denver Broncos were. They would love to build a line so strong that it can just plug in any running back and turn him into a 1,000-yard rusher. Their zone-blocking scheme can be that effective. Right now, though, it's not, and it will take several years for the Seahawks to have it like that, especially since three of their young offensive linemen are injured now.
Here's an excerpt from today's column that explains the importance of the Seahawks finding Lynch:
The Seahawks haven't had a 1,000-yard rusher in the past five years. It's the second-longest drought in the NFL. Only the Detroit Lions, who haven't had a running back reach quadruple digits since 2004, have struggled longer.
Do the Seahawks really want to start over again at running back? Since Alexander, the Seahawks have looked everywhere for production: Maurice Morris, Julius Jones, T.J. Duckett, Edgerrin James (remember?), Justin Forsett. They couldn't find an answer, partly because their offensive line was in disarray.
I do think it's important to stay young at running back, and it would be nice to see the Seahawks draft a speedy young tailback to complement (and maybe replace eventually) Lynch and give the offense another big-play dimension. But for now, the best option is to commit to Lynch and continue building around him.
The Seahawks are still early in the process of having a potent rushing attack. There's no reason to stunt their growth.
If the price isn't outrageous, you should expect Beast Mode to remain in Seattle for the rest of his prime years.
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