It was a troubling detail but hardly damning. Fred Jackson, journeyman and NFL Europa export, outperformed and overtook Lynch as the Bills starter in 2009. He was the better back. At the end of the season it was Jackson with over a thousand yards rushing; Jackson with 212 yards against the Colts; Jackson with seven consecutive starts.
Marshawn Lynch was on his way out. He had underperformed, been overtaken on the depth chart and burned bridges in the community. For a back taken 12th overall, Lynch was a legitimate bust. A 12th overall selection averages 40 AV. Lynch gave the Bills 21. That might actually overstate his value. Lynch made the Pro Bowl in 2008 on the strength of grinding out yards on a bad team with few other potential recipients, but even in that season, Jackson was the more valuable runner. Lynch held off Jackson through nebulous qualities like "pedigree" and "potential." That Pro Bowl season accounts for almost half of his "value."
John Schneider aggressively targeted Lynch and paid heavily for his services. Individually, a fourth-round pick and a fifth- or sixth-round pick doesn't amount to a lot, but combined, the two picks are roughly as valuable as a second round selection. Buffalo drafted a bust and Seattle swapped value in an attempt to reclaim him.
It hasn't worked. We are far enough into Lynch's contract that alternatives must be considered. At the very least, Seattle should target talent to compete with Lynch. Is it possible that he is totally and completely undermined by Seattle's poor run blocking and incompetent deep passing attack? Yes, but it's also possible that Lynch just isn't very good. He was never fast, never very elusive, and his ability to brutalize himself and his opposition while gaining two yards is more aesthetically pleasing than legitimately valuable.
This isn't meant to look into solutions or break down exactly why Lynch is failing. That can wait until the off-season. This is instead to broach the fact that Lynch may be part of the problem. It's tough to be standout bad on a bad team, but Lynch has been standout bad. He is not a productive receiver. He doesn't pass block particularly well. His running has consistently put Seattle in worse down and distance. By expected points added per play, Lynch has badly underperformed Shaun Alexander in 2007, and though the 2010 Seahawks field a legitimately worse run blocking and overall offense than the 2007 Seahawks, it is hard for a back to perform that poorly and not be partially responsible.
Though what Seattle gave up to acquire him is sunk cost, the sheer ambiguity of talent evaluation in the NFL should force Seattle to keep him around and see if he can improve. But the automatic starter status he was awarded since arriving in Seattle should end as soon as the 2010 season is over. Seattle must open the position and explore all avenues for acquiring talent to compete for starting tailback. Good backs are transient. Seattle may have gotten caught chasing a once-good back. Stubbornly refusing the possibility only compounds the problem.
The run game might be an auxiliary part of a great offense, but a bad team can not punt any opportunity to improve. Lynch has had multiple opportunities and now with two separate teams. Coaches and management too often overestimate their ability to evaluate talent. It would not surprise me if Seattle attempted to upgrade other positions and ignored Lynch, because Lynch is their player, the player they themselves targeted and traded for, the player they invested in and staked part of their reputation on. That's bad management and I know the Seahawks are capable of better than that. Marshawn Lynch is not yet a confirmed problem, but if Seattle ignores the chance to potentially replace him this off-season, Marshawn Lynch could become a substantial problem with no clear solution.