I'm going to start here: I'm a good looking guy. Really. I am. Maybe not George Clooney good looking, but I'm ok. Just after college, however, I had a bit of a dry spell with the ladies. We're talking nine months of nothing. Then I met a girl (who I will refer to as Ashley, because that was her name) who changed everything. She was perfect. Attractive, outgoing, successful--you name it, she had it going for her. We dated for a short time, and my friends started asking me when I was going to pop the question. As I thought about it, I realized that I wasn't comparing her to my standard of who I wanted to end up with; I was comparing her to my past experiences. In other words, she stacked up nicely (read that in whatever sense you will) compared to 9 months of nothing, but when compared to other girls, she actually wasn't all that great.
The point? I think the Seahawks are me, and Marshawn Lynch is Ashley. He's great. Really, he is. He's fun to watch, he runs with ferocity, he makes it rain Skittles--he made it fun to be a Seahawks fan this year. But here's the thing: I just don't think he's the right one for us in the long-term. I think it would be a mistake to sign Lynch to a long-term deal.
First, I am concerned about his performance this year being a statistical anomaly. It is possible that Tom Cable's blocking scheme finally came together and the people in place clicked. It could be that Marshawn has matured and learned how to get the best out of himself. He posted career highs in carries, rushing yards, touchdowns, and yards per attempt. It stands to reason that these figures will fall next year, and come closer to his career averages. It is hard to remember back to the first four weeks of the season, but Lynch averaged about 35 yards per game over that span. Though it is possible that this is the start of something great, we must remember that he has logged 5 years in the NFL. How many running backs became great in their 5th year and then maintained that level of performance. I'm sure there's an example, but I can't think of one.
Related to this point is the contract year phenomenon, where a player performs at career high levels during his contract year, presumable because he tries harder due the potential financial rewards. This is admittedly less common in the NFL than other sports due to non-guaranteed contracts, but Marshawn should stand to gain ten to fifteen million in guaranteed money in a new deal. Brian Burke, of advancednflstats.com, did a profile of 28 mulit-million dollar free agent running backs who signed deals dating back to 2000. He found that, on average, these backs averaged .3 yards per attempt LESS than the previous year. There is plenty of recent anecdotal evidence of players regression after signing a big deal as well, from Sean Alexander locally to Chris Johnson this year.
Third, running backs have notoriously short NFL careers, at an average of 2.57 years (the shortest for any position). This is significant because if we sign Lynch and he flames out, we'll still have his guaranteed money counting against the cap for several years.
This is compounded by Marshawn's punishing running style. Yes, he pummels would-be tacklers. It's great fun to watch--but it also has to be taxing on his body. It stands to reason that he will wear down sooner than later.
Lastly, running back is the one position that can be filled adequately by early to mid round draft picks. Don't get me wrong, I'd love a top flight, bell cow type back (I realize that was Lynch this year. It was a great ride), it's just that there are many successful running backs that weren't first round picks.
So, what to do? Let him walk? Not exactly. My solution is to franchise him. The 2012 franchise tender for running backs is $7.7 million, down from $9.45 million last year. Franchising Lynch would serve a few purposes. It would give us time to find an adequate replacement. It would keep him motivated in the hopes of signing a long-term deal. It would give us a chance to see if this year was a fluke. Of course, it could backfire. He might not want to sign the tender and could hold out of camp. I doubt he would, since it would be an almost 300% pay increase.
I know this opinion is unpopular with the majority of fans, but the Seahawks have to do what's best for them long-term, and cap management is a huge part of that. I'd love to see another year of the Beast in Sea Town, but I'm wary of the effects of a long-term deal on our cap in the future.
The good news? I never even think about Ashley anymore. What I have now is so much better. Perhaps the same will be true of the Seahawks in a few years. Perhaps we sign Flynn and take the best player available with our first pick. And maybe, just maybe, that first pick is...Trent Richardson.