By now, we're all familiar with the narrative: A running back coming off of consecutive career years who will be 28 during next season and is dissatisfied with his contract to the point that a holdout seems to be a real possibility. The thing is, I'm not referring to Marshawn Lynch. We don't have to look too far into the past to find a similar situation, albeit with a running back with a decidedly different style than Lynch--Larry Johnson. Johnson cashed in on his holdout to the tune of 6 years, $45 million with $19 million guaranteed. Of course we all know the rest of the story--that Johnson became utterly ineffective immediately after signing the contract. The point of this is not to compare Marshawn Lynch to Larry Johnson, but to provide a cautionary tale about the potential of a steep decline at the running back position, something we in Seattle are all too aware of. It is partly because of this that it will be very interesting how the Seahawks handle the current situation.
Does Marshawn Lynch have the right to holdout?
Absolutely. It's a common refrain among fans that players need to be honorable and own up to the contract that they signed. The problem with this point of view is that with non-guaranteed contracts organizations can cut players at any time, responsible only for the money that has been guaranteed. I have no qualms with a player trying to do anything in their power to maximize their earning potential, especially in a such a violent sport where a career can end on any play.
However, the player also has to accept whatever the consequences of his actions are. If Marshawn wants to sit out, we are under no obligation to pay him, renegotiate, or trade him. That's a risk he must assume. Additionally, he could actually become worse off financially due to fines for not reporting. In practice, these usually get worked out as teams rarely take the hard line, but the risk is there. There is also a risk of fan backlash and the chance that he is traded to an undesirable team.
Why the posturing by Lynch now?
When I first heard about Marshawn skipping mandatory OTA's, threatening a holdout, and floating rumors of retirement (I don't buy it for a second) I will admit that I was a bit surprised. When you think about it though, it makes perfect sense.
On paper, Lynch is the fifth highest paid running back in the NFL and just agreed to his contract two years ago. He would seem to be fairly compensated. When looking at things from Lynch's perspective, though, the motivation to holdout is logical. To my mind it's not necessarily about getting a pay raise but about getting more years and more guaranteed money added to his contract.
But he has two years remaining, you say. Well, yes and no. His contract has two years and $16 million remaining--$7 million this year and $9 million next year. Of the $9 million next year, $5.5 million is base salary, $2 million is a roster bonus ($125k/game), and $1.5 million is from a prorated signing bonus. What this means is that the Seahawks could cut Marshawn next year and have a cap savings of $7.5 million, with only the portion of the signing bonus being dead money. Given his age, wear and tear (with another year tacked on), and potential emergence of Christine Michael, it seems rather unlikely that we would keep Marshawn at that number.
So, from Lynch's point of view, he has a one year $7 million deal. If he waits until next year to try to renegotiate he loses all leverage, which is why this is coming up now.
Also, if he does get cut next year and goes into free agency what kind of contract will he be looking at? It's tough to say, but nowhere near the one he currently has. My guess would be somewhere between Steven Jackson's (3 years, $12 million, $4 million guaranteed) and Frank Gore's (3 years, $19.5 million, no guaranteed money) current contracts.
Even though Marshawn's stance is logical from his perspective, that doesn't mean that it makes sense for the Seahawks to renegotiate.
Should the Seahawks renegotiate the contract?
In a word, no. In more words, maybe next year. Confused? Even though it makes sense for Marshawn to try to renegotiate this year when he has leverage, it makes little sense for the Seahawks to enter into contract talks this year. The Seahawks have shown a propensity to reward their players when they produce--just ask Earl, Sherm, ADB, Kam, and Michael Bennett (he hasn't reached one name status yet...unless you count Mosesbread). I believe that the Seahawks feel that they have already done this with Marshawn and are disinclined to renegotiate.
Today's rumors of a possible retirement from Marshawn are laughable. It's clearly a thinly veiled posturing attempt to try to coerce the Seahawks into opening talks. It won't work. Why?
1. Marshawn Lynch won't walk away from $7 million, especially on a team that is a favorite to defend their Super Bowl title.
2. Assuming Lynch won't walk away from $7 million, they can renegotiate next year on team friendly terms if they feel it is beneficial to them. By that point they will have a much better idea what they have in Michael and Turbin.
3. See Johnson, Larry. See Alexander, Shaun.
4. See Michael, Christine. See Turbin, Robert. If Lynch did hold out, we would all be bummed out. No question. But I have to admit that I would also be genuinely excited to see what Michael can do when given a chance. The coaches seem to feel the same way, although much of that talk is likely posturing too, trying to prove to Lynch that it's next man up if he holds out.
How does this play out?
There is no question that Marshawn Lynch is an atypical personality who has a degree of unpredictability. That said, I don't see him walking away from $7 million and I don't see the Seahawks entering into talks about a new contract. My guess is that he will report to training camp a little late and ease his way into practice (because of his "back"...practice? We're talking about practice?).
So, feel free to keep your pants off, at least for now. There are many difficult decisions ahead for the franchise, but it's clear we're in good hands. For now though, let's just enjoy it. We've got at least 19 more games of being awed by Marshawn's beastly power, ballerina agility, tightrope walker balance and precision, fighter pilot vision, and alligator wrestler toughness. I'm all about that action.