No one is more important to the Seattle Seahawks offense than running back Marshawn Lynch. That’s why the decision to do anything else other than put the ball in his hands with a championship one yard away was baffling. And it’s why a future without Lynch doesn’t feel like much of a future at all.
It’s also why Lynch will surely be given a contract extension soon and have a sizable pile of Skittles funds bestowed upon him. Prior to a Super Bowl gut punch Sunday, a Seahawks source told NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport the team believes Lynch has outperformed his current contract.
That is correct, but the problem of Lynch’s future paycheck isn’t one that can be solved simply by tossing many bills at a premier offensive player.
There are numerous variables in play that have to be tackled in order, eventually toppling like dominoes. But they all come back to one larger, overarching question: How much does Lynch mean to the Seahawks?
Before we carry on much further, Rick Gosselin from the Dallas Morning News has an even more important question:
No amount of replay-viewing can introduce logic into that decision. But the Seahawks wouldn’t have had an opportunity to fail in the Super Bowl without Lynch—or even play in the Super Bowl.
Which means that, yes, they face the problem of paying him.
And so the salary-cap tap dance begins
Lynch is currently scheduled to reel in a base salary of $5 million for the 2015 season, according to Spotrac, and account for a cap hit of $8.5 million.
Right now he slots in as the fifth-highest valued running back for the upcoming season. For most running backs set to turn 29 years old, that paycheck would make them feel like a sparkling Katy Perry star's ascending high into the heavens.
But a gap that needs to be bridged becomes clear when we compare Lynch’s upcoming pay to that of his peers.
|Top five 2015 running back salary-cap hits|
|Running back||Age (start of 2015 season)||Cap hit||2014 Total yards||TDs|
|Adrian Peterson (2013 stats)||30||$15.4 million||1,437||10|
|LeSean McCoy||26||$11.96 million||1,474||5|
|Matt Forte||29||$9.2 million||1,846||10|
|Arian Foster||29||$9 million||1,573||11|
|Marshawn Lynch||29||$8.5 million||1,673||17|
You’ll also notice the age column, and its sameness with the exception of Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy. Three of the top five highest-valued running backs will enter 2015 at the not-at-all ripe age of 29. Minnesota Vikings back Adrian Peterson will be 30, though, his body is essentially 29 after he was forced to take a year off due to a suspension.
The age and physical abuse argument against Lynch gets a little fuzzy here then.
Sure, we’re all aware that as a human who presumably feels pain, Lynch is near the doom running back age of 30. He’s also logged a heaping mountain of touches, with 2,469 throughout his career (including playoffs). That’s a fast-rising odometer, but he’s shown no signs of slowing.
Over the past three seasons Lynch. has averaged 388.7 touches (again including playoffs), and during that span he hasn’t missed a single game. Predicting when a decline is coming as punishment adds up is a challenging game rooted in educated guessing and history.
Some caution is needed then, even with the centerpiece of an offense and a running back who accounted for nearly 30 percent of Seattle’s yardage gained this season. A fair number for Lynch's upcoming extension is one that better reflects his value compared to also-aging peers. But the Seahawks can pay him like an offensive anchor without also making Lynch into a salary-cap anchor.
Rapoport reported Lynch could be paid as much as $10 million in 2015, bringing him near the Peterson-money stratosphere. That’s not excessive for Lynch, but it is for the Seahawks:
The Seahawks’ upcoming money mess
Seahawks general manager John Schneider has benefited from the home run cut he took on his quarterback in 2012. When you nail that position in the third round and can pay your quarterback the NFL equivalent of a discount value meal for three years, team-building efforts aren’t restricted by the massive contracts typically associated with star pivots.
Russell Wilson just appeared in his second Super Bowl, and yet he also completed only his third full season. He was paid a base salary of $662,434 in 2014 during the third year of his rookie contract, per Spotrac.
Now Wilson’s financial future is about to change dramatically, and there will be a trickle-down effect on the entire roster. When his expected pay hike is tossed in with Lynch’s reported mammoth raise, quickly the Seahawks’ cap situation for 2015 gets cramped.
The Seahawks currently have roughly $25.1 million in cap space, according to OverTheCap.com. Wilson’s new contract will likely pay him in the vicinity of $20 million each year, though, it could be structured so the true cap pain doesn’t come until 2016.
Still, some of that crunch will be immediate, and premier middle linebacker Bobby Wagner is also heading into the final year of his contract. Now we’re discussing three core players (Wilson, Wagner and Lynch) whose wallets need to be satisfied.
There’s also the matter of Seattle’s pending free agents this offseason, which includes wide receivers Jermaine Kearse and Ricardo Lockette and starting guard James Carpenter.
The Seahawks’ problem isn’t unique, but it’s one they haven’t had to wrestle with yet to the same extent as many other teams because of the cheap fee for Wilson’s services. There are too many money-hungry mouths and not enough dollars to support their diet.
A middle ground?
Beyond paying Wilson, Wagner and other pending free agents, the Seahawks also would like some flexibility on the open market. Upgrading at wide receiver is a primary need, especially after a Super Bowl when Kearse and Doug Baldwin struggled to create separation again, combining for 48 receiving yards.
So perhaps doubling the salary of a nearly 29-year-old running back isn’t the wisest next step here. That’s still true even if he is named Marshawn Lynch, even if he has broken every aging law thus far and even if he’s the Seahawks' offensive engine.
The answer and soft middle ground could lie with Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles. Prior to training camp in 2014, Charles was set to play under a contract that, much like Lynch’s situation now, was paying him far below his value. He was due to make only $3.65 million in 2014.
As part of his new deal, Charles received an extra $5 million up front over two years, and the cap hit was still kept manageable (Charles played under a cap hit of $9.6 million in 2014). Charles is only one year younger than Lynch, making a similar agreement that satisfies all parties involved reasonable.
However, reasonable may not be part of the Seahawks' language in their Lynch dealings. Schneider could see what happened during this playoff run when Lynch kept his team afloat with an overage of 127 total yards per game and easily justify hitching his offense to him at any cost.
That cost is financial space and potentially the opportunity to improve at other positions. But the investment in Lynch’s happiness could mean another Super Bowl appearance. Ideally, both of those things—financial stability and on-field success—can be achieved.