RENTON, Wash. – Unsurprisingly for the smooth machine the Seahawks have become, as training camp opened Friday on a sunny, breezy lakeside morning, everyone was reading from the same script regarding the missing Beast.
Marshawn Lynch was a holdout, and everyone was in their lanes.
“We all love Marshawn,” the general manager, John Schneider, said on the radio.
“We wish he was with us now, but this is a tremendous opportunity for the guys who will be getting their shot,” said coach Pete Carroll.
“We’re all ready to go” if he’s not here, said the heir apparent, running back Christine Michael.
“It’s a business – he isn’t getting what he feels he deserves to get,” said Michael Bennett, the defensive end.
Even the Seahawks website carried a glowing feature about Lynch’s work with kids in inner-city Oakland.
No one said, “A contract is a contract – show up.” Nor did anyone suggest he be given whatever he wants.
While everyone was careful to avoid rocking the boat of a Super Bowl champion – no one wants to be that guy – Carroll did make an illuminating point, perhaps inadvertently.
Asked about what Lynch brings to the Seahawks that is hard to replicate, he said, “He’s a pretty unusual football player. He’s got a lot of great, unique qualities about him. The attitude that he’s brought in the last few years has been significant.
“When we were trying to make our mark as a physical football team, he stood right at the front of that.”
Exactly, Coach. The Seahawks have many gifted players, most of them young, many of them tough in their own way.
Michael could prove to be an adequate replacement in yards per carry. There may be better pass blockers. There may be better pass catchers out of the backfield.
But when comes to ohmigawd, don’t-let-him-hurt- me-mama, baaad-maaan sci-fi villain, snot-bubble ferocity, there is only Marshawn Lynch.
And he plays offense.
It’s easy to think that most football players are like that, and many of them are. But most are on defense. And the guys who are similarly unpleasant on offense tend to be on the line, where their menace is obscured.
But when Lynch takes the ball, it is known to the world that he will drill a stiff-arm through a tackler’s soul, and keep his knees pumping like twin jackhammers. He plays a position that can be vulnerable and weaponizes it for welt distribution. There are no metrics for this, unless “defender’s eye-width signaling terror” is a measurable.
Perhaps most important, he sets the bar so high for legal violence that he shames his teammates into doing their jobs with the same intensity.
“When you see what he does,” tight end Zach Miller once said, “you feel obligated not to let him down.”
Simply, he is a bad-ass like no other in the NFL.
Which makes the case for those who justify a rare renegotiation with Lynch.
There is no running back better at yards after contact, or making a spectacle out of a 3-yard gain.
A teammate made a similar point.
“He’s the engine that gets this thing going,” wide receiver Percy Harvin said. “We’re going to need him out here to piece this thing all together.”
With the possible exception of San Francisco, no team uses the running game to such great effect: controlling the clock, reducing mistakes, allowing the passing game to deploy more high-percentage passes.
Without him, the Seahawks will attempt to adapt. But it won’t be as easy to impose their will, as was done so splendidly in the Super Bowl.
At 28, Lynch is well compensated: In the third year of a four-year, $30 million deal, he received $6 million in a signing bonus. He will make $5 million in base salary this season and $5.5 million in 2015.
But his deal is not what defensive back Richard Sherman or free safety Earl Thomas received this offseason. And he is a bright guy who knows his time is short, especially with the Seahawks, who proved last season that is not only possible, but even easier, to win, with second-, third- and fourth-year players.
It’s not as if the Seahawks have no cap room. According to overthecap.com, the Seahawks stand $8.5 million below the $135.9 million salary cap. And he is a stubborn, prideful guy. Remember during a game he flipped off his own sideline for not calling his number on a play near the goal line?
A tough hombre who cares little for what the conventionals think.
Asked if he expected Lynch back this season, Carroll said, “I’m hoping that he will be back with us.”
Carroll is the one who called Lynch unique. It won’t be hard for the Seahawks to do something unique for Lynch, then dare any other player to who wants to renegotiate to do for the Seahawks what he has done.
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