Could Super Bowl be Lynch's finale in Seattle?
RENTON, Wash. (AP) For all the importance placed around finding the right quarterback, the trade that brought Marshawn Lynch to Seattle part way through the 2010 season could be considered the most important transaction Pete Carroll made in the makeover of the Seahawks.
Lynch brought more than just skills as a running back. Lynch provided the Seahawks an attitude that spread through the locker room.
''I kind of love his act,'' Seattle general manager John Schneider said.
All that Lynch has provided the Seahawks makes it seem unfathomable that next Sunday's Super Bowl against New England could be his finale in Seattle.
No more showers of Skittles. No more Beast Mode moments. No more cat-and-mouse game avoiding the media.
Both the Seahawks and Lynch have decisions to make in the offseason. Whether it's time for Lynch to move on or if he'll play out the final year of his contract with Seattle.
If Lynch returns under his current contract, it would cost Seattle $8.5 million against the salary cap, a number that would be unusual for a to-be 29-year-old running back.
Seattle could attempt to restructure or extend Lynch's contract to take less of a hit against its salary cap. They could decide it's time for backups Robert Turbin and Christine Michael to get their opportunities as Seattle's featured running backs.
Or Lynch could follow through on rumors that have followed him for nearly a year and decide to walk away from football.
Only one of those options is particularly pleasing to Seahawks fans and that's seeing Lynch continue. They've come to revel in the toughness and fight and refuse-to-be-tackled style with which Lynch runs. ''Beast Mode'' is an attitude Seattle has never had on the football field.
''He's a dog. His whole demeanor,'' Seattle safety Earl Thomas said. ''He's a man (among) boys out there.''
A case could be made that 2014 was Lynch's best season of his career and it started under an umbrella of speculation about his role.
Seattle coaches hinted in the offseason that backs such as Turbin and Michael could have more of a role in the offense and training camp began with Lynch holding out for the first week.
But once Lynch got on the field, his importance became clear. He rushed for more yards two seasons ago, but this season was a display of how Lynch has become more than just a ball carrier.
''It's been an extraordinary season that he's put out here because he's been so consistent for so long and he's been so physically right for so long,'' Carroll said.
Lynch's 17 touchdowns in the regular season, including four TD catches, were a career high. He caught 37 passes for a career-best 367 yards, becoming a more reliable receiving option out of the backfield. He's consistently been a capable blocker in pass protection.
''The thing that he brings to our offense is his versatility,'' quarterback Russell Wilson said. ''People underestimate I think his ability to catch the football, his ability to block, his ability to run after contact. Just what he does in the backfield I mean I don't think there's another football player like him in terms of the running back position.''
But that's only part of Lynch's story. Where his value is understated, and possibly most appreciated, is the ability to make something out of nothing.
To break tackles before he gets to the line of scrimmage and create a 3-yard gain out of what should be a 3-yard loss. It's a skill others can try and emulate and never truly duplicate.
Of the 1,306 yards rushing this season for Lynch, 771 came after first contact according to STATS. That was the second-highest total in the league, but Lynch averaged 2.8 yards after contact per attempt - the best in the league for any running back.
In each of his four full seasons with Seattle, more than 600 yards rushing each season has come after Lynch was first hit. And 2014 was his highest total.
In the NFC title game last Sunday, Lynch's 157 yards rushing became a footnote to all the other craziness that occurred in Seattle's comeback. How good was Lynch's performance against the Packers? He was one of five running backs in the past five seasons to rush for more than 150 yards in a playoff game.
If Lynch is back in 2015, he'll be facing the history that often catches up with running backs as they inch closer to age 30. Only 18 different running backs in NFL history have rushed for more than 1,300 yards in a season after turning 29.
But Lynch seems to be a different type of running back.
''He's hands down the best back in the game,'' New England defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said, ''because he can hurt you any time he has the ball in his hands.''
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