CHARLOTTE — Luke Willson stood in the middle of the Seahawks’ desolate locker room, answering reporters’ questions. Jermaine Kearse was at his locker doing the same, arms slumped at his sides and a blank look on his face.
Tucked away somewhere by the showers, hiding where there almost was no place to hide, Marshawn Lynch dressed in silence. As Kearse began to answer a question about Lynch’s future, the Seahawks’ running back quietly slipped out the door.
With that, Lynch’s Seattle career came to an end. Possibly. Probably.
Lynch, who turns 30 in April, has dabbled with the notion of retirement before. He spent more than half this season on the sideline, first with a bum hamstring and then with an abdomen injury that kept him out of the lineup from Week 11 until Sunday. His return barely registered a blip once the Seahawks' divisional round matchup with Carolina began. Lynch finished with just 20 yards on six carries.
“He didn't get much of a chance,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “He didn't get the opportunity to get going. Even the first run, he kind of got loose in the backfield, he didn't have a shot. He tried hard.”
That initial touch Carroll referenced, Seattle's first play from scrimmage went for minus-three yards—Carolina DT Star Lotulelei exploded through the line and stuffed Lynch in his tracks. Seattle's second play from scrimmage resulted in a pick-six, as a hurried Russell Wilson throw sailed past Lynch and into the arms of Luke Kuechly.
“It wasn't his fault,” Wilson said of Lynch. “Marshawn did great tonight, just in terms of being in it, and obviously him coming back was a tough challenge physically but he stepped up to the challenge and I'm grateful for that.”
Last week, Lynch made the call Friday to sit out Seattle's trip to frigid Minnesota, his abdomen still causing him too many problems. The Seahawks were expecting to get a boost from his return vs. the Panthers, even though it was unclear exactly how many touches Lynch could handle.
How the game started rendered most of the conversation moot. Lynch attempted three carries in the first quarter, resulting in one yard. When the Seahawks’ offense took the field again, the Panthers had a 21–0 lead so the passing game became a necessity—Wilson threw the ball 48 times for 366 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.
Hardly the game plan Seattle had in mind heading into Sunday. Whether or not Lynch is around when the Seahawks shoot for redemption next season will be up to both him and the team's front office.
Lynch’s cap hit for 2016 sits at $11.5 million and it escalates to $12.5 million the following season, the last on his current deal. Seattle could clear about 56% ($6.5 million) of the former number (and all of the latter) by releasing Lynch in the coming months. That is, if Lynch even wants to keep playing.
“I’ll remember him being a beast. Beast Mode. That’s trademarked now,” Richard Sherman said following Sunday’s 31–24 loss. “He’s a guy who's going to go out there, if he’s strapping up his pads, and give you everything he’s got. He’ll play his heart out and play until the last whistle.”
His time with the Seahawks has been memorable, to say the least. Acquired from Buffalo during the 2010 season, at the price tag of a fourth-round and a conditional fifth-round draft pick, Lynch eventually paired with Wilson to transform the Seattle offense. He averaged 1,380 yards rushing from 2011–14, before the aforementioned injuries stunted his ’15 campaign.
Lynch also proved to be a playoff star. In his 11 postseason games with the Seahawks, Lynch has produced nine touchdowns and topped the 100-yard mark on the ground six times. He also scored in each of Seattle's past two Super Bowl trips.
But Sunday was a letdown, caused by a number of factors including Carolina's stout defensive front.
“I will say this: We really do respect their running game,” Carolina coach Ron Rivera said. “It’s one of those things that we emphasize and work on. Our intention was [Lynch] was going to play all along. We were going to be prepared for what they do.”
That Lynch dodged the media afterward is no surprise. A popular personality amongst his teammates, the veteran running back often has been standoffish publicly. Who could forget his famous “I’m just here so I won't get fined” Super Bowl Media Day appearance?
It also won’t come as a shock if one, or both, parties of Lynch and the Seahawks opt to head a different direction this off-season. In Seattle's case, Thomas Rawls more than filled Lynch’s shoes earlier in the year, until he suffered a broken ankle in Week 14. He should be back for next season, at about $10.5 million less than Lynch.
Lynch could opt to hang ’em up, too, rather than play a 10th NFL season, whether it would be in Seattle or elsewhere. If this was it for him as a Seahawk, it was an unceremonious end to an entertaining stretch.
“I’ve never seen someone play that position the way he did, personally,” said Seattle WR Jermaine Kearse. “I think there’s no one quite like Marshawn.”