Why Marshawn Lynch Should Look for a New Contract


With the news coming out that Marshawn Lynch of the Seattle Seahawks is unhappy with his contract I thought we should look at what is likely going to drive a holdout for him and why he needs to do this now if he wants to maximize his job security.

I do think it is worth noting that the Seahawks took a huge chance when they signed Lynch to a $7.5 million a year contract in 2011. Lynch had come off more than a few non-descript seasons in Buffalo and a half year in Seattle. Many teams would have pushed for a much lower value based on his history but the Seahawks have been about taking chances in recent years and believed strongly in his talent giving him $17 million fully guaranteed in the contract. Their gamble clearly paid off but with the guarantees gone and the likelihood of diminishing importance Lynch is ready for a new contract.

The NFL is always about changing landscapes. Coaches change. Schemes change. Young players mature and veteran players begin to decline. One can not diminish the impact that Lynch has had on the Seahawks offense the last three years- he has been the steady driving force that allows the team to pound the ball offensively and give the defense the rest and margin for error they need.

But that was the past and this is going to soon become someone else’s football team. QB Russell Wilson is about to make the turn from underpaid rookie to gigantic salaried veteran in 2015. He is the future of the team and their focus from a contractual standpoint next season. The team expects to have WR Percy Harvin, making nearly $13 million a year, healthy for the foreseeable future. Doug Baldwin is now signed for a few more seasons while the team spent a high draft pick on another wideout in Paul Richardson. The Seahawks also have a stable of young running backs that are expected to take more of the workload this year.

You don’t have to be a genius to see the writing on the wall. The offense is going to further morph over the next few years and Lynch will be left with a termination notice informing him that he is no longer a member of the Seahawks. But at least for 2014 there are still some questions for Seattle. Harvin has to prove he can be healthy. Richardson has to prove he can play. The young backs need to prove they can be effective in their role. Going into September Lynch will have a vital role for the team, but leaving November he likely won’t.  So it makes sense for Lynch to make a stand now while he still may have some leverage due to his role on the team.

If Lynch is forced to play the season out he will be 29 next season when odds are he will be released or be asked to restructure his contract. He is now entering the phase of his career where we do not look back and compare him to Adrian Peterson in 2011 or LeSean McCoy in 2012 when determining a likely value. Those players were younger when they signed. We now move up the ladder and examine the group of players who signed contracts when they were close to their 30’s at the front end of the deal.

Here are the three year numbers for those players when they signed and what Lynch has done the prior three seasons as comparison.

PlayerAge at SigningCareer AttemptsAttemptsYardsYPA RECYardsYPR
Frank Gore28137167230094.4814112318.73
Chris Johnson29174281733674.121359957.37
Reggie Bush2896747922224.641127967.11
Fred Jackson3181762929234.6511610288.86
DeAngelo Williams30116941519344.66403839.58
Maurice Jones-Drew29180466328224.26997747.82
Steven Jackson30255284734284.0512610378.23
Marshawn Lynch28175390140514.50877248.32

Lynch has certainly been run into the ground the last three years and these numbers don’t even include the playoff numbers, something that was not an issue for the other players. On a per play basis Lynch is not doing anything extraordinary and his value lies in durability and the ability to perform at a strong level despite the heavy workload. But is that important to teams in todays NFL?  Only in very few cases as most teams focus on passing the ball more than running it.

If Lynch gets another season of work from Seattle his career use will scare many teams away. If he gets less work he’ll still be second on this list and teams may begin to question if he can be a workhorse back.  If he gets hurt then his durability advantage is gone. It’s a no win situation for him from a contractual standpoint. Everything will be worse for him after this season in terms of contract discussions.

Another important aspect of this is the ability to stay in a place where he is comfortable and found his greatest success. Most of these players were cast aways from their original teams. Johnson signed with the Jets. Bush went to Detroit. Jones-Drew signed with the Raiders. Jackson ended up in Atlanta. Williams contract was actually a renegotiated deal where the team gave him the “pay cut or be cut” ultimatum.

In general free agency or the possibility of free agency has not really been that kind to these players. Here are the contract terms signed by the group:

PlayerAgeYearTotalAPYFull Guarantee
Frank Gore283$19,524,000$6,508,000$0
Fred Jackson312$8,700,000$4,350,000$3,000,000
Chris Johnson292$8,000,000$4,000,000$3,000,000
Reggie Bush284$16,000,000$4,000,000$4,000,000
Steven Jackson303$12,000,000$4,000,000$4,000,000
DeAngelo Williams303$10,000,000$3,333,333$4,000,000
Maurice Jones-Drew293$7,500,000$2,500,000$1,200,000

These are not the kind of contracts that are going to be big money movers in the NFL. Gore is the only player who got above $4.5 million a year and to get that he received no guarantees in his contract. This is likely what is staring Lynch in the face if he can’t get a new deal out of Seattle right now. Gore’s contract will also not exist next season taking the highest valued deal (and comparable rival player) off the board for future discussions making any higher contract even more difficult to attain. While Seattle is known to push the prices I doubt they would go far beyond the parameters of what is going on with this group.  For Lynch that likely makes this holdout more about trying to get some money now rather than later. Lynch is set to earn $5 million this season in base compensation and another $500,000 if he is healthy for 16 games. Next year that number jumps to $7.5 million.

The $5 million number would essentially be the guaranteed portion/first year cash of any contract he would wind up signing so what we are looking at here is either an opportunity to try to slightly increase the cash to even out 2014 and 2015’s earnings or tweaking the contract to contain more favorable terms such converting an incentivized roster bonus to a March roster bonus.

Right now cutting Lynch in 2015 will only cost the Seahawks $1.5 million against the salary cap. If, however, Lynch signs a three year extension that contains a $4 million signing bonus and $1.5 million base salary for this year then that number jumps to $4.7 million in 2015.  If he can get a small raise for the year and get that bonus to $5 million then he is looking at $5.5 million in what I like to call “dead money protection”. Even without the guarantee it probably locks in the 2015 salary.

Such a move would likely maximize his earnings for the next two years and keep him in the city where he may enjoy playing the most. But this move is only likely to happen this year. If he waits until next year where he shows diminished importance he is probably going to get similar treatment to overused players like MJD and Jackson in free agency. Jackson’s failure in Atlanta will be a warning flag that, rightly or wrongly, will be applied to Lynch and make it difficult for Lynch to even get to that level.  So this is his best and maybe only opportunity to safeguard his future.