This morning a bit of a surprise rumor started concerning running back Marshawn Lynch potentially coming out of retirement to play for the Oakland Raiders. Lynch, who retired in 2016, still has his rights maintained by the Seahawks who placed Lynch on their reserve/retired list last spring. When a player retires while under contract a team can essentially place their contract on hold by using that designation and maintaining full control of the player’s future if he decides to return. That would mean that Oakland would need to negotiate a trade for Lynch with Seattle if they wanted him on the team or Lynch would need to find a way to force a release from his current contract. So I wanted to look at some of the issues that will possibly come up regarding Lynch.
When a player retires from the NFL and is still playing under an active contract a team has the right to recapture any future bonus money that was paid out as a signing bonus as part of the contract. For Lynch this was a total of $5 million remaining from his 2015 contract extension. In some cases when a player who is important to the organization retires teams will not look to recapture this money (they are not obligated by the CBA to force this on the player). Normally I would say that Lynch would have fallen into this category, but his last year in Seattle was odd and I could understand Seattle feeling that they should go after the bonus money.
Assuming that the Seahawks did go after the money it would mean that they collected $2.5 million last year and can collect $2.5 million this season. If Lynch returns to the NFL the Seahawks lose their right to go after that $2.5 million unless they release him. If they release him upon his reinstatement to the NFL they still have the right to try to reclaim the $2.5 million. If Lynch is willing to go play for another team for a reasonable salary after clashing somewhat with Seattle over the last two years over money I could definitely see Seattle’s logic in looking to maintain that right to go after his salary and just releasing him from his contract.
There is also a salary cap consideration for the Seahawks that could see Lynch force his way out of Seattle. When Lynch returns to the NFL his salary that would hit the Seahawks books would be $9 million, all of which counts on the cap. Seattle is currently, by our estimates, about $15 million under the salary cap. Lynch’s return would bring the Seahawks to just $6 million. They are reportedly still looking for a left tackle and left tackles are not cheap. Even a player like a Ryan Clady with an injury history should cost close to $5 million. Factor in money that’s set aside for rookies in the summer and the cap situation could also cause the Seahawks to strongly consider releasing Lynch rather than allowing the situation to play out over time.
From the Raider perspective there is also the consideration of cost. If traded Lynch would cost the Raiders $9 million in 2017. This year the going rate for running backs, including the Raiders starter from 2016, is $4.25 million plus incentives. While the Raiders don’t have any salary cap issues would they be able to execute a trade and get Lynch to agree to a more reasonable contract? Are they willing to fight with the Seahawks over trade value on top of paying Lynch?
Lynch’s last year in Seattle he only played in 7 games and ran for just 3.8 yards per carry. He had a situation where the coaching staff said he was healthy enough to play but Lynch said he wasn’t and given the contract that he signed that offseason I would say that it would be fair for a team to question how motivated he was. Those are issues that would need to be discussed prior to any trade and at the moment Oakland should not have been allowed to have any contact with him about a possible contract.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.