Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch began his holdout Friday in hopes the team will pay him more money, despite his contract having has two years and $13 million remaining. The four-year, $30 million contract Lynch signed two years ago already has paid him $17 million, and puts him among the top six highest paid backs in the league.
But Lynch, who turned 28 in April, is due a base salary of $5.5 million next season along with a $2 million roster bonus, so it makes sense he is trying to maximize his earning potential while he is still in Beast Mode. After all, running backs see a sharp decline after they turn 27 years of age.
Lynch rushed 717 times for 3,313 yards and 29 touchdowns over the past two years (including the playoffs) plus accumulated the most Win Probability Added (2.51) in the league by a running back over that span. Win Probability Added measures each play in terms of how much it increased or decreased a team’s chances of winning the game.
Teams pay players to win games, and stats show that the Seahawks have already received close to full value on Lynch’s contract. According to research done by Brian Burke, if we weight playoff wins twice as much as the importance of regular season wins, then NFL teams pay about $11 million per win. That would mean Seattle has gotten $27.6 million in value in just two years on a four-year, $30 million contract. By this same method, Lynch was worth $18.3 million in the first year of the contract alone, for which Seattle paid him $5.5 million.
Projecting running backs is not an exact science, but if you believe Lynch will be a top-five running back this season in terms of influencing his team’s ability to win then he will be worth $14.9 million per year. If you feel he will be ranked in the bottom half of the Top 10, then that value drops to $8.4 million. Lynch would have to to put in a season where he was ranked just outside the Top 10 to give Seattle fair value for his cap hit.
In other words, Lynch is underpaid.
“Listen, there are player years in which you get paid, and then there are club years. [Lynch] is in the club years,” Warren Sapp said on NFL Total Access.
That’s true: Lynch signed a contract and has some obligation to honor it. However, the NFL is a business, and the Seahawks would not be timid about cutting Lynch if they felt he couldn’t outperform the remaining years on the contract.