That set off yet another round of public debate about Lynch’s well-documented disdain for speaking to reporters.
Perhaps a more interesting topic, however, is his value to the Seahawks, both in Sunday’s Super Bowl meeting with the New England Patriots and beyond.
Seahawks players express strong support for Lynch. They call him not only a productive runner but a model teammate, in their view. They talk about Lynch being a veteran from whom younger players seek advice. They speak of Lynch doing good deeds in the community without notice or acclaim. They say they wish the NFL would stop fining him for his media silence or near-silence.
There is no question Lynch remains a reliable on-field producer for the Seahawks at an age — he turns 29 in April — that prompts NFL talent evaluators to wonder how many good seasons a running back has left.
Lynch was the NFL’s fourth-leading rusher during the regular season with 1,306 yards. He tied for the league lead with 13 rushing touchdowns. He has topped 1,200 rushing yards in each of the last four seasons for the Seahawks.
The quarterback matchup of Seattle’s Russell Wilson vs. New England’s Tom Brady will be closely watched Sunday. It is a pass-first league, and which quarterback has the better performance undoubtedly will go a long way toward determining Sunday’s winner. Brady is seeking his fourth career Super Bowl triumph. Wilson is after a second Super Bowl title only three seasons into his NFL career.
But the running back duel between Lynch and the Patriots’ LeGarrette Blount might be every bit as important to the game’s outcome. Wilson is coming off a four-interception outing in the NFC championship game, and it might serve the Seahawks well to put the football — and their offensive fortunes — in Lynch’s hands early on and allow Wilson to settle into the game Sunday.
The Patriots have a highly adaptable offense that can change its approach from game to game. Blount was a focal point of the offense in the AFC title game against the Indianapolis Colts. But one game earlier, in a victory over the Baltimore Ravens in a conference semifinal, the running game was practically nonexistent as Brady never even handed off the ball in the second half.
Against a Seattle defense that dominated another quarterbacking legend, Peyton Manning, and the Denver Broncos in last season’s Super Bowl, though, it probably would make sense for the Patriots to attempt to establish Blount as a threat in the running game to give Brady some time and space to throw.
Beyond Sunday, things will get interesting for the Seahawks. Wilson becomes eligible for a new contract under the NFL’s rookie-compensation system, and it’s possible that the Seahawks will negotiate a mega-deal with him to make him the league’s highest-paid player. But if that happens, it will carve into the team’s available salary cap space following three seasons of having a starting quarterback earning, in NFL terms, next to nothing after being chosen in the third round of the 2012 draft.
“It presents challenges,” Seahawks General Manager John Schneider said Tuesday. “There is no question. We haven’t sat down with his representatives. We are still going to be drafting young players and playing young players. So we might not be able to dip into free agency like you may want to here and there, or compensate somebody else that you want to compensate that is already on your team.”
What would a new contract for Wilson mean for Lynch? Maybe nothing. Maybe quite a bit. Lynch has one season remaining on a four-year, approximately $30 million contract. He reportedly is to count about $8.5 million against next season’s salary cap.
It would be difficult to imagine the Seahawks parting ways with Lynch before next season, particularly if they win Sunday and will be trying for a third straight Super Bowl title. But winning consistently in the NFL’s salary cap era is all about making tough choices, as Patriots Coach Bill Belichick has demonstrated over the years with a series of unsentimental, unpopular-at-the-time moves to part with veteran players such as Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy, Richard Seymour and others.
The Seahawks traded wide receiver Percy Harvin during the season and there was speculation around the same time the organization was weary of dealing with Lynch and might not bring him back for the 2015 season. The Seahawks responded by saying Lynch is under contract for next season and they would love to have him back.
Running backs have become, for the most part, increasingly irrelevant in today’s passing-friendly NFL. Front offices rarely target running backs any more as first-round draft picks or high-priority free agents. But Lynch’s value to the Seahawks is clear, at least to his teammates. It makes for an intriguing set of deliberations that will endure well beyond the Super Bowl.
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