It’s the first day of training camp, and the Seahawks are already playing their biggest game of the season.
Unfortunately, the Legion of Boom is ineligible to assist with this one.
Star running back Marshawn Lynch has decided to take his demand for a pay raise to another threat level, according to former Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson. Lynch will be the dreaded camp holdout. Until this complicated situation is resolved, the Seahawks’ bid to win another championship is in a fragile state.
Lynch called Robinson on Thursday afternoon to deliver the news, and Robinson relayed it to the NFL Network. And now comes the difficult part, a staredown between a headstrong athlete and a hard-line franchise.
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Lynch isn’t known for backing down. The Seahawks aren’t inclined to kowtow to a player they awarded a lucrative contract just two years ago.
If this dispute were an on-field rivalry, it would be the caliber of the Seahawks vs. 49ers. Lynch needs the Seahawks if he wants to continue playing football. The Seahawks need Lynch if they want to kiss another Lombardi Trophy.
The public sentiment will be divided. Anyone who understands the triviality of an NFL contract should wonder why a franchise has the power to wiggle out of a deal while the player is expected to honor the entire thing. And anyone who understands the challenge of managing the NFL’s hard salary cap should know that a franchise can’t sustain success if required to re-do fair contracts with multiple years remaining on the agreement.
So, what gives? Who blinks first?
This could be a contentious, annoying fight.
A month ago, it seemed that Lynch’s discontent could be managed. Despite reports that he was upset and considering a holdout, he reported to the Seahawks’ mandatory three-day minicamp last month to avoid a $70,000 fine. He didn’t practice. He just stood on the sideline in his trademark hooded sweatshirt, nursing a tender ankle, according to coach Pete Carroll.
It was taken as a sign that Lynch and the Seahawks would engage in some good-faith discussions instead of commence with an all-out fight. But there was never a plan for a resolution. Perhaps Lynch and the Seahawks understand each other better now, but the problem remains.
Lynch, 28, wants to maximize his earning potential before he reaches age 30, a death knell for running backs. The Seahawks believe the four-year, $31 million deal Lynch signed two years ago is a good contract, and they don’t have any desire to set the precedent of tearing up a contract this early.
It doesn’t help matters that Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles — who is in an elite class of NFL backs with Lynch, Adrian Peterson and LeSean McCoy — received a contract extension this week after threatening to hold out. Charles’ new deal makes him the second-highest paid running back in the NFL, behind Peterson.
The Chiefs haven’t been preparing for life without Charles, however. The Seahawks drafted running back Christine Michael in the second round in 2013 as a possible Lynch successor. They also have another good back in Robert Turbin, Lynch’s backup the past two seasons.
As vital as Beast Mode is to the Seahawks’ bruising style of football, Carroll operates with a competition-based system in which no player is considered irreplaceable. The Seahawks also employ a zone-blocking scheme, coached brilliantly by Tom Cable, that has made 1,000-yard rushers out of mere decent running backs.
With their actions in this Lynch matter, the Seahawks must answer a question that all well-run franchises face: Which deserves more trust — their system or their star? It’s great to already have a Lynch succession plan. It’s great to have a reliable, time-tested scheme that guarantees at least a functional run game. But Beast Mode is a rare talent. And even the greatest organizations comprehend superstars are so important that, in some instances, you must bend rules and revise beliefs to accommodate them.
Is this such an instance?
Only the Seahawks’ hope to win another Super Bowl is on the line.
The champions open training camp Friday, having acquired rock-star status and the deafening noise that accompanies it. The ticker tape has fallen, the champagne has been consumed, and the rings have been awarded. ESPN will arrive soon to produce a special show. And amid all the fresh hype, Lynch’s displeasure will be the cloud hovering over a team that otherwise has few major concerns.
It’s not the worst-case scenario. That would occur if Lynch’s holdout lasts into the regular season. But it’s not a good way to start a title defense, and the situation could get even uglier once Lynch starts incurring the $30,000-a-day fines for missing camp.
This is a tug-of-war, with the Seahawks’ shot at Super Bowl XLIX wobbling atop the rope.
That long, wonderful celebration is officially over. It’s Day One of a new season, and the Seahawks are already playing a game of consequence.