Marshawn Lynch is said to be leaning toward retiring, and if/when he does, the Seahawks could ask for some of his bonus money back, but aren't expected to.
Shortly after Seahawks general manager John Schneider said in a pair of radio interviews Friday that Marshawn Lynch is leaning toward retirement came reports that the running back could be asked to return $5 million in bonus money if he does indeed decide to walk away.
The key word there, however, is “could.’’
Most NFL contracts include bonuses, and teams typically have the right to ask for some of it back if the player decides not to fulfill the contract unless language is specifically added preventing them from doing so.
It’s something that former sports agent Joel Corry, who now writes about salary cap issues for CBSSports.com, says dates to when Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders retired in 1999 having played just two years of a six-year contract for which he had received an $11 million signing bonus — the Lions later got some of that money back, and some now call the right of teams to ask for bonus money back the ”Barry Sanders rule.”
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But it remains fairly rare that teams actually ask for bonus money to be returned (though one other recent time it occurred was last year when 49ers linebacker Chris Borland retired after one season and later paid back 75 percent of his bonus).
And it’s not expected that the Seahawks would ask for Lynch’s bonus money back. As Corry notes, Lynch has thought about retiring the last two seasons. When he signed a new deal with the Seahawks last March that included a $7.5 million sign in bonus, everyone knew that Lynch might well have just one year left. In that regard, the bonus money paid to Lynch could be viewed as also being a reward for past deeds as much as what he would do in the future.
The bonus was pro-rated at $2.5 million on the salary cap for each of the 2016 and 2017 seasons and that is the bonus money that the Seahawks could, via the rules of his contract, ask to be paid back.
If Lynch were to re-pay the bonus then that would come off the salary cap, though not until the money was actually in hand, which means it wouldn’t take effect until 2017 at the earliest.
But nobody expects that to happen. For starters, if Lynch really got the idea that the Seahawks were going to ask for it back then he could just wait to be released by the team (and it’s worth repeating that other than the bonus money possibility that there is no difference in terms of the salary cap if Lynch retires or is released. If Lynch retires or is released then it will save the Seahawks $6.5 million against the cap in 2016 and $10 million in 2017, though no one anywhere ever expected Lynch would actually play the 2017 season at the $12.5 million cap hit his contract calls for).
If Lynch retires, it almost undoubtedly comes with an understanding that the Seahawks won’t ask for his bonus to be repaid.
Corry says any idea that the Seahawks would be trying to force Lynch’s hand to retire “is just people getting up in arms over nothing and trying to make conspiracy theories.’’
For the Seahawks, it’s undoubtedly simply a little cleaner move to have Lynch retire instead of having to release a player who has been the heart and soul of the offense during its greatest period of success and one of the most popular players in franchise history.
Lynch turns 30 in April and battled injuries throughout the 2015 season and also had a sports hernia surgery that was the first of his football career.
And even before the injuries of this year Lynch also thought about retirement after each of the 2013 and 2014 seasons.
The Seahawks also now have a proven alternative for Lynch in Thomas Rawls, which will help ease the transition.
In the radio interviews on ESPN 710 Seattle and KJR-AM 950 that Schneider gave on Friday, he indicated the team hopes to have clarity to Lynch’s status by the NFL Combine in late February.
While Lynch has been known to surprise throughout his career, the expectation remains that he will retire, and will do so with the money he has earned from the Seahawks safely in hand.