Maybe it seems too early to begin considering Lynch’s legacy, but injuries this season and having surgery for the first time in his NFL career at age 29 make it seem likely we are nearing the end of the run for one of the more fascinating players in Seahawks history.
Editor’s note: This originally was posted in November, before Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch announced his retirement Sunday night.
Two events this week — surgery for Marshawn Lynch and the naming of 25 semifinalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame — led to one intriguing question.
Namely, will Lynch one day be a Hall of Famer?
Maybe it seems too early to begin considering Lynch’s legacy — we’re not suggesting his playing days are done or that he won’t ever be the same.
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But Lynch’s injuries this season and having surgery for the first time in his NFL career at age 29 lead to the obvious likelihood that we are nearing the end of the run for one of the more fascinating players in Seahawks history.
Though Lynch has a contract running through the 2017 season, the Seahawks could save $6.5 million against the salary cap next season if they release him by June 1.
And with Thomas Rawls having proven himself a reliable and much younger and cheaper option, the writing appears to be on the wall that Lynch might have only a few games left in his Seattle career.
Who knows? Lynch might want to play somewhere else — his hometown Oakland Raiders long have been mentioned as a place he might like to finish his career.
But in the wake of the surgery, good friend and former teammate Michael Robinson again this week brought up the notion that retirement could be an option for Lynch, meaning his current career statistics could be about it.
If Lynch were to play another season or two and put up stats similar to the bulk of his career then a Hall of Fame spot might be a no-brainer.
If not, it might be a tough go, even if, at first glance, Lynch’s numbers are right there with some of the best.
Consider these two career stat lines:
Player A: 2,187 attempts, 9,407 yards, 4.3 yards per carry, 74 touchdowns.
Player B: 2,144 attempts, 9,112 yards, 4.3 yards per carry, 74 touchdowns.
Player A is Earl Campbell, who after playing with the Saints and Oilers from 1978-85, became one of 14 running backs to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility.
Player B is Lynch.
One might argue that Campbell’s best seasons were greater than Lynch’s.
But although Campbell turned in one of the better seasons in NFL history in 1980 when he had 1,930 yards, only one other time did he gain more than Lynch’s career high of 1,590 in 2012.
In 1980, Campbell averaged 5.2 yards per attempt — Lynch averaged 5.0 in 2012. Campbell averaged better than 4.1 yards per attempt for a season only three times in his career, same as Lynch.
Consider, though, another stat line that illustrates why Lynch’s road to the Hall could be long — 2,187 attempts, 9,453 yards, 4.3 yards per attempt, 100 touchdowns.
Those are the career numbers for Shaun Alexander (yes, he had the same amount of attempts as Campbell), who has been eligible for the Hall of Fame for three years and has yet to reach the semifinalist stage (he was not one of the 25 named this week).
I can already hear the cries about Alexander benefiting from a great offensive line, which he did. In his best season in 1980, though, Campbell also played behind an offensive line that featured a left guard and left tackle who also had at least one first-team All-Pro honor in their careers.
And the point is that football might be the sport in which it is most difficult to put career stats into context. Baseball players (those who aren’t connected to PED use) largely need to hit a certain target (3,000 hits, 300 career wins) and they are in the Hall of Fame, with usually not much questioning of their validity.
But despite playing the same position and tasked to do essentially the same job, the mention of Campbell, Lynch and Alexander undoubtedly elicits vastly different reactions, despite the similarity in their numbers.
Here’s something else, though, to consider: rushing yards in the postseason, when players say the intensity, physicalness and urgency is as great as ever.
Lynch has 917 yards in the playoffs, which ranks eighth all-time, including six games of 100 yards or more, which is tied for third all-time.
The seven ahead of Lynch in playoff career rushing yards read like a who’s who of NFL running backs — Emmitt Smith, Franco Harris, Thurman Thomas, Tony Dorsett, Marcus Allen, Terrell Davis and John Riggins. Davis played in eight playoff games, Riggins in nine. Otherwise, all played in more playoff games than Lynch’s 10.
And all but Davis, named this week as a semifinalist, are in the Hall of Fame.