Oakland coach Jon Gruden says he's counting on Marshawn Lynch being with the team in 2018 and signs at the NFL Combine Wednesday pointed to the former Seahawk likely returning to the Raiders next season.
From a strictly football standpoint, the biggest intrigue when the Seahawks travel to London to play the Raiders on Oct. 14 could be a possible matchup against one of the most iconic players in team history — Marshawn Lynch.
And as the first day of press conferences at the NFL Combine wore on Wednesday, signs increasingly pointed to Lynch remaining with the Raiders next season.
Lynch, the heart and soul of Seattle’s offense from 2010-15, returned to play with the Raiders last season after taking off 2016 in retirement, signing a two-year contract with the Raiders last spring.
But with new coach Jon Gruden taking over for the fired Jack Del Rio, Lynch’s status for 2018 has been regarded as somewhat uncertain since his contract includes a $5.9 million salary cap hit with no dead money, giving the Raiders a decision of if it’s worth paying that amount for a running back who will turn 32 in April.
Gruden was somewhat noncommittal about Lynch when asked about the running back’s future on Wednesday morning at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis during his official interview session while indicating that ideally he would like him back.
Later in the day, though, the NFL Network reported that Lynch is “expected” to return in 2018, appearing to make it clear that the Seahawks will have to deal with Lynch in London.
“Looking at the film, and a game I broadcast on Christmas night, there’s no question — he’s still a beast that’s hard to bring down,” Gruden said. “One of the reasons I’m excited to be with the Raiders is to join forces with Lynch. But we’ll see what happens. We’ve got to look at the entire roster. But I’m counting on him. Counting on him being a big part of our football team.”
The game Gruden is referring to was Oakland’s 19-10 loss to the Eagles when Lynch rushed for 95 yards on 25 carries.
That game punctuated what was a rather rousing finish to the end of the season for Lynch — he tied a season high with 101 yards on 19 carries against the Chargers the following week (he also had 101 yards in week 11 against the Giants) — a finish that the NFL Network reported has helped convince Gruden to keep Lynch on the roster in 2018.
For the season, Lynch rushed for 891 yards on 207 carries, an average of 4.3 yards per attempt that Seahawks’ fans may not need to be reminded would have been the best of any Seattle running back in 2017 (Chris Carson led Seattle tailbacks in yards per carry at 4.2).
And Gruden said he thinks Lynch could be more productive in 2018 if the team were able to get more out of its fullback spot, noting injuries that hit starter Jamize Olawale in 2017 and the success Lynch had in two-back sets with the Seahawks, particularly when Michael Robinson was with Seattle.
“He didn’t play much last year,” Gruden said of Olawale. “He had some injuries. I think that hurt the offense, as well. He gives the offense some deception because he can run. I mean, he’s a fullback with speed, but he was injured, it impacted us on special teams and it certainly impacted the offense. But I would like to have a fullback. They’re a dying breed in football, but I think it does give your running game a lot of deception. And if Marshawn Lynch is the featured back, I think it would be nice if we serviced him with a fullback. He had a guy named Robinson, who’s with the NFL Network who was a hell of a fullback. And you need a blocking tight end if you’re going to slam the ball with the Beast. So, those are two things that I’m looking for.”