RENTON — Standard answers followed expected news.
Running back Marshawn Lynch – long the hard-driving, physical face of the Seattle Seahawks’ offense – was not at the first day of training camp. Lynch is holding out because he wants his contract reworked. His teammates shrugged.
“He feels like what he needs to get, he hasn’t gotten,” defensive lineman Michael Bennett said. “We support him — we want him to be here, but as a player you understand the business side, too. Nobody is really worried about him not being out here. We know when he comes, he’s going to set the standard.”
Bennett’s opinion was repeated by other Seahawks, from Percy Harvin to second-year back Christine Michael. Hedging more toward irritation was the world champions’ head coach, Pete Carroll.
Carroll said he has maintained “ongoing” conversations with Lynch. The running back is entering the third year of a four-year, $30 million contract. None of his remaining money is guaranteed. As he ages – Lynch is 28 – he knows his career window is closing. The team could cut him at any point.
But, Carroll reminds that the Seahawks gave Lynch a lucrative contract just two years ago.
“We had a substantial plan working for us for years now,” Carroll said. “Marshawn was a big part of this plan. Just a couple years back, we made a big statement, made a big effort for him. We wish he was with us now. But, this is a tremendous opportunity for the guys that are getting their shot.”
Carroll said “yes” when asked if he was disappointed that Lynch was not in camp. The Seahawks are now in a tug-of-wills with their star back, the person they repeatedly have said the offense is built around. Lynch has to figure out how much money he is willing to lose in his pursuit of more money. The Seahawks have to consider tone.
If Lynch doesn’t attend camp, he will incur fines of $30,000 per day, plus a partial forfeiture of his $6 million signing bonus if he holds out five days or more. Multiple reports indicate the Seahawks will not budge, fearing capitulating to Lynch’s demands will set a poor precedent.
The Kansas City Chiefs bowed to running back Jamaal Charles on Wednesday when they gave him a two-year extension after he threatened to hold out.
Surely, that caught the eye of Lynch.
Charles’ new deal makes him the NFL’s second-highest paid running back (Adrian Peterson remains at the top). His new contract runs through 2017 and pays him $18.1 million for the additional two years. He received a boost of $5.1 million during the next two seasons, including a $4.4 million increase this season, according to ESPN. Charles was set to make $3.9 million in 2014 with a base salary of $2.65 million.
As much as the Seahawks rely on Lynch, the Chiefs rely on Charles more. He led the league with 35.3 percent of the team’s yards from scrimmage. He also led the league with 19 total touchdowns.
Charles is 27 and was woefully underpaid. Lynch is 28 and is under contract to make $7 million total this season and $9 million next year.
Without Lynch, the Seahawks’ backfield consists of Michael and last year’s backup, Robert Turbin. No one in the NFL runs more often than the Seahawks. Carroll is adamant that will not change, with or without Lynch, which puts the spotlight on Michael and Turbin.
Turbin’s astuteness as a blocker and stern running make the argument for him. Michael’s recent maturation and explosive running ability – he’s the Seahawks’ fastest back – make him a tantalizing option.
As the music blared and a hill adjacent to the practice field swelled with fans Friday, Michael and Turbin split carries. The two have been doing so since organized team activities and mandatory minicamp in June. Lynch did not show for voluntary OTAs and did not participate in mandatory minicamp, though he was in attendance.
This is Turbin’s third year with the Seahawks. He was picked in the fourth round of the 2012 draft out of Utah State. He’s averaged 3.9 yards per carry.
Michael was a second-round pick in the 2013 draft out of Texas A&M. He’s a shifty back who was happy to propel himself into the spotlight at Super Bowl media day despite a very low amount of playing time last year. He lacked two keys that Turbin has: pass-blocking ability and participation on special teams.
Those things will change this year. Michael said he is ready to do anything asked of him on special teams. He also said he’s physically and mentally better prepared to block. If the coaches can’t trust him to do that, his playing time will remain reduced.
For now, Lynch’s refusal to come to camp will leave multiple chances for Michael and Turbin. It also brings the first drama to a Seattle team attempting to repeat.