Since he retired at 29, rumors about a potential return by RB Marshawn Lynch will be around the Seahawks in the manner that facts swirl around Donald Trump: Annoyances to be brushed aside. The specter of Lynch surfaced the past week when a story on Bleacher Report claimed he told two unidentified ex-teammates he’s thinking about a return.
So at a media chat after Thursday’s organized team activity at team headquarters, I asked the question of coach Pete Carroll that the Seahawks don’t want to hear: Has Lynch been in touch?
Carroll answered in the inverse of his usual style. Instead of using many words to provide little of substance, he used one word that said a lot:
No elaboration. No fawning appreciation. No well-wishing for Lynch’s retirement.
Then Carroll grinned, mostly at himself for dispatching quickly an unwanted interruption.
Even though his teammates respect and like him to the point of veneration, the coaches are so done with Lynch. They will never say so publicly, for all the obvious reasons. But to use a term from workplace management, Lynch was high-maintenance, and they are delighted to be free from it.
Not that he wasn’t worth it. The coaches saw what everyone else saw: A relentless warrior who found yards where no one else could. He exceeded what anyone could have imagined at the time of his 2010 acquisition from Buffalo.
But as with most high-maintenance employees, they tend to wear some people down. Lynch was as anti-authority as an NFL player can get without being fired.
Whether it was holding out despite a valid contract, or offering the finger on national TV to the sideline playcallers, or using little passive-aggressive things like rehabbing away from the team, or wearing a “31” jersey at practice in support of holdout Kam Chancellor, Lynch was as independent toward the bosses as he was close to his teammates.
As Carroll once said casually after a practice when Lynch was absent, “Marshawn just doesn’t like being told what to do.”
Which made his anti-hero persona, including his disdain for media scrums, as compelling to fans as it was to teammates. But two things happened last year that made the coaches more eager to see the end of the Lynch era.
The obvious one was the emergence of rookie Thomas Rawls. No one is ever likely to be Beast Mode, but the unlikely rookie was a bruising producer of tough yards who emulated, to a surprising degree, Lynch in his most vital virtue.
The other was the episode before the first playoff game at Minnesota when he was recovering sufficiently from abdomen surgery Nov. 25 that Carroll said publicly Lynch was ready to return to action.
“He feels good now; that’s why he’s back,’’ Carroll said at the beginning of week. “He wouldn’t be here if he didn’t feel like he could go. He’s ready to rock.
“We’ll just have to find out what it looks like. I really think it’s going to be just fine, I’m not really worried about it at all.”
During the week of practice, assistant coaches Tom Cable and Darrell Bevell, along with some players, said they thought Lynch was playing Sunday. Carroll said so on a weekly radio show Friday morning.
But Lynch surprised everyone later Friday by saying he wasn’t ready to play. No physical setbacks were reported, but he didn’t get on the bus to the airport.
As supportive and enlightened as Carroll is when it comes to managing people, no boss likes to be publicly embarrassed. It also meant that tactically, in the injury absence of Rawls, the Seahawks were going into the subzero Midwest with a third-string running back in Christine Michael. The coaches privately had to be pissed.
That they survived — a 10-9 victory, the fewest points by a winning team in the playoffs since 1997 — was one of the epic feats in franchise history. Yes, it took a missed chip-shot field goal by the Vikings’ Blair Walsh, but it was also only the third road win in Seahawks postseason history. Considering the conditions, and how they humiliated the Vikings in the regular season, the game may have been the most demanding of the Carroll era.
Lynch was back for the next playoff game in Carolina, but the game was out of hand so quickly that running the ball was largely irrelevant.
When Lynch announced he was done during the Super Bowl, the Seahawks coaches were already deep in the mindset that they were moving on because, feelings aside, the offense performed so capably in Lynch’s injury absence behind QB Russell Wilson and a re-jiggered offense.
In the games without Lynch, the Seahawks averaged 148.1 yards a game, 12 more than they did with him. And in the final six regular season games, Wilson had 1,646 passing yards, 21 touchdowns, one interception, 69.1 completion percentage and a QB rating of 131.2.
For the fall, in the unlikely event that Rawls hasn’t healed from his ankle broken in the Dec. 14 Baltimore game, the Seahawks loaded up in the draft with three young running backs.
This does not look and sound like a team pinin’ for the Beast.
Should Lynch truly want to return — his agent, Doug Hendrickson, said it wasn’t happening — the Seahawks hold his rights, and would deal him for a draft choice, unlikely to be better than a sixth- or seventh-rounder.
I’ve been asked several times whether I think Lynch will come back. I say it’s easier to predict the date and time when the sun goes supernova than to forecast what Lynch will do. But I’m quite sure whatever he does, it won’t be with the Seahawks.
Life in the NFL moves on quickly, especially when a team considers 11-7 a poor season and has a top-five quarterback at 27 entering his physical and psychological prime.
But feel free to ask Pete Carroll. He won’t waste a lot of time answering.