I have a leg up on Marshawn Lynch—unlike the Seahawks’ star running back, I know the athletic highlight of my 30s. It was Saturday, when I ran the Seattle Rock & Roll half-marathon. Sure, three 75-year-olds ran it faster than me; and OK, I finished a full hour behind former Olympian Apolo Anton Ohno; and fine, I was 559th in my age group. Still, I’m taking pride in completing my first race since I took the Presidential Physical Fitness Test.
Marshawn Lynch has enough athletic highlights to fill lifetimes, and he’s only 28. But what will his 30s hold? It’s impossible to predict; he’s not even guaranteed employment at this point. Lynch’s contract with the Seahawks lasts through 2015, the last season he’ll play as a 20-something. This timing may not be a coincidence: Life’s fourth decade is not kind to running backs, especially ones as prolific as Lynch.
Having averaged 300 rushing attempts per year as a Seahawk, Lynch is on pace for 2,353 carries before age 30. That’s more than all but 12 running backs in NFL history. Of those—legendary names like Jim Brown, Barry Sanders, and Emmitt Smith—only half were still playing at age 32. The clock is ticking on Beast Mode.
Lynch knows this, and wants to earn as much as he can before the clock runs out. He reportedly considered skipping last week’s minicamp to make his point, and may yet do so once full training camp begins July 25. Whether or not he holds out, he has to be questioning the sustainability of his style of play. Lynch’s physical running forced 75 missed tackles last year, according to Pro Football Focus—that’s 22 percent better than second-ranked Adrian Peterson. If Lynch continues to recklessly fling his body at opposing defenders for the rest of his 20s, will he end up like me in his 30s, unable to outrun 75-year-olds?
And after three and a half seasons in Seattle, Lynch can’t be blind to Pete Carroll’s ruthlessness. Red Bryant and Chris Clemons got cut in the offseason—not because they weren’t productive, but because they made too much money. Zach Miller took a 50 percent pay cut to avoid unemployment. Lynch’s 2014 status isn’t in dispute, but he’s due $9M in 2015. With young, cheap options like Robert Turbin and Christine Michael clawing for playing time, will Lynch face Miller’s fate . . . or worse, Clemons’? Obviously, whether or not you’ll make $7 million or $16 million in the next two years is a problem that you, dear reader, would kill for, but you can’t fault Lynch for wanting financial certainty beyond his 20s.
Lynch’s friend and former teammate Michael Robinson told reporters Lynch wants to be paid for being “the face of the franchise.” That’s unlikely to happen as his production wanes with age. Just like every Seahawk, Lynch will have to prove, every season, that he’s worth his salary. It’s ruthless, but it’s the Pete Carroll way.