Marshawn Lynch has come out of retirement, reportedly agreeing to terms on a contract with the Raiders. Seattle’s front office had given Oakland permission to negotiate with Lynch on the parameters of a deal, but because the Seahawks still owned Lynch’s rights, a trade had to be completed in order for Lynch to sign with Oakland. That happened Wednesday, with the teams exchanging late-round 2018 NFL draft picks.
Lynch is a physical, versatile, three-down back, and was the emotional leader and backbone of Seattle’s offense from 2011 to 2014. He’s a punishing creator out of the backfield — even after sitting out all of the 2016 season and missing nine games to injury in 2015, Lynch still has 66 more broken tackles than the next-closest back in the league over the past four seasons — but doesn’t get enough credit for his instincts and creativity as a runner. He has a knack for picking the right gaps in the offensive line, cutting on a dime, getting skinny through the hole, and using subtle jukes to pick up yards. He excels at anticipating contact and loading up his pads to deliver hits to defenders. Lynch almost always keeps his feet churning, frequently turning what should be 1- or 2-yard losses into 3- or 4-yard gains. He’s also an (content removed) out of the backfield, with 252 catches for 1,979 yards and nine touchdowns in his career.
While Oakland finished sixth in rushing yards and touchdowns and tied for 10th in yards per rush in the 2016 season, lead back Latavius Murray left a lot of yardage on the field running behind an ultra-talented (and expensive) offensive line. Per Football Outsiders charting, Murray broke a tackle on just 15.8 percent of his 228 touches, 66th among all skill-position players in the NFL with at least 50 touches. The fact the Raiders coaxed Lynch out of retirement and completed a trade with Seattle signals they’re looking for a guy who can create on his own, wear down defenses, and strike fear into the heart of opponents. Murray wasn’t able to do any of those things.
Lynch brings schematic versatility to Oakland: Whether the Raiders want to base their run game on shotgun looks or plays from under center that use inside zone, power, or any number of gap systems, the former Seahawks and Bills star has experience doing just about everything. Stylistically, he fits the physical identity Oakland was looking to create when it built that high-priced offensive line. The man who earned the nickname Beast Mode is one of the most elusive backs of his generation, a tone-setting runner who set the gold standard for tackle-breaking ability. His style combines ankle-breaking jukes, devastating stiff-arms, and barreling blows that can embarrass would-be tacklers. He has the potential to change the perception of a Raiders run game that was anything but intimidating in 2016.
Oh, and Lynch is an Oakland icon, coming out of retirement to play for his hometown team in one of the franchise’s final years in the city.
There’s plenty to be excited about here, and the NFL is simply better when Lynch is in it. But at 31 he’s at an age when many runners lose physical effectiveness, a trend that should be concerning given Lynch’s history of back problems. It’s been a while since we’ve seen the healthy, productive version of Lynch described above; his last good season was 2014, as the Beast Mode of 2015 battled a series of injuries and averaged 3.8 yards per carry. Since retiring, he spent a year traveling the world, filming TV shows and commercials, and making a (new) movie. That may not be conducive to staying in the peak physical shape needed to play in the NFL.
Expectations should also be tempered considering that while Lynch’s varied skill set makes him a fit for just about any scheme, his most prolific seasons came in Seattle from 2012 to 2014, a three-year stretch that coincided with the arrival of Russell Wilson and with the Seahawks’ implementation and heavy use of the read-option run game. He rushed for an average of 1,384 yards in those three seasons, averaging 4.6 yards per carry and running for 36 scores. Together, Lynch and Wilson made Seattle’s read-option-based rush attack nearly impossible to stop; Wilson’s ability to keep the ball and run with it took one defender out of the picture, and Lynch thrived in the open space that created. In more traditional run systems, those that lack the quarterback-run dynamic that Wilson brings to the table, Lynch hasn’t been quite as efficient. Derek Carr is an ascending superstar and carries Oakland’s offense with a steady stream of big-time throws to Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, but read-option-based schemes aren’t his forte.
Still, Lynch’s two most famous runs, Beast Quake 1.0 and Beast Quake 2.0, both came from power-run looks, so he’s far from clueless in traditional running schemes. As Seahawks general manager John Schneider once put it, Lynch is “a seriously tough individual,” and he could bring an infectious physicality to the rest of the Raiders offense. No matter what system he’s in, Lynch is going to break a lot of tackles — the man (content removed) — and while he may never regain the explosiveness he once possessed, his preternatural talent for maintaining his balance through contact, combined with the vision and anticipation that help him elude defenders without ever really reaching a higher gear, means he can still be productive. He’ll likely contribute on first and second down and near the goal line while sharing snaps with Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington.
Most important, this is a low-risk move, costing Oakland only a late-round pick swap, and the Raiders can use a committee approach to keep Lynch’s carries at a manageable level. Best of all: Fans are going to love it.