As the clock ticks, Raider Nation awaits to find out if beloved hometown son Marshawn Lynch will return to the Raiders to play under new coach Jon Gruden. Matt Gutierrez explores the upside and the challenges of Lynch returning to the team.
It’s no secret that the fans in Oakland love Marshawn Lynch.
He’s one of them. He grew up in the shadow of the Coliseum. He has “OAKLAND” tattooed across his chest. He loves being a Raider as much as the fans love having him in the Silver & Black.
But when it comes to having the man they call, “Beast Mode” on your team, you must be willing to deal with more than just a football player. You’ve got to deal with the unique personality that is Marshawn Lynch.
The talent is without question. The questions revolve more around everything else. While it is true that his unique personality and steadfast individualism are part of his appeal, not all agree if it’s worth the challenges that accompany it.
I’ve put together a list highlighting some of the things Marshawn Lynch brings to the table on both sides of the ledger. The decision on whether to keep Lynch for the 2018 season could come down to one or two of these things, in my view.
He’s still got it
Lynch can still produce like a top NFL running back. When he was given the opportunity, he was the same Marshawn we’ve seen for the last 10 years. Lynch was right at his career average of 4.3 yards per carry. He added seven touchdowns to his career total this season and left no doubt he still has that burst. He had five runs of 20+ yards, and one of 40+. Earlier in his career, Lynch was never known for long runs but he clearly hit his stride this past season. He’s probably not running a 4.46-40 yard dash anymore, but Lynch is still fast enough to outrun a defense in the open field.
Lynch missed the second half of the 2015 season when he underwent sports hernia surgery in late November of that year. He did return for the Seattle Seahawks final playoff game vs Carolina, but he saw limited action. Lynch then decided to retire from the NFL and sat out the entire 2016 season. In two full seasons of football, Lynch played just seven games of a possible 32. He’s not a beaten-up, retread – he’s the exact opposite. That’s valuable rest for a running back in his 30’s.
It took all of one game to realize Lynch was still an absolute beast of a football player. Late in their week one matchup vs the Tennessee Titans, the Raiders turned to Lynch to be the “closer.” With just over two minutes to play in a seven-point game, Derek Carr turned and handed off to Lynch. Lynch hit the hole where Titans all-pro defensive lineman, Jurrell Casey was waiting. The two men met like the old “meet me in the alley” drills you ran in high school. Lynch ran straight through the 305 lb. Casey, knocking him to the ground and gaining six yards on the carry. It was a wakeup call to the NFL. Lynch was back and he hadn’t skipped a beat.
Marshawn showed more of that power in a November 5th game in Miami. Though he only ended with 57 yards officially, he was credited with 60 yards after contact. He added two touchdownss on only 14 carries.
A Free Spirit
Lynch is a free spirit, and always keeps it light. He’s loves to have fun. He was so excited to finally be a Raider that he left their facilities in Alameda the day he signed while still wearing his new helmet. In a Carr post-game interview with Deion Sanders, Lynch jumped into camera frame and took over. He joked with Deion about the difference between a front flip and a back flip, asked him how he could say he dropped a ball he never touched, and made fun of the size of the screen Deion was on. It was Marshawn just having fun and being Marshawn. Oakland fans caught a first-hand glimpse of that this season during a game vs the New York Jets. Early in the 4th quarter of a Raiders blowout win, “Oakland” began playing over the Coliseum sound system. Lynch began dancing on the sideline and was soon on the Jumbotron for everyone to see. Fans went wild and joined in on the dance party. It was Lynch’s official homecoming, and probably the highlight of his entire season.
— NFL (@NFL) September 11, 2017
Jon Gruden loves to “pound that rock.” He gets the most out of his backs and isn’t shy about using every one of them on his roster. He’s an old school kind of coach when he gets near the goal line. Put a big fullback in front of a big halfback and let them clear a path to the end zone. Expect to see plenty of full back Jamize Olawale leading the way for Lynch in short yardage situations. Lynch could benefit more than any other back on the roster with an offensive mind like Gruden’s calling the plays. Double-digit toudchdowns seem like a sure bet for Lynch next season, if he returns.
THE QUESTION MARKS
Yes, he’s in “the good” section, too. But Gruden is ultimately the final arbiter on whether Lynch is even a Raider come next Fall. While Jack Del Rio is more of a laid back players coach, Gruden is a no nonsense, get in your face and scream kind of coach. Gruden will hold guys accountable. It’s been rumored that Del Rio made special concessions for Lynch during the season. I highly doubt Gruden will be so lenient. If Lynch isn’t willing to fall in line with what Gruden expects of him, will he even want to play for Chucky? As I said, Lynch likes to have as much fun as possible. If Gruden is too strict, both men may be better off without each other.
While Lynch looked very fresh last season, and has had a lot of time off over the last few seasons, he’s still an NFL running back in his 30’s. In fact, he’ll be 32 in April. Numbers don’t lie, and those numbers say running backs steadily decline after the age of 28. Not all backs fall off a cliff the second they hit 30, but it’s fair to say most aren’t anywhere near as productive as they were at 25 years old. Lynch still looked good last season, and he won’t be expected to carry the ball 25 times a game if he does return next season. But age is a tricky thing, and you just never know when it will hit you.
Lynch’s value as a running back when he’s asked to catch the ball doesn’t raise his stock. He, like most of the Raiders offense, suffered from a case of the “dropsies” last season. DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard are the backs most used in the passing game, but that takes Lynch off the field in third down situations, all but eliminating the threat of a run play. He is a great pass blocker, though. So, while his ability to catch the ball isn’t stellar, it might not hurt him too badly. Especially considering how Gruden likes to use all his backs.
Marshawn being “Marshawn”
Few players in NFL history are as polarizing as Lynch. From his golf cart ride around the field while still playing college ball at the University of California, to his unwillingness to answer any questions at press conferences, Marshawn Lynch has always brought his own style and flair with him wherever he goes. Moments like those are, for the most part, harmless to a team and its goal of winning a Super Bowl. But Lynch can take things too far at times, and even cost his team on the field.
A perfect example of this is the Raiders Thursday Night Football game vs the Chiefs in 2017. Lynch was ejected and given a one game suspension for running onto the field and shoving an official during a scrum between both teams. To make matters worse, his long-time friend, and and Chiefs defensive back Marcus Peters, was one of the men involved in the scrum. Lynch claimed he went out on the field to protect Peters as well as keep the peace. A Raider protecting a Chiefs player from other Raiders is not the kind of thing you want to hear as a fan, player, or coach.
There was also the National Anthem controversy that plagued the NFL this year. Lynch found himself at the center of the debate when cameras repeatedly showed him sitting during the Anthem. I’m not going to get into a political discussion, but the fact remains that this was an issue for several teams early in the 2017 season. Coaches and owners were lenient on the rule and allowed the players to express themselves how they saw fit. If that trend continues, then it shouldn’t be a problem.
To be fair, Lynch has been sitting through the Anthem for years and is only now being called out for it. Unfortunately, that won’t matter to those that disagree with the gesture.
Marshawn Lynch brings with him a dynamic few in the NFL ever have. Some love it. Some hate it. But the question remains. Good or bad, do you want Beast Mode on YOUR team?
That’s a question Jon Gruden and the Raiders organization will have to answer very soon.