With the draft now serving as a soft deadline for the Marshawn Lynch-is-coming-home storyline, the Oakland Raiders have a rather important decision to make in the next week.
Because while Lynch would appear to be a luxurious complement to the Raiders existing backfield, which presently houses promising change-of-pace runners DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard, it shouldn’t be treated as if this is a locked-down upgrade.
Lynch will cost more than the Raiders have paid for a running back since the final Darren McFadden years, and he’s coming off a one-year retirement. He’s also more than two years removed from his last full season of work.
“Beast Mode” is probably the running back most associated with the 2010s due to his resurgence with the Seahawks and said rise coinciding with that franchise’s rapid ascent. That version of Lynch would look dangerous behind a Raiders offensive line that houses three Pro Bowlers and four upper-echelon starters.
Lynch also turns 31 Saturday. The iconic running back is surely going to make it a memorable occasion, and a union with his hometown team would be quite the way for the bulldozing ball carrier to close out his career. But how much does he have left to contribute at a position that continually moves away from elder statesmen?
Yes, Oakland has an ancillary need for a running back after Latavius Murray defected to the Minnesota Vikings. Richard and Washington aren’t prototypical between-the-tackles players, but these two averaged 5.9 and 5.4 yards per carry last season, respectively, as rookies. They would take a backseat to Lynch if he were to be traded to his hometown team. The incumbents are also on bottom-barrel rookie-deal contracts, whereas Lynch hasn’t made less than $6.5 million since 2011. He’s currently attached to a three-year, $31 million deal signed in 2015.
The Bay Area-produced dynamo likely won’t be playing for that kind of dough with the Raiders, but it’s debatable how much of a discount Lynch will take. After all, he could be the ultimate unifying factor for a decimated Raiders fanbase who just saw their franchise become the only team in NFL history to agree to leave its original city twice.
A local legend such as Lynch would do wonders for some temporary healing. With his career unlikely to extend to the Raiders’ Las Vegas years, he could be tied — in an ideal scenario — to some glorious (albeit awkward) closing seasons for the Raiders in Oakland.
That said, Lynch is an old-school running back who has been retired. The Raiders signing him is a dice roll, especially when they’re not going to have a ton of money to spend on the upcoming extensions the franchise surely has planned.
Derek Carr, Khalil Mack and possibly Gabe Jackson are going to sign top-market deals at their respective positions, with Carr and Mack’s Raiders accords set to become the two richest contracts (by far) in the history of the organization.
Throwing a Lynch signing into this mix might be a luxury the team doesn’t need unless he’s up for a literal hometown discount.
The team made the right decision when it let Murray walk, and while it’s not a debate as to which running back was better at his peak, it could well be a debate whether Lynch is an upgrade on Murray in 2017.
If the Raiders wanted to go in another direction, this is a deep running back draft.
With needs at nearly every defensive position, the Silver and Black shouldn’t toy with taking a running back in the first round. But if they like one on Day 2, that’s a decision that will affect Lynch’s future.
Tennessee’s Alvin Kamara may not be there when the Raiders’ second-round selection window opens, but players such as D’Onta Foreman (Texas), Kareem Hunt (Toledo) or Samaje Perine may be available in the third. (Mark Davis’ zero-tolerance policy on domestic violence would run counter to a selection of Joe Mixon, but the Raiders did meet with him.)
And the past few years have obviously shown Day 3-and-beyond backs can thrive. Devonta Freeman, Jordan Howard, Jay Ajayi, C.J. Anderson and Murray are among the notables to do so in recent years.
Would a Day 3 pick preclude the Raiders from adding Lynch? It would be a debate.
And if the Raiders are serious about making another high-profile addition to their offense — after Jared Cook and Cordarrelle Patterson — wouldn’t LeGarrette Blount be a fit as well?
He’s coming off an 18-touchdown season and would immediately fill the Raiders’ short-yardage void, allowing Washington and Richard to occupy the same supplementary roles they did behind Murray. Blount would also be transitioning to an even better offensive line than the one he thrived behind in New England last season.
Blount is only eight months younger than Lynch, but he has nearly 1,000 fewer carries (2,144 to 1,168). While Blount’s always given off the aesthetic vibe of an overachieving plodder, he’s coming off a 1,161-yard rushing season (albeit at just 3.9 yards per carry) and is probably a better bet to excel in 2017 than Lynch.
If the Raiders aren’t willing to go after Adrian Peterson (2,418 carries), what is driving this train toward a player just 13 months younger but is more than two years removed from displaying top form?
Again, a Lynch/Raiders union could work out well as a short-term setup.
With Cook and a version of Lynch that is reasonably close to peak “Beast Mode” in Oakland, this offense is clearly better than the one that ranked 6th last season. But it takes a leap of faith to believe that Lynch can be that player again, and it won’t be especially cheap to find out.
Drafting a player with no ties to Oakland — and no IMDB credits — won’t be as much fun, but it’s the safer and more cost-effective course of action for a team that doesn’t necessarily need a splashy backfield addition.