Marshawn Lynch: Irreplaceably replaceable

Should Lynch's Media Behavior Be Condoned?
Should Lynch's Media Behavior Be Condoned?

The Cauldron

There is no one in the world who can do what Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch can do. No. One.

This, of course, should be a mostly uncontroversial statement - especially if you've watched much of the 'Hawks over the past few seasons - but in case you needed a quick reminder, it's worth re-watching the infamous "Beast Quake" rush against the New Orleans Saints in 2011.

By now, Lynch's epic 67-yard touchdown run has been well-chronicled as the play that shook the earth. (The crowd's reaction literally registered as a small earthquake on a nearby seismometer.)

I mean, where do you even begin to describe the man's singular ability?

There's the incredible strength that keep his legs driving, even after he's essentially brought to a dead-stop around the 34-yard line. There's the eye-opening burst as Lynch crosses the 40, the moment when it becomes clear that this play might turn into more than some routine carry. Finally, there's Lynch's jaw-dropping power at the Saints 35-yard-line, when he takes an emasculated Tracy Porter, and tosses him aside with one arm like a rag doll.

It might not be hyperbole to suggest that Lynch is the only person with the combination of agility, speed, and sheer muscle necessary to make that play. Lynch, in that moment, and in so many others like it, is the very definition of irreplaceable.

So, naturally, he may be on his way out of Seattle.

In case you missed it - what with all the #Deflategate controversy dominating the news cycles - one of the biggest questions this offseason in the Pacific Northwest will surround Lynch's future in Seattle. He's due $7 million dollars in salary and bonuses next season, a figure that is seen as prohibitive for a soon-to-be 29-year-old at the league's most fungible position.

Reading the writing on the wall coming into the 2014 season, Lynch held out from training camp last summer - hoping for a new contract after his instrumental role in the team's first Super Bowl title. Instead, absent any real leverage, he ended up returning to the team in exchange for a conversion of a few of his roster bonuses into guaranteed money.

As he racked up big chunks of yardage all season (and continued to test the boundaries of the league's media policies), one thing became perfectly clear: even "Beast Mode" is no match for the uncompromising economics of the NFL.

Maybe Lynch should have a chat with Super Bowl XLIX Halftime Show performer Katy Perry. Okay, bear with me here for a minute. On the surface, an NFL player notoriously uncomfortable with attention might not have much in common with one of the most famous pop stars on the planet. But Perry and Lynch are actually simpatico - particularly in how each is taken for granted by today's NFL.

Perry, along with Rihanna and Coldplay, reportedly emerged last summer as the top choices to play at this year's Super Bowl halftime show, and were asked by the league if they might consider paying for the privilege.

Stop, for a moment, and consider the audacity of that request. Regardless of what one thinks of the artistic merit of "Firework" and "Dark Horse," Perry has proven herself, at least commercially, to be one of the biggest stars in music history. In March of last year, she broke Mariah Carey's record for most weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard pop charts. In June, the Recording Industry Association of America named Perry the highest selling artist of the digital music era. Truth is, few are the artists who have ever moved music as has Perry. Yet there was the NFL asking her to toss some cash their way so that they might deign to let her take the stage in Glendale.

In the end, according to Perry, there was no financial concession of any kind in exchange for the headlining gig:

"I put my foot down very early in the courtship. I said, 'Look guys, here's where I draw a line in the sand.'"

If Perry, one of the most powerful entertainers in the world, couldn't even extract compensation for performing her services for the league, what chance does anyone else have when negotiating against the monolithic football powers that be?

It may seem irrelevant, or, at worst, innocuous, but the NFL "inviting" entertainers to enjoy to its "pay to play" dictum is revelatory. It's yet another example of the league jumping at the chance to devalue individuals, impose its managerial will upon labor, and extend its undefeated streak at the bargaining table.

Now, after another outstanding season in which Lynch tied for the NFL lead in rushing touchdowns and ranked fourth in rushing yards, the Seahawks are reportedly rethinking their plan to jettison him at season's end. Seattle appears to be open to the possibility of offering Lynch a new contract with an annual salary of $5 million, enabling him to continue his Emerald City tradition of terrorizing opposing defenses and frustrating reporters.

Should the deal happen, it be a small victory for Lynch, who has remained vital enough to the Seahawks' offense to finally be able to exert some leverage on the situation. And yet, one can't help but sympathize with the running back, whose "reward" for another season of greatness at one of the most physically punishing positions in sports, might be $2 million less per year than his existing deal.

Everyone knows (and accepts?) that an NFL player contract doesn't mean much on account of its non-guaranteed nature. (A deeper dive into that issue requires a piece all its own.) Back in 2011, the lockout came to an end with a labor deal that has come to be recognized as an almost total victory for the owners, who have seen profits balloon as contacts shrink for rookies and veterans alike. Lynch, despite his unparalleled physical gifts, his unique skill-set, and "Beast Quaking," will eventually be told his services are no longer needed; the remainder of his then-operative contract erased, essentially.

I, for one, will be rooting for Lynch, not only on Feb. 1st, but in the weeks that follow, when his agent sits down with the Seahawks at the bargaining table. And I hope that during the next round of NFL labor negotiations, the men like Lynch - those who spend the majority of their time the trenches - get some form of guarantees in their contracts, a bigger piece of the pie, and a chance to be something more than cogs in the machine.

As for the Big Game, next year's Super Bowl isn't likely to feature a player as physically dominant, as profoundly talented, as incredible to watch as is Marshawn Lynch, but the spectacle will carry on nonetheless, and the league knows it.

For in today's NFL, a man - no matter how remarkable or irreplaceable his talent - is ultimately replaceable.

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