Fantasy Impact: Marshawn Lynch’s Retirement
Marshawn Lynch has decided to bring his stellar career to an end, announcing his retirement during the Super Bowl as only he would. Lynch has made a habit out of threatening retirement over the last couple of years, and finally decided to go through with it after punctuating four straight seasons of at least 1,200 yards and 11 touchdowns with an injury-plagued season that will go down as the worst in his career. Lynch finishes his nine-year career with 11,091 yards from scrimmage and 83 total touchdowns, putting him 76th and 48th, respectively, among the NFL’s all-time leaders.
While pundits can begin debating Lynch’s Hall of Fame candidacy, the Seahawks can officially begin looking to replace the production of one of the top fantasy running backs of this decade. Unofficially, the discussions likely began some time ago, as the Seahawks were expected to release Lynch in favor of the younger, cheaper, Thomas Rawls. The undrafted rookie out of Central Michigan rushed for 830 yards on 147 carries (5.6 yards per carry) before breaking his ankle in Week 14. Early indications are Rawls will be good to go for 2016, which has put him squarely in the discussion as a top-15 pick in fantasy drafts. However, not all is well on the Rawls front.
For starters, the Seahawks fielded what most would agree was one of the worst offensive lines in the league in 2015. As bad as it was, it could get even worse. Left tackle Russell Okung and right guard J.R. Sweezy are both unrestricted free agents. Should the Seahawks fail to retain them, Rawls will have the unenviable task of running behind a worse version of the blocking unit that was completely dominated in Seattle’s season-ending loss to Carolina, and plenty of times before that.
That’s a scary proposition, particularly considering the defensive lines Seattle will face in 2016. Offensive line coach Tom Cable has a reputation for turning low-end offensive lineman into serviceable run blockers, but no amount of coaching will protect Rawls from the likes of Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh, and Fletcher Cox. Anyone thinking of investing in Rawls in the first round would do well to keep an eye on how the Seahawks approach the offensive line in free agency and the Draft.
Another potential roadblock for Rawls is the return of Christine Michael. The Seahawks once thought highly enough of Michael to draft him in the second round of the 2013 Draft, though they soured on him and traded him to Dallas. After stints with the Cowboys and Redskins, Michael returned to Seattle and inherited the starting job while Lynch and Rawls were on the shelf.
The word out of Seattle is Michael is now “more focused and serious” and Pete Carroll would “love to have him back.” Michael is a restricted free agent, so it’s possible another team could swoop in and take him, but it’s also possible he could split carries with Rawls. Anyone in a dynasty league has likely heard or told the near-mythical tales of Michael’s athleticism. If he truly is mentally all-in now, he could be a surprising fantasy contributor.
Rawls is still the most likely candidate to replicate Lynch’s past success and the overwhelming favorite to lead the team in touches, but he can’t block for himself, and he doesn’t have the name value, reputation, or salary to keep the Seahawks from giving Michael an expanded workload should he earn it. While the Marshawn Lynch question has been answered, the Seahawks running back question will need several more months.