Lynch’s absence opens doors for other Seahawks

RENTON — Training camp wasn’t the only thing that began on Friday. So too did the game of high-stakes chicken between Marshawn Lynch and the Seattle Seahawks.

Lynch, who wants to rework his contract with two years still remaining on the deal he signed in 2012, made his statement Friday with his absence, while the Seahawks’ top decision makers sent a message of their own when talking about their star running back and his desire for a new deal.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider didn’t rip Lynch, nor did they demand he show up or make any threats. Instead they, in a very diplomatic way, sent a strong message that the organization does not intend to cave to Lynch’s demands.

“Sure, I’m disappointed he’s not here, by his choice,” Carroll said. “I’m really focused on the guys who are here who have been with us and are working really hard and all.

“We’ve had a substantial plan working for us for years now, and Marshawn was a big part of this plan. Just a couple of years back we made a big statement by making a big effort for him, and we wish he was with us now. But this is a tremendous opportunity for the guys who are getting their shot. Robert Turbin and Christine Michael, they’re ready to go and really fired up about this opportunity and will try to take full advantage of it.”

Without saying anything inflammatory, Carroll covered a lot of ground in that answer. Carroll made sure to point out that Lynch is choosing to miss practice, he praised Lynch’s backups — his successors if this holdout actually carries into the season — he pointed to the contract extension Lynch signed with the Seahawks in 2012, and most importantly, Carroll alluded to the team’s big-picture plans.

The Seahawks signed Lynch to a four-year deal in 2012 that at the time made him one of the highest-paid backs in the game. Lynch has been incredibly good, arguably the team’s most important offensive players, and the Seahawks know that.

What the Seahawks don’t want to do is set a precedent that a player who is unhappy with their deal two years into a four-year contract can force his way into another raise. That “substantial” plan Carroll refers to involves rewarding other young players like Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman and Doug Baldwin, who signed extensions this offseason, as well as Russell Wilson, who can re-do his deal next year. Schneider is constantly thinking three or so years ahead to figure out how he’s going to balance the salary cap and keep as many key players as possible, and giving Lynch another raise isn’t part of that model.

“We love Marshawn. He’s made a decision not to be here,” Schneider said on 710 ESPN Seattle. “We’re excited about all the guys who are here. We had a great offseason, everybody’s working their tails off … We have a plan in place for several years.

“Just two years ago Marshawn was one of the first guys we were able to reward in terms of this plan moving forward, and along the way you have to make tough decisions. We went into the offseason with a specific plan feeling good about the guys we were able to reward. Then there’s also tough decisions we had to make in terms of guys not being here … We miss those guys, we wish they were part of our team.

“First day of camp you’re missing those guys, but there’s a specific plan in place here and it’s my responsibility to Mr. Allen and the fans to try to provide a consistent championship-caliber team, one the fans feel has a shot every year. Coach Carroll and his staff do a great job teaching young players and getting them ready to play, and it’s our responsibility to keep our plan in place in terms of being able to move forward.”

Did you notice that Carroll and Schneider’s response sounds awfully similar? That’s hardly a coincidence. Neither was shooting from the hip here. They knew Lynch would be the big topic of discussion Friday, and they got their message out both diplomatically and emphatically. Essentially, they are telling Lynch, “We already gave you your big contract, and now we’re sticking with our plan to keep this team on top for as long as possible.”

Lynch is subject to $30,000 per day in fines for not showing up, and if the holdout lasts six days, he can lose a prorated amount of the $6 million signing bonus he got in 2012, so seemingly the Seahawks have much of the leverage here, which is usually the case with player holdouts in the NFL. But Lynch’s former teammate and close friend Michael Robinson, who is working as an analyst for the NFL Network, said on “Inside Training Camp Live” that Lynch means business.

“He’s very firm,” Robinson said. “His resolve is there. He’s thought about this very much. This is not a decision he came at lightly. He very much wishes he could be with his team, he misses his teammates, he expressed how much he misses his teammates. He’s working out, he’s still doing all of the Beast Mode workouts that he’s used to doing. He just wants to be respected as one of the faces of the franchise.”

It’s hard to fault Lynch for wanting to maximize his earnings while he can. At 28, he knows he has very little time left at one of the game’s most physically demanding positions, and he just saw fellow Pro-Bowl running back Jamaal Charles get a big raise with two years left on his deal.

The Seahawks could very well decide to cut Lynch with a year left on his deal — he represents a $9 million cap hit in 2015 — so if the Seahawks might not honor the last year of his contract, why should he feel obligated to play nice and honor the deal he agreed to two years earlier?

Yet it’s also easy to understand the Seahawks side in this. They have to pay Wilson next year. There are other important young players they want to keep around who are nearing the end of their deals — like Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright — and there is the issue of setting a precedent that could theoretically be used against them by the agents of players like Baldwin, Sherman or Thomas if the market changes before those players’ deals are up.

Even when he was praising Lynch for bringing a “tough, physical” attitude to the Seahawks, Carroll also noted “I think we’ve accomplished that, that’s our mentality and our makeup.” In other words, Carroll seems to be saying Lynch is a little less irreplaceable now than he would have been in 2011.

Carroll took things a bit further when he talked to USA Today Sports after meeting with the media, saying, “It’s a contract for a reason. We made a decision and it was signed, by us and by them. We expect them to honor their contract just as we will. We’re going to honor it and we expect him to do the same.”

Now, using the “It’s a contract” argument rings a bit hollow in a league where contracts are rarely guaranteed and teams regularly cut players with years and millions of dollars still remaining on the deal. And you can bet an agent, either Lynch’s or somebody else’s will throw the “Just as we will” portion of that quote back in Carroll’s face the next time they cut somebody before a contract has expired. However, the point remains nonetheless. Carroll and Schneider don’t plan on setting a precedent by giving Lynch a new deal. And just as the Seahawks made their statements Friday, Lynch made his by staying home.

“It’s a business,” defensive end Michael Bennett said. “At the end of the day, he feels like what he needs to get he hasn’t gotten. All you can do is support him. You want him to be here, but as a player you understand the business side, too … It’s not a distraction. Marshawn’s a pro, he’s one of the best running backs to play this game, he’s always in shape. He’s going to come back and be the player he is. Nobody’s really worried about him being out here, because we know when he comes, he’s going to set the standard.”

Lynch’s teammates are confident their running back will perform whenever he shows up. Getting Lynch in camp, however, will require one side of this standoff to give in, and based off Carroll and Schneider’s unified message Friday, the Seahawks don’t sound like they’re willing to budge.

Herald Writer John Boyle:

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