CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Marshawn Lynch grabbed his shoulder bag. As teammates answered questions all around him, Lynch walked alone out of the locker room and into his uncertain offseason and future.
Lynch’s departure from Bank of America Stadium following the Seattle Seahawks’ 31-24 loss to the Carolina Panthers in the NFC divisional playoffs Sunday was the exit he always makes: Without saying anything. And on his own, unique terms.
Now the Seahawks’ biggest offseason question looms: Was this Lynch’s final game for Seattle? Or in the NFL?
He played in just seven regular-season games because of hamstring, calf and abdominal injuries. His abdominal surgery Nov. 25 was the first operation and major injury of his nine-year career. His contract from the two-year extension he signed before this season calls for him to count a prohibitive $11.5 million against Seattle’s 2016 salary cap.
That’s seemingly far too costly for a running back who turns 30 in April coming off a season with a career-low 417 yards and just three touchdowns. The recent foundation to the Seahawks’ two consecutive Super Bowl runs, the five-time Pro Bowl selection and 2012 All-Pro, is coming off a playoff game in which he was reduced to a pass blocker. Seattle fell behind 31-0 and Lynch had just 20 yards on six carries Sunday, his first game since Nov. 15.
“He didn’t get much of a chance,” head coach Pete Carroll said Sunday.
If the team has interest in keeping him, Seattle would almost certainly ask Lynch to renegotiate his deal down from a scheduled base salary of $9 million, not guaranteed, for next season. Lynch has done the opposite of agreeing to pay cuts the past two offseasons.
He held out the first week of 2014’s training camp until the Seahawks reworked his contract to give him $1.5 million more up front for that season. When Lynch signed his two-year extension last March, he’d reportedly been telling people he’d been contemplating retirement back to his home in Oakland, California. No one around the team expected him to fulfill the new deal’s entirety through the 2017 season. He signed the deal to get $5 million more guaranteed for 2015.
If Lynch were to say no to any renegotiation, the Seahawks may be faced with a decision on whether to release a player whose legacy in Seattle will always be thunderous runs with opponents falling at his feet. His production and style spawned the best three years the Seahawks franchise has ever had.
“I’ll remember him being a beast, ‘Beast Mode’ — it’s trademarked now,” Pro Bowl cornerback Richard Sherman said, when asked if this is Lynch’s last game how he’d remember about him. “He’s the workhorse. He’s the guy that’s going to be out there, if he’s strapping up his pads he’s going to give you everything he’s got, 100 percent. … That’s what you can appreciate. Outstanding teammate. Outstanding guy, on and off the field.
“You are going to remember him as a phenomenal person who would give you the shirt off his back.”
Asked if he had any sense if Lynch would play or not, Sherman smiled.
“I do not,” Sherman said. “That is up to him.
“If I could read Beast Mode’s mind people would pay me a lot of money to tell them that.”