Oakland Raiders  

 

Marshawn Lynch, Raiders poised to give Oakland memorable run

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It had never seemed right that Marshawn Lynch's career would fizzle to an end with an ignominious decision not to give him the ball at the 1-yard line with the Super Bowl in the balance, with injuries shortening what would have been his final season, with a single tweet sent into the vacuum created by a subsequent Super Bowl just a year after Seattle's debacle.

Lynch is famously the silent type, of course, but his level of play commanded more attention and demanded a better send-off than all of that.

Lynch can rewrite the ending now, about 14 months after he called it quits, in the sweetest possible way. Now that the Oakland Raiders and Seattle Seahawks have agreed on the nominal compensation that will send Lynch from Seattle to Oakland, he will play in the city he loves, for a team on the brink of potential greatness.

There are plenty of questions to be answered, most urgently about how much Lynch might have left. At 31, he is certainly nearing the traditional finish line for running backs. But he was off all of 2016, and despite the sports hernia and hamstring injuries that limited him to seven games in 2015, he has a relatively innocuous injury history. Perhaps more importantly, what he did when he was healthy is so dominating that it erases any concern that maybe the Raiders should have looked for a young back with much less mileage in a deep draft of running backs.

Consider this: Lynch leads the NFL in rushing touchdowns (51) since 2011, despite missing the entire 2016 season and more than half of the 2015 season. That's more than LeSean McCoy, Cam Newton or Adrian Peterson, who just signed with New Orleans, had in that span. It is stunning.

Lynch was younger for many of those years. But in 2014, his last full season, Lynch rushed for 1,306 yards and an NFL-leading 13 touchdowns, averaged 4.7 yards per carry and caught 37 passes for a career-high 367 yards and four touchdowns. Considering that last year, the Raiders' leading rusher was Latavius Murray, with 788 yards (4 yards per carry) and 12 rushing touchdowns and zero receiving, Lynch need only be close to what he was in 2014 to be a marked upgrade from what the Raiders had.

At the same time, Lynch provides the experience and physicality the running game desperately needed. The other four backs on the roster after Murray departed for Minnesota have a combined 260 career carries, according to NFL Network research. And there is little question that, despite the presence of Derek Carr and Amari Cooper in the passing game, the Raiders fare better with a real rushing attack. Last season, when the Raiders went 12-4 and were challenging the Patriots for home-field advantage before Carr was hurt, the Raiders ranked sixth in rushing yards per game. In 2015, when they went 7-9, they ranked 28th. When they were 3-13 in 2014, they were dead last.

The Raiders are one of the small handful of teams that appear to have a chance to catch the Patriots, who have managed to improve from the team that won the Super Bowl less than three months ago. The Raiders have a collection of dynamic offensive playmakers and a defensive superstar in Khalil Mack. They had won eight of their last nine games before Carr got hurt in the next to last game of the regular season, to keep the pressure on the Patriots for home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs. Adding Lynch gets them closer.

That the Seahawks essentially gave Lynch away for a token draft pick is worth noting. The relationship between Lynch and the Seahawks had long been strained, even if Lynch was loved by teammates. As the Seahawks prepared for the playoffs in 2015, there was -- at best -- a lack of communication between Lynch and Pete Carroll about whether Lynch would be available to play. It was obvious that if Lynch followed through on his desire to play again, it would not be in Seattle.

But if all that raises legitimate questions about what his attitude will be now, they are probably questions that the Raiders expect will be answered quickly.

This is, after all, a very short-term deal, and Lynch should be motivated by being able to play in his beloved Oakland. Lynch devotes much of his time and money to the East Bay (including a retirement-year appearance with President Bill Clinton), and he remains deeply connected to the University of California.

"I think every indication I got is he was excited to play for the Oakland Raiders," Oakland head coach Jack Del Rio said in a pre-draft news conference.

There is one more thing: This is like a parting gift to Raiders fans in Oakland. They know they will lose their team to Las Vegas, but who -- like a couple going through a long, awkward separation -- must still live together for a while more. The league is counting on the Raiders being good and full of compelling personalities to smooth over the hurt feelings and keep people coming to the deteriorating stadium. When Al Davis was alive and the Raiders were in their heyday, they were a delightful collection of ruffians and oddballs. Davis would likely have loved Lynch, whose quirkiness is a throwback to a time when the Raiders were the rogues and villains who made the NFL more fun.

The Raiders, like everyone else, will soon embrace the corporate sheen of the modern NFL. But this last run with Lynch is a much more apt departure for them, and him, too.

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @judybattista.

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