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Marshawn Lynch's return heads five spring storylines to watch

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If there's one thing we know about the NFL in May, it's that the storylines always keep coming. We've discussed the work to be done by new coaches hired in January, pondered the impact that free agents signed in March will produce and salivated over the potential of the latest class of rookies to enter the league in April. That doesn't mean the intrigue ends as offseason training programs hit full swing and mini-camps kick off next month. It just means the focus shifts to other areas as we being to think about what all this will mean come September.

It can be fairly difficult to get a true handle on certain questions at this time of year, but that shouldn't prevent us from asking them. In fact, it's our duty to keep an eye on some of the stories that already have generated substantial buzz around the league in recent weeks. It doesn't matter if some were predictable while others were genuine surprises. What they all have in common is the anticipation they've created as teams try to make the most of their practice opportunities this spring.

Here are the five most intriguing storylines as we move toward the final stretch of the offseason:

1) What will Marshawn Lynch bring to the Raiders?

Normally, it's not the best idea to bet on the success of a 31-year-old running back who missed nine games in 2015 and spent all of 2016 in retirement. But it's also fair to say that Lynch's importance to the Raiders will not solely come down to statistics. The Raiders clearly like what he has left after 10 seasons, as general manager Reggie McKenzie told Sirius XM NFL Radio that Lynch can still be "a highly productive running back in this league." What they have to like even more is the presence Lynch brings to their locker room. For all their success last season, which culminated in Oakland's first playoff appearance since 2002, this remains a young team that sorely needs veteran leadership in key places. The Raiders got that from Charles Woodson before he retired following the 2015 season, and they surely expect to get it from the man known as "Beastmode." Lynch already carries such an undeniable reverence from younger players that it sounds as if his current teammates are awed by just being around him every day.

There hasn't been any work in practice yet -- Lynch has been focused mainly on learning the offense and getting acclimated to his new surroundings during OTAs -- but there doesn't seem to be any concern among his coaches at this stage. It's also not likely that Lynch will be asked to be anywhere near the workhorse he was in Seattle, where he averaged 1,186 rushing yards from 2010 to 2014 before gaining just 417 yards in seven games in 2015. (Oakland also has Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington in the backfield rotation.) The big win for the Raiders is having a hometown boy playing for a rising team when so many locals are outraged by the franchise's recent decision to move to Las Vegas. If Lynch can serve as another welcome distraction from that drama, that's more than enough to make this trade worthwhile for the Oakland brass.

2) How do the Texans handle Deshaun Watson?

This one is interesting to watch because the Texans sorely need consistency at the quarterback position, and Watson -- whom the team traded up to select with the 12th overall pick in the draft -- is their future. For now, Houston head coach Bill O'Brien has Watson working as the third-string quarterback, with Tom Savage and Brandon Weeden in front of the rookie. That all sounds sensible in May, when the idea is to allow Watson the time to learn O'Brien's complex system. The likelihood is that it won't sound so reasonable if the Texans continue to suffer from the same inept quarterback play that has haunted this team since O'Brien's arrival in 2014.

Houston has more than enough talent to win the AFC South a third consecutive time, as its defense continues to be one of the best in the league. The bigger question is whether Watson possibly could give the Texans the kind of leadership that Dak Prescott produced for the Dallas Cowboys as a rookie in 2016. It's not an unfair comparison, especially because Prescott -- a fourth-round pick who was initially going to sit behind Tony Romo -- joined the Cowboys with far less acclaim and managed to thrive while capitalizing on a strong supporting cast around him. After the train wreck that was Brock Osweiler, the Texans appear to be far less willing to hype a new quarterback with great expectations hanging over his head. However, the fact remains that the clock has been ticking on Watson since the draft ended. The sooner he grows up, the better the Texans' hopes of contending for a championship -- and moving beyond being just another 9-7 team.

3) Can Eddie Lacy turn around his career in Seattle?

The Seahawks could have the steal of the offseason if the 26-year-old Lacy is committed to being the player he once was. Lacy ran for 2,317 yards and scored 20 rushing touchdowns in his first two seasons with the Packers. He followed that with 1,118 yards and three rushing scores in his final two years, largely because weight issues and injuries killed his production. It's no secret that Seattle has given Lacy plenty of incentive to stay focused. He's working on a one-year deal that includes $385,000 in weight clauses, as NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport has reported, and so far, he's managed to meet the team's demands when he gets on the scale. (Lacy checked in at 253 pounds earlier this month, two pounds below his required weight, which is good for a $55,000 bonus.) ESPN.com also reported that Lacy could add another $2.685 million to his guaranteed total of $2.865 million if he meets all his weight targets, plays around 245 pounds and rushes for more than 1,200 yards.

These should be realistic goals for a man who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie (and won the Offensive Rookie of the Year award), but Lacy also wore out his welcome in Green Bay. The upside here is that money isn't his lone incentive in Seattle. Lacy now knows how easily he can lose a job by giving in to temptation. He has even more to lose in Seattle -- with a team that desperately wants to re-establish the power running aspect of its offense -- and no assurance of a future beyond this franchise if he can't redeem himself this fall.

4) Who is going to gain the upper hand in the Broncos' quarterback competition?

The Denver Broncos had three quarterbacks battling for a starting job at this time last year. This spring, they're letting two of the same players fight for the same spot -- Trevor Siemian and 2016 first-round pick Paxton Lynch -- with no clear sense of how this will all play out. It would seem that Siemian remains the favorite after winning the job last season, but there are no guarantees here. The Broncos have a new head coach (with Vance Joseph replacing the retired Gary Kubiak), a new scheme (run by offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, back in Denver after a four-year stint as head coach of the Chargers) and more needs on offense (Denver ranked 21st in the league in passing yards last season and 22nd in scoring).

The plan these days is the same as last year: The quarterbacks will each have equal opportunities to run the first-team offense throughout OTAs and mini-camp. The advantages, however, are not so apparent. Siemian proved a capable game manager, but he also struggled in the second half of last season, particularly in critical losses to New England and Kansas City when a playoff spot hung in the balance. Lynch apparently looks more comfortable after his first year, as he is used to the shotgun formations McCoy prefers and has as much exposure to this system as Siemian, who had already worked under Kubiak and then-coordinator Rick Dennison for one season at this time last year. If we learned anything from Siemian's rise in 2016, it's way too early to tell who will emerge. What is obvious is that the Broncos realize their defense can't carry them forever. At some point, they need to be more prolific at the quarterback position.

"We're both helping each other out," Siemian said. "I think I've said before, we're both kind of grown-ups about it, and we help each other out, and at the end of the day, the best guy for the Denver Broncos is going to play. So we're both giving it our best shot, helping each other out, and I think it's helping us all out."

5) Could the Pittsburgh Steelers have the best offense in football this season?

There's been no shortage of firepower in Pittsburgh these days, as the team has benefitted from the league's best wide receiver (Antonio Brown), its most versatile running back (Le'Veon Bell), a sturdy offensive line and a quarterback headed to the Hall of Fame someday (Ben Roethlisberger). What makes the Steelers even more dangerous is the return of wide receiver Martavis Bryant, who spent the last 14 months serving a suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.

It says plenty that Bryant was working with the Steelers' first-team offense as soon as he was able to practice in OTA sessions this week. The team had great expectations before his suspension, and those high hopes still exist. At 6-foot-4, Bryant has the length and speed to bring yet another dangerous component to an offense that averaged 24.9 points per game in 2016. As long as he stays clean -- and one team source said Bryant has "looked great on the field while showing a more mature demeanor" -- there's no limits as to what this offense could produce this coming fall.

Follow Jeffri Chadiha on Twitter @jeffrichadiha.

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