From an emotional standpoint, Marshawn Lynch’s imminent return to Oakland—the Seahawks and Raiders just need to iron out a trade, after Lynch reportedly agreed to contract terms—is about as good as it gets. With their team set to move to Las Vegas in a few years, fans in the Black Hole can cheer a hometown hero in Lynch, coming out of retirement to bolster what should be an AFC title-contending roster.
What’s not to like?
From a football perspective, though, it’s probably a little more of a wait-and-see proposition.
The images of Lynch barreling over defenders during Seattle’s back-to-back runs to the Super Bowl are still fresh. But Lynch’s 2015 season was less of a joy ride. He played in just seven games, sitting out more than half the year due to various injuries, and he averaged just 3.8 yards per carry when he was on the field. Add in a year spent in semi-retirement, and it’s been a bit since the soon-to-be 31-year-old Lynch was his Beast Mode self.
Granted, he did average 1,339 yards and 14 TDs (plus 31 receptions) for the Seahawks from 2011 to ’14, so the Raiders know full well what he could be for them, if all goes according to plan. Can Lynch get that back, two seasons removed from leading the league in rushing touchdowns?
A more appropriate question may be if the Raiders are now significantly better than they were last season, with Latavius Murray as their lead back. The answer: Maybe.
Murray, now with Minnesota, rushed for 788 yards (4.0 yards per carry) and 12 touchdowns and caught 33 balls, while playing 14 games. Behind him, DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard each approached 500 yards on the ground and combined for 309 through the air.
Richard, Washington, Taiwan Jones and FB Jamize Olawale (12 receptions for 227 yards and a touchdown) all are back, so Lynch drops rather easily into that Murray role. That depth should help limit Lynch’s workload, something Seattle struggled to do during his time there. The wear and tear no doubt caught up to Lynch during that disappointing ’15 campaign.
A safe expectation is that Lynch approximates what Murray produced last season. This Raiders offense has talent across the board, with QB Derek Carr set to return full-speed from his broken fibula, and Lynch will be running behind a better line than what Seattle trotted out for him.
The dream, of course, is that Lynch returns to his dominant self for at least one more season. In that scenario, his fifth career 1,200-plus-yard performance certainly could be in the cards.
Either way, the biggest boost the Raiders receive from Lynch could come off the field. The mercurial yet exceedingly popular running back will be a crowd favorite from the moment he sets foot in Oakland’s facilities, and the move to get him could help snap Raiders fans, temporarily, from their Vegas-induced purgatory.
Worst-case, Lynch stays stuck in the malaise that held him back in 2015. Best-case, he’s the missing piece for an Oakland offense that already ranked top 10 in both points and yards last season. The likeliest outcome lies somewhere in the middle. What Lynch produces in Oakland may not match the fervor his arrival will bring, but that’s O.K.
The Raiders needed a running back, and now they have one, in a local legend and hard-nosed runner who has decided to give it one last go.