Someone had to fill the void left by the departure of quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.
And although he has been with the Seattle Seahawks a mere 14 months, in that relatively short time Marshawn Lynch’s pile-driving, relentlessly churning legs have helped personify this franchise’s identity.
Just ask his coach.
“He’s been the face of the program here,” Pete Carroll said. “In terms of setting the tempo and the attitude, the philosophy that he brings, the competitiveness that he stands for in his play that you can’t help but see by the way he brings it, are all exemplary and emblematic of what we’d like to be. So, he’s had a big play in this.”
Fan staples such as Hasselbeck, Walter Jones and Lofa Tatupu have either retired or moved on. And a group of younger faces belonging to players such as Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and Red Bryant are the playmakers and team leaders who have risen in their absence.
At the top of the list is Lynch, the author of the run that shook the earth in last year’s NFC wild-card win over New Orleans, the man who heads to the sidelines for a handful of rainbow-colored Skittles candies after every touchdown he scores – a streak that reached 10 games in Chicago on Sunday.
Lynch’s bone-jarring running style embodies Carroll’s blueprint for success – a tough, hard-hitting group that gives maximum effort; takes care of the football on offense and forces turnovers on defense.
But before Carroll’s arrival in Seattle, that wasn’t always the case.
“I was with San Francisco for a number of years, and our thought of the Seattle Seahawks was that they were soft,” Seattle fullback Michael Robinson said. “They’re going to try and trick you and do something to win. And hopefully we’re changing that mentality.
Lynch has, thanks to his explosive-yet-bruising running style. Lynch has eclipsed 1,000 yards for the third time in his five-year NFL career, and now has 1,011 yards and 12 touchdowns this season.
“Just look at him – everything about him is tough,” Robinson said about Lynch. “He’s the heartbeat, man. When we see him running over guys and pulling defenders and dragging piles 3 and 4 yards to get first downs, he seems like he just gets stronger as the game goes on.
“It kind of makes you look at yourself and say, ‘You know what, I’m not that hurt. I can go out there and do it.’ He inspires you that way.”
The elusive man who came in a trade with Buffalo last season plays behind a tinted visor on game days and wants nothing to do with the notion that he has raised the franchise’s national profile.
“I don’t know why because it ain’t Marshawn Lynch,” he said. “It’s the Seattle Sea-hawks, and then it’s Marshawn plays running back. I’m just a piece.”
Now that he’s got him here in Seattle, Carroll will have to figure out how to keep Lynch here long term. The Seahawks and Lynch have begun negotiations on just such a deal. But complicating matters could be Carolina’s recent signing of running back DeAngelo Williams (five years, $43 million, $21 million of which is guaranteed), and Chris Johnson’s new deal with Tennessee (six years, $56 million, $30 million of it guaranteed).
Those high-dollar deals could make it hard for Seattle to sign Lynch at what the team considers a reasonable price.
At 26 years old, Lynch proved his value to Seattle’s success on the field, but it will be up to Carroll and general manager John Schneider to decide how to put a price tag on the new face of the franchise.
“It is important, yeah,” Carroll said about getting a deal done. “I think it’s obvious that it is. We like him and he likes us. It’s a good thing, and hopefully we’re going to work something out.”
To his credit, Lynch hasn’t discussed his contract status at all, choosing to let his play do all the talking. Lynch is focused on winning and getting his team back to the playoffs for a second straight season.
And he praised his teammates for not throwing in the towel when Seattle was 2-6 prior to clawing its way back into the playoff hunt with a 5-1 streak.