Signing Lynch sends message


No Richter activity was reported for the Puget Sound region Sunday evening, but an announcement from the Seattle Seahawks put the seismic monitors on alert for the next four years.

Getting Marshawn Lynch signed to a four-year deal was a ground-shaking investment for a team that has so energetically urged its players and fans to buy in.

For a reported $31 million ($18 million guaranteed), the Seahawks locked up one of the game’s most exciting backs through what can be expected to be the prime of his career.

This tells Seattle fans: Yes, we hear you. We’re keeping this guy. He’ll keep you on your feet.

This tells Seahawks players: You sell out completely, the way we ask, you’ll get paid. This tells rivals in the NFC West: Buckle up.

A trend in the NFL is to be leery of investments in running backs, and to believe they’re used up quickly and can then be easily replaced by mid-round draft picks.

Yes, most of them are.

But Lynch’s value to the Seahawks can’t be limited to yards and touchdowns. Only a few players can so thoroughly alter a team’s identity. Only a few players can almost single-handedly elevate the level of expectations for effort of a team.

After games last season, offensive linemen sometimes just shook their heads when you asked them about Lynch. His refusal to be tackled forced them to sustain their blocks, to clear out one guy and then go downfield in search of the next one.

Fullback Mike Robinson liked to say that if you don’t get upfield and flatten somebody, Lynch was liable to just run you down, too. If you didn’t play as hard as he did, you could end up being embarrassed.

Several times, blockers used the same word to describe his style: Relentless.

“His willingness to fight and claw and scratch for every inch is exactly what you want your football players to play like,” coach Pete Carroll said of Lynch after the season.

So, of course they wanted to keep him. But at what cost? They could have kept him on hand with a franchise tag, but that was expensive and short-term. The four-year deal with a nice upfront payday should keep him both secure and feeling appreciated.

It’s almost hard to recall, now, that many worried about a dubious off-field reputation when he arrived. How could a back with his numbers be pried loose from Buffalo for just a couple mid-round draft picks? Had to be a troublemaker or a head case, right?

And what do you make of a player who affixes his own nickname or modifier? “Beast Mode,” after all?

And in his first game with the Seahawks, against the Bears in 2010, he picked up just 44 yards on 17 carries. But if you watched closely, you learned to ignore the numbers. Some of those runs were the best efforts by a Seahawks back in years. A few times he broke three or four tackles just to get back to the line of scrimmage.

He really did kick into “Beast Mode.”

From about the middle of the 2011 season, when the Seahawks rededicated to the rushing game, Lynch earned this contract.

He did it week after week, with a stunning escape from the middle of the Eagles defense for a touchdown, and a fake so wicked it brought Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis to his knees.

He earned it by being the only back in 16 games to rush for a touchdown against San Francisco.

But what now? How to protect this investment?

Lynch’s relentlessness renders him vulnerable to hits and injuries. He benefits from being young (25) and not having been abused. His 1,137 regular-season carries after five seasons are fewer than Shaun Alexander had at this point (1,347).

But they must avoid saddling him up the way the Seahawks did with Alexander, who carried the ball 430 times in the 2005 regular season and playoffs.

Lynch is a good receiver, getting some of his touches in open space would save a few of those big hits from tackles and linebackers.

Re-signing Robinson will help clear his way. And also re-signing free agent running back Justin Forsett might be a positive, too, as he’s an old college buddy and obviously a good influence on him.

And finding a bigger back as a sub might save Lynch from having to handle all of the bruising between-the-tackles duty.

Carroll summed it up after the season-finale against San Francisco.

“The ferocity that he ran with and how he matched up to the challenge that he was getting … was just emblematic of who he was and what he was all season long,” Carroll said.

That’s what makes Lynch so valuable; the bonus is that he makes the rest of the team play that way, too.

Dave Boling: 253-597-8440

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