Marshawn Lynch grabbed his shoulder bag. As teammates answered questions all around him, Lynch walked alone out of the locker room and into his uncertain offseason.
Lynch’s departure from Bank of America Stadium following the Seahawks’ 31-24 loss to Carolina in the NFC divisional playoffs Sunday was the exit he always makes: without saying anything. And on his own unique terms.
Now the Seahawks’ biggest offseason question looms: Was this Lynch’s final game for Seattle? Or in the NFL?
He played in just seven regular-season games because of hamstring, calf and abdominal injuries. His abdominal surgery Nov. 25 was the first operation and only major injury of his nine-year career. His contract from the two-year extension he signed before this season calls for him to count a prohibitive $11.5 million against Seattle’s 2016 salary cap.
That’s seemingly far too costly for a running back who turns 30 in April and is coming off a season with a career-low 417 yards and three touchdowns. The recent foundation to the Seahawks’ two consecutive Super Bowl runs, the five-time Pro Bowl selection and 2012 All-Pro is coming off a playoff game in which he was reduced to a pass blocker. Seattle fell behind 31-0 and Lynch had just 20 yards on six carries Sunday, his first game since Nov. 15.
“He didn’t get much of a chance,” coach Pete Carroll said.
If the team has an interest in keeping him, Seattle would almost certainly ask Lynch to renegotiate his deal down from a scheduled base salary of $9 million, none guaranteed, for next season. Lynch has done the opposite of agreeing to pay cuts the last two offseasons.
He held out the first week of 2014’s training camp until the Seahawks reworked his contract to give him $1.5 million more up front. When Lynch signed his two-year extension last March, he’d reportedly been telling people he’d been contemplating retirement back to his home in Oakland, California. No one around the team expected him to fulfill the new deal’s entirety through the 2017 season. He signed the deal to get $5 million more guaranteed for 2015.
If Lynch were to say no to any renegotiation, the Seahawks may be faced with a decision on whether to release a player whose legacy in Seattle will always be thunderous runs with opponents falling at his feet. His production and style spawned the best three years the Seahawks franchise has ever had.
“I’ll remember him being a beast, ‘Beast Mode’ — it’s trademarked now,” Pro Bowl cornerback Richard Sherman said, when asked if this is Lynch’s last game how he’d remember about him. “He’s the workhorse. He’s the guy that’s going to be out there, if he’s strapping up his pads he’s going to give you everything he’s got, 100 percent… That’s what you can appreciate. Outstanding teammate. Outstanding guy, on and off the field.
“You are going to remember him as a phenomenal person who would give you the shirt off his back.”
Asked if he had any sense if Lynch would play or not, Sherman smiled.
“I do not,” Sherman said. “That is up to him.
“If I could read Beast Mode’s mind, people would pay me a lot of money to tell them that.”
Jonathan Stewart’s 59-yard run on a counter play to begin the game was the first of Carolina’s many punches to the Seahawks’ mouths in the runaway first half.
Stewart’s romp was also why Bobby Wagner and many other Seahawks changed their shoes to longer, detachable cleats after Carolina’s first drive.
Wagner, fellow linebacker K.J. Wright and others slipped out of their gaps and pursuits of Stewart on that run.
“You watch the first play, a lot of guys slipped on the play,” Wagner said. “So I feel like once we settled down we started tackling better, started making plays. But we just didn’t make enough.
“Once we put on other cleats, we were fine.”
The Panthers re-sodded their field a little less than two weeks ago following the end to their regular season and through their bye last week. The field was covered Saturday, then uncovered Sunday morning. The new, thin sod got rain and wet snow on it a few hours before the game, before skies cleared in the afternoon.
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson said he changed into longer spikes after noticing during pregame warmups the grass was loose.
Carroll was quick to dismiss the field as being a factor in the game’s outcome — “No. Both teams,” he said.
But he did think the soft field was the reason Steven Hauschka’s final onside kick with just over a minute left didn’t bounce off as designed.
“The ground is so soft; it is such a soft field, it just didn’t elevate,” Carroll said.
“We needed a couple of feet up. That sometimes happens when you hit it just right. I don’t think that field would allow any better than that.”
OKUNG INJURED — IN SEATTLE FINALE?
Left tackle Russell Okung left the game after Seattle’s first play of the second quarter after Carolina’s Mario Addison pulled Okung’s arm from his shoulder on a pass rush. Okung crumpled as Addison sped in to hit Wilson as he threw an interception to Cortland Finnegan. That set up a Panthers field goal to make it a 24-0 game.
Carroll said Okung dislocated his shoulder.
Alvin Bailey replaced him, and a few plays after he entered drew a holding penalty for tackling Panthers defensive end Jared Allen, who suffered a fractured foot at some point during the game but played through it. That negated a 12-yard scramble for a first down by Wilson to the Panthers 13 late in the second quarter. Instead, Seattle got pushed back to its own 33, then Doug Baldwin got stopped a half-yard short of the line to gain on fourth down to keep the score 31-0 Carolina.
Okung was the sixth overall draft choice in 2010. He just finished the final year of his contract that paid him $4.8 million this season and counted a hefty $7.28 million against the salary cap. With the premium paid to left tackles in the league, Seattle is unlikely to commit to the free-agent market rate for 27-year-old Okung, who has struggled with injuries and speed rushers the last couple seasons.
Okung is one of 25 players whose contracts ended Sunday. The list also includes: defensive tackle Brandon Mebane, linebacker Bruce Irvin (who spent much of Sunday on the sidelines apparently not injured while Mike Morgan played for him), defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin, wide receiver Jermaine Kearse and guard J.R. Sweezy.
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle