Why the Oakland Raiders should move on from Marshawn Lynch after only one season in Silver and Black.
Jon Gruden has been welcomed back to Oakland amidst intoxicating fanfare, and the rumors, the buzz, and the hot takes have abounded on potential changes to the Silver and Black. While Gruden’s coordinators have been confirmed — Greg Olson on offense, Paul Guenther on defense, and Rich Bisaccia on special teams — one of the looming questions is what the roster will look like under Gruden in 2018. Whilst Gruden has touted the arm talent of Derek Carr, and has to be excited to inherit a franchise defender in Khalil Mack, intrigue surrounds players on the fringe — most notably Michael Crabtree and Marshawn Lynch. In regards to the latter, there are a number of reasons why the Raiders should move on from Lynch this offseason.
Before that, however, let’s breakdown his year in Silver and Black.
Lynch’s first season in Oakland was illustrated as more of a “return” of sorts, with the Oakland native reneging on retirement and coming home to the Bay Area, playing for the team he grew up watching. For several reasons, Lynch was arguably been the most polarizing player on the Raiders this season. In the opener against the Titans, he trucked over Pro Bowl defensive lineman Jurell Casey, with CBS’ new color analyst Tony Romo exclaiming “I’m Beast Mode baby! I’m back!”. The next week, GIFs of Lynch’s dreadlocks flying in wild abandon as he danced on Oakland’s sideline spread like wildfire on social media, as the Raiders soundly trumped the New York Jets.
It seemed that as soon as the Raiders started to slide, so too did perceptions of Lynch. When the Raiders were embarrassed by the Redskins in Week 3, in primetime no less, Lynch rushed for a paltry 18 yards on 6 carries. As game after game flew by, with Downing’s milquetoast offense on display, Raiders fans were all too eager to voice their displeasure over Lynch. Check the Raiders social media pages over the midseason, and I guarantee you the top comments frequently involved cries to cut Lynch. Fans decried what they viewed as a “me first” attitude on behalf of the running back, not to mention, a perceived lack of effort. He was a convenient scapegoat.
Lynch’s antics on Thursday night against the Chiefs didn’t help. When Derek Carr took a late hit from cornerback Marcus Peters, Lynch, who was on the Raiders bench for the play, rushed out onto the field, seemingly to protect Carr. After a heated scuffle, Lynch was ejected (and subsequently suspended) for shoving an official. It was a particularly boneheaded move by a player who was already under scrutiny. Carr publicly said he was grateful that Lynch came to his defense. Turns out Lynch didn’t rush onto the field to protect his quarterback, but to protect Marcus Peters, who refer to themselves as cousins. Some certainly viewed that as a betrayal of his team, of his quarterback, and only stoked the fires of their view of Lynch as someone who didn’t care for the team.
Despite the heavy criticism and games far below expectations (which to be fair, could be said for the whole offense), Lynch picked up steam heading towards the end of the season. In his last five games, Marshawn averaged around 16 carries and 84 yards a game. He rumbled for a tough 95 against the Eagles on Christmas Day, and on a few occasions took the entire Chargers linebacking corps with him beyond the marker in Week 17. In fact, Lynch received the highest grade (78.9) of any Raiders offensive player in that matchup per Pro Football Focus. Over the season as a whole, Lynch averaged 4.3 yards per carry and was ranked as the 7th toughest running back to bring down. Certainly a noteworthy stat line.
But here is most important question for Lynch this offseason — where does he sit with Gruden?
Gruden already has responded to questions regarding Beast Mode at his introductory press conference. Gruden noted that he was “anxious” to speak to Marshawn, and had in fact, never even met him despite consistently asking for him in production meetings at ESPN. Gruden noted that he will sit down with Lynch in due course, to discuss the back’s future with the team, the thought of which already has the likes of ESPN’s Cris Carter screaming for Lynch to be released.
Rather than following Carter’s buzz word ridden tirade, however, here are three key reasons why the Raiders should move on from Lynch.
The Rule of Replacement
The argument for Lynch’s replacing follows the same logic as Davis’ dismissal of Del Rio, originally reported by Adam Schefter. If a better option is available, you take it. If not, you stick with your hand.
Per Ted Nguyen of The Athletic, 2018’s running back class is shaping up to be a deep pool.
I think Gruden is intrigued with bringing Lynch back. Probably will set a hard line with him and reported distractions.
Even if he does come back, team should still look into drafting a back that could catch.
— Ted Nguyen (@FB_FilmAnalysis) January 10, 2018
The Raiders could easily get an impact defender in the first, and snatch up a day one starter in the second. Oakland could possibly have a shot at a handful of talented running back’s in the second or third round — Derrius Guice, Nick Chubb, or even his teammate Sony Michel, just to name a few. Adding a back that can contribute in the passing game is a needed addition, and the Raiders could still draft a back even if they decide to keep Lynch.
Chances are, next season could well be Lynch’s last, as that’s when his current contract expires. Even then, there’s no guarantee that Lynch will be playing well next year, let alone the year after that if the Raiders extend his contract for their final year in Oakland. It’s hard to see the Raiders extending Lynch’s contract in any case, certainly not when that extension would leave them leaning on a 33 year old running back.
The bottom line is that sooner or later the Raiders will have to replace Lynch or at least groom a replacement until that time. With the 2018 draft class as stacked as it is at running back, why wait when you can easily get an impact back in the second or third round? Furthermore, that back would more than likely to start by Week 1, which could render Lynch deadweight (with the possible exception of goal line situations). Despite Ted’s belief in Gruden’s intrigue, Chucky could well want a guy he could put his own stamp on to be the Raiders feature back for the next 10 years (or however long Gruden’s tenure lasts).
Lynch, like most of the Raiders offense, certainly didn’t have his best year. While he did look lively at times, other times he looked downright yawn worthy, especially in his 6 carries for 18 yards against the Redskins. Lynch performed even worse the next week, notching 12 yards from 9 carries. You read that correctly — 12 yards on 9 carries. That left Lynch with an average of 1.3 yards per carry.
To be fair, most, if not all Raiders fans have a view of the roster as somewhat schizophrenic — an unavoidable consequence of a high-flying team that won half as many games this year as it did the previous. Carr regressed mightily, going from an MVP candidate in 2016 to throwing some downright miserable picks in 2017. Both Carr and Amari Cooper put up monster games against the Chiefs at home, only to fall back into mediocracy. Crabtree was noticeably a healthy scratch towards the end of the season after hauling in some clutch catches and a few game winners himself. Even the defense was inconsistent. Which to be fair, is actually a compliment to John Pagano. Raider Nation was so used to seeing constant and utterly embarrassing defensive displays under Ken Norton Jr., that a suddenly functioning unit under Pagano was an utter shock.
Here’s the thing about those parts though. Carr is young, and is in his prime. So is Cooper. Crabtree was a healthy scratch, and by some indications was left on the bench at the behest of the coaching staff, so his downturn isn’t wholly a result of a lack of production, rather, a falling out with the old coaches. The defense showed enough under Pagano to indicate that they can be a functioning unit as long as they’re not being led by a completely incompetent coordinator. Carr, Cooper, and Crabtree are young enough to still have plenty left in the tank, while the defense can be fixed.
Lynch is well past the average age of decline for running backs. Despite his rumbling runs this year, he only notched two 100 yard games, never going for more than 101 yards. Despite his prowess as a goal line runner, he ranked 13th in the NFL in rushing touchdowns. Lynch’s best game, his ABSOLUTE best this past season, was for 101 yards, and a single touchdown. Against the lowly New York Giants.
Here’s the statistical truth about Lynch’s 2017. He made some great runs for plenty of broken tackles. He certainly impressed in his last few games. But he’s past his prime in age and production. Lynch never put up a single big game (so to speak) and was far too inconsistent to be relied upon as a bell cow type back. His total yardage isn’t all that bad, (891 yards, averaging 4.3 yards a carry), but when you have games where Lynch runs for 18 yards in Week 3, then 12 in Week 4, 43 in Week 5, then 9 yards a fortnight later in Week 7, that’s a far cry from the type of consistent production any team would want in a lead back. It was a great sight to see Beast Mode in the Silver and Black in 2017. But for the good of the team, its time to put in a younger, more promising, and most importantly, more consistent running back in 2018.
Locker Room Impact
Finally, this is the most intriguing reason why the Raiders should not bring back Marshawn Lynch. His impact in the locker room. At the start of the season, Carr and Lynch appeared to be best buddies, joking about getting the playbook downpat, with Carr praising the physicality of his new back. However, since Del Rio’s dismissal, reports of locker room troubles have trickled out of Oakland, with Lynch’s name being sprinkled in several of them. Whilst these reports should certainly be taken with a grain of salt, and to be fair, if you’re a true Raiders fan you should certainly want them to be false. However, if true, they certainly lend support to the Raiders moving on from Lynch.
Vic Tafur recently published a fascinating piece on the Atlantic about the team’s locker room issues. In it, Tafur broke down some of the impact that Lynch had on a team that he labeled as having “major leadership issues”. According to Tafur, there seemed to be one set of rules for Lynch, and one for everyone else. Del Rio never fought Lynch on his decision to sit during the National Anthem, and apparently didn’t challenge him much in training or in preseason either. It was rumored that Lynch also made a point to talk to his own entourage in between snaps and series at training, no doubt creating the impression that he may not have been 100% sold out in giving all of his time, energy, and effort into the team. Not to mention, rumors that Lynch would consistently tease Carr at practice, which, while in jest, may have undermined Carr’s leadership somewhat. The dichotomy between the treatment and expectations of Lynch and the rest of the roster led some players to “roll their eyes”.
Couple that with Lynch’s ridiculous ejection against the Chiefs, the argument could easily be made that he’s a locker room distraction. Mid-December last year, Raiders radio announcer, the revered Greg Papa, preempted Tafur’s point regarding the Raiders culture, specifically that they needed to get rid of the “not great people” in the locker room. It is not beyond reasonable doubt that Lynch could have been amongst that group. It’s important to note that Papa often has access in the Raiders facility where others do not. After all, it was he who made it known that the Raiders coaching staff “turned” on Derek Carr after their loss to the Chiefs.
If the above reigns true for Lynch and how he has fit into this team, Gruden should not hesitate to cut him and look for a replacement. Lynch’s value is more in his name than anything else at this stage in his career. His production can easily be reproduced, let alone improved upon, by a new back in 2018. It would not be worth keeping him around, at his current level of production, at the cost of damaging the team’s culture and endangering the chances of turning the Raiders around.