Mercurial Lynch accepted in Seattle - Part 1
Whenever Marshawn Lynch decides to leave the National Football League, one thing is for certain: It will be on his terms.
OK, two things.
When and how Lynch hangs up his cleats is the simmering question for the Seattle Seahawks and their boisterous 12th-Man army that drowned out New England Patriots supporters at Media Day for Super Bowl XLIX on Tuesday.
Lynch showed up like a boxer arriving for a pre-fight weigh-in. He had back-slaps for friends he ran into on the floor, flashed a smile at the throng of reporters and then proceeded to say "I'm just here so I don't get fined" 29 times before exiting his podium seat at exactly the five-minute mark that satisfied his league-mandated obligation.
The scene encapsulated the dichotomy that is the man who embodies his "Beast Mode" moniker.
On a team full of super-sized personalities, the Seahawks' bruising running back is the enigmatic star. He guzzles Skittles like buttered popcorn, will sacrifice a paycheck to avoid talking to the media and has a penchant for grabbing his crotch at the end of a Richter scale-jarring touchdown run.
For Seahawks fans, the love affair with Lynch runs another level much deeper. On game days, "Beast Mode" themed party buses roll into parking lots, Lynch jerseys rival Russell Wilson threads and the 12th Man relishes the opportunity to kick-start a "Beast Quake."
Since Lynch was acquired in a midseason trade from the Buffalo Bills in 2010, he has been the driving force behind a run-oriented offense -- the yin to the Legion of Boom's yang. He accounted for 26.8 percent of Seattle's total yards from scrimmage this season.
"He's the best back in the game," Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork said Tuesday. "He's going to run that ball, and he's going to run it hard."
Yet, it has been widely reported since last offseason's holdout that the Seahawks are likely to part ways with Lynch after the Super Bowl because of his $7 million salary for 2015.
The pending separation took on more steam amid the team's 3-3 start to the 2014 season, his frustration at good friend Percy Harvin being dealt to the New York Jets and reports of a crumbling relationship with coach Pete Carroll.
The Seahawks without Beast Mode is an unfathomable scenario for the team's fans, who greet each new report spawned from an unnamed source with a defiant snarl.
The reality is Lynch is a 28-year-old wrecking ball of a runner in a league where 29 is often the precipice of the cliff for featured backs. The team did not overreact to his holdout because Carroll wanted to limit his offseason work anyway, and Lynch missed practice time this season with hip, calf and back injuries. There is also the inevitable salary-cap strain that comes with consecutive trips to the Super Bowl, with Wilson and middle linebacker Bobby Wagner among those set for big offseason paydays.
"(Lynch is) one of the most competitive individuals I've ever been around," general manager John Schneider said. "The way we managed (the holdout) was we just accept it. You can never get into a person's heart or in their mind, you just have to adjust to what's happening. Whether he was going to show up or not show up we had to be able to move forward. We wanted him to show up.
"Same thing -- we hope he's playing next year and he is going to attack it like he always is. His teammates love him. He's a fun, jovial guy in the locker room. We want him around."
The Seahawks can't pay everyone All-Pro bucks -- but can anyone truly envision Robert Turbin and Christine Michael splitting the backfield role in Seattle next season? Wilson has the media charm, but Lynch is the heartbeat of the offense and Schneider is well aware that his quarterback could be exposed minus a true lead back.
"I wouldn't want to imagine what our offense would look like without him," Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said.
That would indicate the rumblings of off-field issues with the front office were greatly exaggerated, which would not shock anyone. Those reports came through the lens of the national media, which clamors for controversial topics and can't wrap its head around Lynch's mercurial personality.
National radio host Dan Patrick has bristled all season at Lynch's treatment of the media, couching it as an affront to a fan base that wants to hear from its star running back.
That is a gross misunderstanding of the 12th Man.
A blue-collar fan base that has long bristled at the notion of being South Alaska to the rest of the country resonates with Lynch's physical style and quietly defiant personality. They rush-order t-shirts out of his media session "quotes" -- remember "I'm all about that action boss" from last year's Super Bowl? -- couldn't care less if Lynch never answers a question about football and rush to his defense for every penny Roger Goodell takes out of his piggy bank, warranted or not.
Tired of Lynch's act? Hardly. The "12s" are galvanized by his personality and if Lynch grabs a bottle of Fireball during the next championship parade, that's all the fan interaction they clamor for.
By all accounts, Lynch is a great teammate, and his outspoken supporting cast is more than willing to fill the sound-bite void.
Asked if Lynch would say he's going to Disney World should he win game MVP honors Sunday, cornerback Richard Sherman said, "I don't know. He might say where he is really going, and it might not be Disney World."
We may not know where Lynch is going until his agent files retirement papers with the league.
It's a good bet Lynch won't be toiling in a reserve role with the Tennessee Titans at 33 years old so he can collect a paycheck and hang around the NFL scene. In fact, if Sunday proves to be his final game in a Seahawks uniform, it may be because he decided to walk away while he still can to kick it in retirement with his family back in Oakland.
Carroll and Schneider will huddle and chart their offseason course upon returning to the Northwest next week. They have teamed to build one of the league's youngest, deepest and most talented rosters. They know Lynch's role in the offense and in the locker room, and his unspoken connection with the fan base. They also know the tread on the tires is wearing thinner by the carry.
"He just takes great care of himself," Schneider said when asked about the shelf life of running backs. "Down in San Francisco, he works out hard. Every time he goes away and we haven't seen him for a while he comes back looking quicker than he was before. I have no idea -- I think the sky is the limit really."
It may be a drama that plays out deep into the offseason, but if Lynch wants to keep toting the rock, look for Schneider to find a two-year deal in the coffers.
Just don't hold your breath awaiting the press conference.
Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman and counterpart Darrelle Revis of the New England Patriots are All-Pros who travel with reputations. When quarterbacks Tom Brady and Russell Wilson scan the field Sunday, it's likely they'll keep on with their progression to the next receiver and not test either player.
"Just the ability to shut down your side, whatever side you're on," Revis said Tuesday at Media Day of what makes cornerbacks great. "Sherman, he plays left corner and he does great. He's great at what he does."
The Twitter tussle incited by Sherman two years ago, before he signed a $57 million deal with the Seahawks and landed on the All-Pro team, appears to be doused. Each player spoke respectfully about the other Tuesday, and Sherman had only kind words for Revis, in his first season with the Patriots.
"He's had a great year," Sherman said. "I'm sure people will make comparisons. They always do. But we play the game two different ways. He's plays it more meticulous and more conventional on his technique. Mine is more unorthodox. It's more difficult to replicate what I do on the football field. So it's two different styles to compare. I play my way and he plays his way and both of them are effective."
The numbers don't lead to an undisputed answer to the cornerback question.
In 2014, Sherman had five interceptions and allowed one touchdown.
Revis had two interceptions and gave up two scores.
According to Pro Football Focus, quarterbacks completed 47.1 percent of their passes intended for receivers covered by Sherman. And with Revis in coverage, 47.8 percent.
Revis said he respects the many opinions, but he prefers to discuss tiers of top cornerbacks, naming Patrick Peterson of the Arizona Cardinals, Joe Haden of theCleveland Browns, Aqib Talib of the Denver Broncos and Sherman among "the great guys playing so well. We're a group. We're a DB group."
In one meeting between the Legion of Boom and Brady, the Patriots completed 3 of 10 passes in Sherman's coverage area, including a touchdown.
That game ended with a sullen Brady being encountered after the 24-23 loss by the loquacious Sherman -- who claimed Brady called him and safety Earl Thomasnobodies before the game -- yelling from close range "You mad, bro?"
Brady said with 65-80 plays left in the season, the Patriots are working to make the quickest, best decision. With a varied front, Brady said there is not always time to determine the right read and execute to perfect.
"They don't give up anything easy, I'll tell you that," he said. "I think that's a challenge and everything has to be coordinated so well. You need great distributions in your patterns, you've got to make great decisions. It's a very disciplined defense."
So effective is Sherman that the Green Bay Packers did not attempt one pass to his side of the field in their first meeting in September. In the rematch, Sherman intercepted quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the end zone. In the second half, clearly limited by a sprained elbow, Sherman was not thrown at one time.
"I'm not really knocking him on what he does," Revis said. "He's a playmaker and that's what he does for his team."
Seahawks wide receiver Jermaine Kearse said the top cornerback debate is too close to call.
"Revis is a little more physical at the line," Kearse said. "Sherman has a lot of length, he's a long guy. He's able to play the back hip and still play the deep ball because of the length of his arms. Revis is good at the line. He's got quick feet and is in and out of his break. They're pretty similar but different."
Some view Revis as the best cornerback because he is given the literal lockdown role by coach Bill Belichick. Whereas Sherman always aligns on the left side of the defensive formation, Revis has been used on No. 1 receivers consistently this season, wherever that receiver lines up. He was not assigned to Colts Pro Bowl wide receiver T.Y. Hilton in the AFC Championship, but that is the exception.
"Reve has been a guy that can take on any guy any week," Patriots safety Devin McCourty said. "Doesn't matter short, quick guy, a big long stride, guy being a guy that can just go play someone, it doesn't matter what the receiver is."
Revis said Tuesday that he considers Deion Sanders the best cornerback in the NFL -- though Sanders, a retired Hall of Famer, was working the mic at media day and no longer bumps receivers for a living. Sherman was not so diplomatic when asked if he is the best cornerback in football.
It was different in February 2013, when Revis reached a boiling point with Sherman taking to national television shows to compare himself to Revis.
"I never seen a man before run his mouth so much like girl. This dude just steady putting my name in his mouth to get notoriety @rsherman_25," Revis wrote via Twitter, and followed with "Sit down young pup & wait your turn."
Sherman, who was the league leader in interceptions (12) and passes defensed (34) in his first two seasons in the NFL, went to the scoreboard.
"@Revis24 one season u will get 8 picks.... But it won't happen anytime soon... I did it in my 2nd season... So u have something to chase," Sherman wrote.
The thawing of the relationship came when cornerback Brandon Browner signed as a free agent with the Patriots in the offseason, leaving the city of Seattle but not necessarily the Legion of Boom he said is still a lasting brotherhood. The "LOB" tattoo Browner has is symbolic of what he considers permanent friendships.
Browner helped Revis and Sherman settle any differences, perceived or real, and Sherman said they've talked a few times this season.
One of the challenges so-called shutdown cornerbacks discuss is maintaining focus when it becomes clear opponents have no intention of throwing the ball in their.
"It comes down to respect," Revis said. "I study a lot of film. I do my own assessment of offenses and quarterbacks. You've still got to give them that respect."
Modesty comes in small portions with Sherman, who might be bragging, but he is more than backing it up on the field. So will he be the best cornerback on the field Sunday?
"I don't know anybody who would say otherwise," Sherman said.
--Pete Carroll had a mission when he took over as coach of the Seattle Seahawks in 2010 -- to prove that his large-and-in-charge coaching model could work in the NFL. It was not the way things operated during his three years in New England.
"This is a football game we play," Carroll said Monday. "There is a business that goes along with it, but the football, I think, has to be run by football people. I thought this was an extraordinary opportunity from the day that I arrived in Seattle to prove that. We've set out to kind of show that this is the way organizations can be run.
"Look where we are. This has been the best format for me. Maybe it isn't for other people, but it is for me."
After two seasons of building, Seattle has three consecutive years of double-digit victories and will make a repeat Super Bowl appearance Sunday against the New England Patriots, the first team since the Patriots in the 2003-04 seasons to do that.
Officially, Carroll is the executive vice president in charge of football operations, and to best understand his pull and power, he was hired eight days before general manager John Schneider joined the team in January 2010.
After being fired in New England in 1999 despite no losing seasons in three years, Carroll found his niche at USC, where the Trojans won two national championships and were named Sports Illustrated's team of the decade for the 2000s.
The contrast in job responsibilities at his NFL stops bracketing USC is striking -- "entirely different," he said.
The Seahawks' job description "really came of the years at SC, where we had an athletic director and the football head," Carroll said. "I had the opportunity there to make every decision, from recruiting, academics to everything. Responsible for all of that. I felt like that was really an opportunity for me to be at my best.
"When this opportunity came here, it was expressed and clearly laid out that I could have the same type of responsibility and the same kind of approach. It's been really instrumental, because the way we do things is not the way a lot of other people do things.
"It's done our way. We have our own language, our own control, our own decision-making process. I think it has made all the difference in the world. It's what every coach needs, I think, to be at his best. The format and structure that is generally accepted in the league is not that. I understand why."
Since dismissing Carroll, Patriots owner Robert Kraft seemingly has come to embrace that style as well. Bill Belichick, who replaced Carroll, is seen as the man who controls everything football in New England.
Carroll said he made that point with Kraft after he left. Belichick was hired shortly thereafter.
"Robert and I had a terrific relationship, and I didn't hold back when we talked," Carroll said. "I had one opportunity to say something to him about that and I thought it was really a unique hire, a special hire, and a guy who would really fit in well if he let him do what he was capable of doing.
"Bill is a very open, free thinker and a guy who needs that kind of control to be at his best. I don't know how they structured it, how they defined it, but it's worked, historically, in extraordinary fashion. They have made a great statement over the last 10 years. Robert has really grown as well, obviously."