There probably wasn’t a player more excited to see the end of 2009 than Marshawn Lynch. It wasn’t a year he’s likely to look back and remember fondly. Off the field, his frequent run-ins with the law led to an arrest, which as a result led to a three-game suspension by the NFL at the start of the 2009 season.
On the field, Lynch lost his starting job to Fred Jackson. He failed to rush for 1,000 yards for the first time in his career, and saw his productivity take a steep decline. Lynch rushed for just 450 yards while averaging 3.8 yards per carry with just two touchdowns and 148 total touches; all were career lows for the third-year back out of California.
So now the situation for Lynch and the Bills becomes both clear and cloudy. Jackson took full advantage of the starting role vacated by Lynch early in the season and now enters 2010 penciled in as the starting running back. Lynch, on the other hand, faces an uncertain role in the Bills backfield and the likelihood of missing significant playing time (say, half a season suspension next time) and ending his tenure with Buffalo should he be invovled in another off-the-field incident.
Lynch still has not made his prescence known for offseason conditioning workouts with the Bills, which leads me to believe a couple of things: he doesn’t want to be here and he wants out, and he simply refuses to wake up, get on the boat and get with the program. But does his no-show mean the Bills should outright decide to cut ties with Lynch and move in another direction? At the very least, what does it say about Lynch’s attitude and frame of mind about re-gaining his starting role one year removed from losing his spot as the team’s starting running back?
My convictions about Lynch may be presumptuous, but I believe that actions, or no actions, speak louder than words. If Lynch were seriously interested in being a part of the Buffalo Bills going forward and making a positive impression on his teammates and the new regime in Buffalo, that would lead me to believe that he would show up for offseason conditioning stints with a new attitude and a new determination to win back his starting job.
Now maybe Lynch prefers to be off on his own doing his own conditioning and taking the proper steps to be ready for training camp. But you probably don’t have to be smarter than a fifth-grader to realize Lynch probably wouldn’t oppose moving on to another team considering the Bills are rebuilding, haven’t made the playoffs in 10 years and he no longer has a distinct role.
Has he given the Bills any indication that he wants to be traded? Has he walked into GM Buddy Nix’s office and demanded to be traded? Is he interested in still being in Buffalo? I wish I had the answers to those questions.
This much I do know: between now and the coming weeks leading up to the draft on April 22nd, Lynch’s name will be the most popular name on the roster among the fans when talking about trade possibilities for the Bills, even if something never actually comes to fruition.
So as the debate rages on, let’s ponder some aspects of the possibility of trading Lynch.
What current value does Lynch have?
It’s hard to believe that for a running back who had back-to-back 1,000 rushing seasons in his first two seasons along with a Pro Bowl selection now has damaged value at this point. But that’s life in the big city. The Bills’ hands are clean in this aspect. Lynch has no one to blame but himself for his diminished value thanks to his three-game suspension last season caused by his problematic off-field issues.
Take into account he’s a high character risk and his low-end production in 2009, there’s absolutely zero chance the Bills could fleece multiple picks with any real value for Lynch. You’re probably looking at a singular pick, most likely a fourth-round pick from an interested team, and probably no higher than that. Former Bills running back Willis McGahee fetched a decent package (two third-round picks and a seventh-round pick from Baltimore) before the 2007 season began, but remember McGahee was coming off a season just shy of 1,000 yards rushing (990) while having significantly less baggage and a much shorter rap sheet than Lynch.
Risky business. Pardon me for insulting your intelligence, but yes keeping Lynch carries heavy risks. The next time Lynch rubs elbows with the law, he’ll be facing a suspension that could be as lengthy as half a season (eight games) or maybe more. Also, his next encounter with trouble and the Bills could cut him loose. So if you keep Lynch and he can’t keep his nose clean and you’re forced to cut ties with him, then you’ve got nothing to show for it and you got no value in return for your first-round pick in 2007.
Lynch’s role in 2010. We know Fred Jackson’s the starter. He’s coming off his first career 1,000 rushing season, not to mention he racked up over 1,000 return yards in 2009 as well. He’s worked tremendously hard to have the chance to play on Sundays. Tough, hard-nosed worker who carries himself with class on and off the field. He’s the type of player the fans love and respect and get behind without conviction.
Despite all the value Jackson brings, his one shortcoming last season was he had only two rushing touchdowns on 237 rushing attempts; for his career, Jackson has just five rushing scores on 425 career attempts on the ground. Lynch matched Jackson’s rushing touchdown total in three fewer games and 117 less touches. Lynch has found the end zone 17 times in his career, and even if he were to have a reduced role next season, he still serves a great purpose to the Bills, especially in the red zone and near the goal line for a team that has had trouble scoring touchdowns and points.
Nobody would be thrilled about having the former first-round pick in 2007 (12th overall) and 1,000 yard rusher now primarily used in goal line and backup roles. But whatever your opinion of Lynch is at the very moment, and my guess is it’s not real high, how ideal would it be for the Bills to exchange their 12th overall pick from 2007 for fourth-round pick in 2010? Yes he’s had problems, and yes he’s down to his last strike if he remains with the Bills, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that Lynch can still have a big impact and play a significant role in Buffalo this coming season.
Nix & Gailey express desire to keep Lynch. Both GM Buddy Nix and head coach Chan Gailey have had nothing but positive things to say about Lynch this offseason. Both have expressed the need to have two good, productive backs with the Bills. Nix has stated that everyone is starting out fresh and new, and he wants Lynch to be in Buffalo. Whatever may be going on or said or debated behind the scenes, pubicly the new Bills regime has given zero indication that Lynch could, would or will be moved.
Fixing one perceived problem would cause another. Despite Chan Gailey stating he’d like to find a scat-type back in this year’s draft, currently the Bills have only two running backs on the roster: Jackson and Lynch. If you deal Lynch, not only does depth become a huge factor, but experience becomes a problem as well. If the Bills were to trade Lynch, they would enter 2010 with Jackson as their only back with NFL experience while relying on a rookie or possibly two, to help Jackson share the rushing load.
Do the Bills have the luxury of trading Lynch? My answer is no. We already know the Bills have much larger issues to deal with. They need an elite left tackle, along with depth on the offensive line. They need a franchise quarterback, receiver help across from Lee Evans, outside linebacker help, and they’re missing a nose tackle in their newly converted 3-4 defense. I believe in decreasing problems, not increasing them. Trading Lynch just opens up another area of need for the Bills on draft day and there’s only so many picks to go around for the Bills to solve all their problems in one draft.
Buffalo doesn’t have to do anything with Lynch. This seems to be the one aspect people are completely forgetting. Lynch has three years remaining on his contract, which means the Bills don’t need to be in any sort of hurry to make a deal and trade Lynch. Lynch also has very little leverage on the Bills, considering his past troubles and the year he had last season, compared to the career best season Jackson put up in 2009.
Keeping Lynch as a 1-2 punch would most likely be the wise route to take, unless they get their socks completely blown off from a team that presents the Bills with a shiny package they just can’t afford to pass up. Chan Gailey is a run-first type of coach and he’ll want to pound the rock heavily with multiple backs.
Lastly, of course we all wish Lynch would be at offseason conditioning programs, debuting a newfound work ethic and positive attitude, maybe even with a chip on his shoulder ready to reclaim his starting job. Now I fully understand the odds of that type of scenario playing out are unrealistic. In many cases malcontents don’t get better, they only get worse, and there’s a chance Lynch may not be with the Bills when the 2010 season starts.
If he is, however, there’s no indication that a Jackson-Lynch backfield tandem can’t be successful. Jacksonville made it work with Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew; ditto in Miami with Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. The New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys have employed three running back systems with success. Most recently, the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints used a trio of Pierre Thomas-Reggie Bush-Mike Bell at various times this past season.
Having Lynch provides the Bills with insurance should Jackson struggle or suffer an injury. All things considered, in 2010 Lynch would be much more valuable to the Bills than what they would get from a fourth or fifth round pick this year in the draft.