By Will Stevenson
*Stay away Marshawn. They don’t love you like you think. As soon as your yards per carry is 2.5, and you haven’t broken 70 yards in a game and your hamstring just won’t act right, they’ll boo you. I saw the ovation Lance Stephenson received when he returned to Indiana. Maybe that’s the allure?*
What names do you think of when you hear, “Famous NFL Athlete”? If we are going old-school, we can rattle off plenty of names, positions, and moments that would constitute a famous athlete. Unlike the NBA, the NFL has no problem marketing their franchises over the individual player. The NBA has a few teams that survive off name alone, but most NBA fans are paying ticket prices and watching for a specific player, regardless if the team is home or away. Helmets and a 53-man roster keep most athletes faceless to the public, even with the bursting of the social media age and interviews during the week, and after the game.
Over the past few seasons, we’ve seen prominent player leave the game due to injury, avoiding more injury, or fear of concussions. When Patrick Willis left the 49ers, would you have been able to pick him out in a portrait? Jordan Cameron? NFL players come and go by the hundreds, and we as fans know some of them. If we play fantasy, Madden, or if we work for a team, then we would know who these players are, and what they actually look like. With the ever-changing roster, I get lost in shuffle of who’s starting, who’s better, who’s injured, who retired, who switched teams and so on. We’ve also been able to watch certain positions be devalued by the new NFL and it’s emphasis on passing, offense, and “safety”. Linebackers have been phased down with 4 and 5 wide receiver sets on offense. Shutdown corners have be phased down as the contact penalties get stricter every year. Special Teams players are almost extinct when it involves the punt and kick return team, with the advancement of the touchback and emphasis on field position with punts. As the passing game has risen, only with completions, the receiver has been devalued. No longer will teams go after the top receiver in free agency, they’ll just wait for the draft, or sign a #3 guy instead of a #2.
And then we have the running back. I miss the running back, but not as much as I thought. I miss the 300/350 carries and 1800 yard seasons. I missed it up until I watched former NFL players limp around the office, join the concussion suit, and give personal stories on their injury struggles after football. So when I see a running back retire at 27 years old, I don’t think twice about it. I don’t get outraged and say he’s a quitter or devalue his character. I now empathize with these individuals. The running back has been spread thin, as teams live by the “running back by committee”, which was once on the banned list of NFL jargon. When I see a running back retire, or any other player, I do not want them to return, because I fear they will not return healthy, leave healthy, have a productive season, and then have the fans turn on them.
This is why I don’t want to see Marshawn Lynch return to the NFL. Selfishly, I want him to stay retired. From an outside-objective point of view, it seems as if Lynch has won after football. We literally saw him decline due to age and injury, have his job taken by a rookie, and that’s a year after watching him watch the Seahawks throw the Super Bowl away. He’s a Cal legend, a Seattle legend, an internet legend, a running back legend, an interview legend, a skittles legend, and he’ll probably never touch the hall of fame: And the HOF wouldn’t even matter. To me, Lynch has been even more popular off the field as his marketing and philanthropy have soared after his absence from the NFL. What more could a guy want? More, obviously.
The Raiders need somebody to run the ball, and they don’t want to pay Lynch, just as the didn’t want to pay Murray. They want the Seahawks to cut him so they can sign him to a lower salary. I hope Lynch doesn’t come back at all, but if he does, I hope it’s not for pennies. There aren’t many famous NFL players that flourish after they are done playing outside of commentary, or working with ESPN, NFL Network or a pre-game show. some players leave the game and are never heard from again, but not Lynch. Lynch has the clout that most players dream of after they stop playing. Most need Espn and other industries to keep them relevant, or they need to do a little dance with a facemask filled with chicken: To each his own.
I wish you nothing but the best Beast Mode.