The marriage between the Seahawks and Marshawn Lynch was never destined to last long, so it's no surprise to hear the enigmatic, Skittles-loving folk hero known as Beast Mode might no longer be "all about that action."
And, contrary to what sentimental fans might think, it wouldn't be the end of Seattle's offensive world.
It remains to be seen whether Lynch pulls a Barry Sanders and never comes back or just holds out all summer awaiting more money -- or whether he just shows up to the mandatory minicamp next week, dispersing all of the smoke and rumors about retirement and money.
If reports are true and he really does want the Hawks to pay him more and commit to him beyond 2015, he'll probably have to make good on the alleged retirement threat, because the Seahawks are very unlikely to raise his salary. In fact, conventional wisdom says they will go the other direction with it in 2015.
The 28-year-old power back is due to be paid $5.5 million in 2014 -- including $500,000 in per-game roster bonuses. While he is paid among the top five at running back in the NFL, he reportedly wants to get a pay hike to No. 2 or 3. That would mean adding up to $2 million to his salary -- a number that does not make sense for Seattle.
Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider have been good to their key players, generally paying them market value or better (e.g., Red Bryant) and even adjusting contracts when guys have been underpaid (e.g., Chris Clemons and Brandon Browner). But the Hawks are now on a tight budget and seem very unlikely to fork out more money to Lynch just two years after giving him a fair market deal.
In fact, the team likely will seek to lower his $9 million cap hit -- third highest on the team -- in 2015 as the Hawks put together a blockbuster deal for quarterback Russell Wilson. It could be a symbolic shift -- taking money from the former face of the offense to help pay the new face.
Lynch certainly has been the heartbeat of the offense ever since the Hawks acquired him from Buffalo in October 2010 for two mid-round draft picks.
The historic Beast Quake run against New Orleans in that season's playoffs was the beginning of a great three-year run in which Lynch embodied the toughness Carroll wanted his offense to exude.
After running for 1,204 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2011, Lynch signed a four-year, $30 million contract that guaranteed him $17 million. It was a gamble by the Hawks that Lynch would continue to stay out of trouble and keep up his Beast Mode style of play.
His personal quirks aside, Lynch has not disappointed the Seahawks or fans.
Behind a mostly patchwork offensive line, Lynch has turned out three straight seasons with more than 1,200 rushing yards and scored 39 total touchdowns. He has done much of the work on his own; last season he led the league in broken tackles.
"Marshawn has been a great leader in that regard. He is everything we want in that attitude," Carroll said at the Seahawks Town Hall last week. "We've been blessed to watch 24 do it. He has been a great part of our team."
Meanwhile, fans have embraced Lynch's eccentricities, showering him with Skittles (you know the story), supporting his reticent approach to the spotlight and loving him for being "all about that action, boss."
It was always assumed (by us at least) that Lynch would not play in Seattle past 2015, when he will be 29 heading to 30 and possibly wearing down (the Hawks already rest him every Wednesday during the season).
Those fans who adore Beast Mode and think the Hawks must have him to win will be disappointed when he leaves -- whether it is this year or next or in 2016. But the Hawks are prepared to win without him. Perhaps wary of Lynch's whims, they have drafted three running backs in the past two years: Christine Michael and Spencer Ware in 2013 and Kiero Small this year.
The apparent improvement of Michael looms large. The Hawks cannot keep the explosive runner on the bench for much longer -- or they risk wasting their draft investment in him. (See this story from last year comparing Lynch-Michael to Ricky Watters-Shaun Alexander.)
At the Town Hall last week, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell caused a national commotion when he said the Seahawks would be running back by committee, and he added, "We need to see what's going on with Marshawn."
Bevell then retracted/clarified the committee comment to mean the Hawks were using a committee in minicamp with Lynch absent.
It remains to be seen whether Lynch stays away when it matters, starting with next week's mandatory minicamp and extending to training camp next month.
There are four possible outcomes to the situation, although only two seem like real possibilities:
**The Hawks could shuffle his money around, paying more this year and perhaps guaranteeing some of his 2015 salary in exchange for lower cap numbers. But that likely would mean adding a year or two onto the deal for bonus proration, which would mean more dead money once he is gone. Is that really an option the team is interested in? Highly doubtful.
Lynch's situation is different than Chris Clemons' holdout during minicamps in 2012. The Hawks gave Clemons a new deal, but that was their first extension for him. Lynch also received a new deal in 2012, and -- whether he or his fans like it or not -- he probably is not going to get another one.
**The Hawks could try to trade Lynch, although they probably would not get any good offers for a physical, workhorse runner who is entering the back end of his career. Some team might offer a third-rounder, but Carroll and Schneider surely prefer not to get rid of the guy who largely has carried their offense the past three years and seems capable of doing it for at least another.
**Lynch could retire. It wouldn't be a very smart financial move, as he would be giving up $5.5 million in 2014 salary and would have to return $3 million in forfeited bonus money. The Hawks would net his $5.5 million for the 2014 cap and be relieved of a $7.5 million obligation in 2015. His cap hits would be $1.5 million each year.
**Lynch could report and play under his current deal in 2014 -- even if he is unhappy about it. If he fails to play to the same Beast Mode standards, the Hawks have other options. They won't let him distract from another Super Bowl run -- even if it means releasing him or just sitting him on the bench.
We won't know until next week whether the reports of Lynch's planned holdout are true. Whether they are or not, it's clear his time in Seattle is winding down.
But there's no reason to be concerned. After all, it was never destined to be a long-term relationship -- and the Hawks are prepared to win without him.