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Wednesday, May 1, 2013
Marshawn Lynch and the bigger RB picture

By Mike Sando

Christine Michael and Marshawn Lynch
Christine Michael, left, gives the Seahawks additional running back depth behind Marshawn Lynch.
Jump ahead to 2015 and put yourself in John Schneider's seat as the Seattle Seahawks' general manager.

By then, you will have re-signed or lost elite players such as safety Earl Thomas and cornerback Richard Sherman.

Your quarterback, Russell Wilson, will be entering the final year of his rookie contract. Wilson will be eligible to sign a new one for the first time under the NFL's labor rules.

The same goes for Bobby Wagner, your starting middle linebacker, and Bruce Irvin, your highly drafted pass-rusher. All will cost much more than they're costing right now.

Your Pro Bowl left tackle, Russell Okung, will also be entering a contract year.

One receiver, Percy Harvin, will have a contract counting $12.9 million against the salary cap. Another, Sidney Rice, will have a deal counting $10.2 million.

Oh, and one other thing about this 2015 adventure: You'll have to decide whether to pay a $2 million roster bonus and $5.5 million salary for a running back entering his ninth season.

Marshawn Lynch is that running back, and right now, in 2013, he's about as good as they come, this side of Adrian Peterson. But you'll need younger, more economical alternatives for some of your best players down the line. These aren't the sort of immediate needs that show up in draft previews, but they're always lurking.

Now, thanks to one of the more surprising moves in the 2013 draft, the Seahawks have bought insurance for their future at the position most vulnerable to age.

Christine Michael, the Texas A&M running back Seattle unexpectedly selected 62nd overall Friday, must by rule sign a four-year contract through 2016. His deal will run past the contracts that Lynch and backup running back Robert Turbin signed last offseason. It will count far less against the cap than the $9 million Lynch's deal is scheduled to count in 2015.

Seattle probably did not draft Michael with the distant future in the front of its mind. One explanation trumps all others when determining why the Seahawks used a second-round draft choice for a running back with two perfectly good ones on the roster already. The team thinks Michael can be special.

"He was the highest-rated player on our board and we lost Leon Washington, so we were looking for a little bit of depth there, and he is just our kind of runner," Schneider said. "He's a tough, intense, up-field, one-cut guy, and he's just a very good football player, competitor."

Adding Michael does not imperil Lynch for the 2013 season, of course. It does provoke natural tendencies to wonder whether there's more to this story.

"I could be far-fetched here," Kevin from McKinney, Texas, wrote to the NFC West mailbag, illustrating how far the mind can wander, "but is it possible John Schneider and [coach] Pete Carroll are concerned with Lynch's future effectiveness due to the new lowering of the crown rule? It seems to me that is a big part of his game and significantly contributes to his yards after contact."

There is no way the rulebook pressured Seattle into drafting a running back.

Carroll and other coaches fear officials will struggle enforcing the new rule preventing runners from lowering their heads and delivering an aggressive blow to the opponent with the top of the helmet. The rule could affect Lynch, but league officials said they discovered only a few would-be violations per week when studying tape from last season.

The Seahawks selected Michael because they thought he was the best back in the draft and well-suited to their offense. They wanted additional depth for their running game, which will remain the focus of their offense. They have to realize that Lynch's back spasms, while manageable to this point, could become more problematic with additional wear and tear. And they surely realize that Lynch's occasional off-field troubles dating to his time with the Buffalo Bills could recur, inviting sanctions.

Adding Michael doesn't mean the team thinks less of Lynch or Turbin, a 2012 fourth-round choice. There are no indications the team is anticipating a Lynch suspension in relation to his DUI arrest last offseason.

Still, I would bet against Lynch playing out the final year of his deal when Michael and Turbin figure to be available at a significant discount.

Seattle was fortunate in 2010 to have a running back of Lynch's caliber and young age (then 24) become available by trade at reasonable cost. The team was wise to re-sign Lynch one year ago to a four-year deal featuring $17 million in guaranteed money.

This marriage should be good for both parties for the next couple of seasons.

Lynch's deal pays him $7 million in salary with an $8.5 million salary-cap charge in 2013. It carries a $5 million salary and $7 million cap number in 2014. The team will have a decision to make at that point because Lynch's deal includes a $5.5 million salary and a $2 million roster bonus with a $9 million cap figure for 2015, the contract's final year.

Michael, a luxury buy at present, should be much more than that by then.