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Friday, March 6, 2009
Lynch's plea affects Jackson more than himself


On Thursday, Bills running back Marshawn Lynch pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor gun charge. Lynch could have received a year in jail, which obviously would have made him unavailable for the upcoming football season. Luckily for Lynch, the sentencing was lighter, and although he will be on probation for three years, jail time is not in the mix, and Lynch will only need to fulfill some community service obligations for his transgression.

However, this doesn't mean Lynch is completely off the hook for his actions. The Bills have released the following statement on their Web site: "Today we learned of Marshawn's guilty plea to the misdemeanor violation. He has accepted responsibility for his actions and apologized for his mistake. The league is now reviewing the matter under the NFL Personal Conduct Policy." It's that review that is likely to result in at least some sort of disciplinary action for Lynch, most likely a suspension.

The Bills, expecting the worst-case scenario, reportedly have spent the past few weeks talking to some free-agent backs in an attempt to cover themselves. The Buffalo News reports that the team has talked with Kevin Jones, recently released by the Bears, as well as former 49er DeShaun Foster and former Jaguar Fred Taylor before he eventually signed with the Patriots.

The real question, though, is what kind of effect a suspension would have on Lynch's fantasy value, and quite frankly, we're not sure it would have any at all. Even though Lynch finished fifth in the AFC with 1,036 yards rushing this past season and ended up playing in the Pro Bowl when Chris Johnson dropped out due to injury, he's nowhere near the top tier of running backs. In fact, when the ESPN Fantasy staff was asked in early February -- before Lynch's gun charges were brought to light -- to list our early Top-5 running backs for the 2009-2010 season, 12 different backs received votes, and none of them were named Marshawn. So his value is already depressed, without the threat of any missed time.

Marshawn Lynch
Marshawn Lynch could be suspended, but it shouldn't affect his fantasy value much.
Then there's the question of whether any missed time would have a fantasy impact at all. This past season, Brandon Marshall was originally suspended for three games after off-field shenanigans, but he appealed and got the penalty reduced to just one game. Missing one game shouldn't drop Lynch any lower, especially when you consider how long the appeals process can sometimes take. Case in point, Matt Jones, who was suspended for three games in October, played all the way into December before the league finally upheld his punishment. It is conceivable that even if Lynch is suspended, a fantasy owner might still get close to a full season of value out of him before any time must be served at all.

If anything, a potential Lynch suspension might have more of an effect on Fred Jackson's value than anyone else. The Bills are looking to sign another potential feature back, be it Foster or Jones, and someone is going to be the odd man out here. Whether the team tries to trade Lynch to get rid of the headache, or unload Jackson before he becomes a free agent next season, or simply goes with a three-man rotation, it is unlikely that Jackson will get the same amount of work next season. Now, whether that ends up being far more or far less, in Buffalo or in another city, remains to be seen, but rest assured, a change is gonna come for Jackson.

As for Lynch, he was a No. 2 fantasy back before the plea, and our verdict on his value after the plea hasn't changed at all.

A.J. Mass is a fantasy football, baseball and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.