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This is the 15th in a series of scouting reports on key players who are expected to become free agents March 13, unless they are re-signed or franchised before then.
News: After becoming the Seahawks' first 1,000-yard rusher in six seasons and clearly emerging as the centerpiece in Seattle's increasingly run-oriented offense, the odds are pretty slim that Lynch will ever get an opportunity to test the free-agent waters this offseason. Outside of team headquarters, the most popular speculation is that the Seahawks probably will use the franchise tag on Lynch to the tune of $7.7 million in 2012, which would make him only the third RB to receive the franchise tag in the past five years (Darren Sproles and Brandon Jacobs were both franchised in 2009 by the Chargers and Giants, respectively). Inside team headquarters, however, sources have indicated that there is a much greater preference to reach a long-term deal with Lynch, who without question is considered the team's top priority.
Notes: The former first-round pick of the Bills made a quantum leap in his second season in Seattle, posting career highs in carries (285), rushing yards (1,204, seventh-best in the NFL) and touchdowns (13 total, 12 rushing) in only 15 games. He finished particularly strong with six rushing performances of at least 107 yards in his last nine games and ended up earning his second Pro Bowl berth as an injury replacement (he made it with the Bills in his second season in 2008). Lynch also contributed 28 receptions for 212 yards. He reached his peak on a national Thursday-night stage with 22 carries for 148 yards and a pair of TDs in a 31-14 home victory over the Eagles. Lynch rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons in Buffalo but experienced a huge drop-off in 2009 after serving a three-game suspension to begin the season. He was traded to Seattle on Oct. 5, 2010, for a fourth-round pick in 2011 and a fifth-round draft pick in 2012.
Positives: Begin with the fact that Lynch turns only 26 in April and appeared to get stronger as the 2011 season wore on. Displaying a great deal more maturity than he has in the past, the 5-11, 215-pound battering ram has a punishing, between-the-tackles running style, with a knack for keeping his powerful legs moving for extra yardage. He runs much bigger than his size and frequently eludes tacklers with a rare blend of power and shiftiness. After showing a tendency to dance and hesitate behind the line early last season, Lynch became a much more decisive runner approaching the season's halfway point, establishing a surprisingly strong chemistry with an offensive line that was being revamped on the fly. He also became a better receiver out of the backfield. In addition, Lynch has established himself as a first-class crowd-pleaser, with his "Beast Mode" style, occasional highlight-reel runs and addiction to eating Skittles making him increasingly popular. Plus, he has a great nose for the endzone, scoring at least one touchdown in 11 consecutive weeks before being shut out in Week 17.
Negatives: Lynch's off-the-field baggage can't be ignored. A guilty plea on a misdemeanor weapons charge during the 2009 offseason led to a three-game suspension for violating the league's personal-conduct policy, and there's no denying that off-field issues hastened his exit from Buffalo. It's also worth noting that it took a while before the light really went on for him last season; in the first four weeks, Lynch averaged only 35.3 rushing yards. There are also concerns that his physical, relentless running style makes him more susceptible to injury (he has yet to play in an entire 16-game season in five seasons). Lynch also could do a better job of holding on to the ball, with five lost fumbles the past two seasons.
Risk factor: The last running back the Seahawks made a major contractual commitment to was former star featured back Shaun Alexander, whose performance steadily declined after his big payday, so some degree of reluctance by the Seahawks in committing to Lynch is definitely understandable. The Seahawks also figure to have reservations over emptying their wallet at a position in which the average playing career is less than three years. Recent big-money disappointments like the Titans' Chris Johnson and the Panthers' DeAngelo Williams and Lynch's checkered off-the-field track record offer further reasons for pessimism.