RENTON — He’s a difference-maker.
Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch has put his value to the team on display in back-to-back 100-yard rushing performances the past two weeks.
Now, will the Seahawks reward him with a new contract after the season?
We’ll soon find out how much Lynch means to the Seahawks. The former Cal star technically is signed through 2012, but he has already reached minimal playing-time requirements to void the final year of his contract, making him a free agent at the end of this season. Lynch is earning a base salary of $2.14 million this season.
According to a league source, representatives for the Seahawks and Lynch have had preliminary discussions in an effort to set the parameters for a multi-year contract.
Lynch is one of 19 Seattle players who are scheduled to become free agents at the end of the season. Since head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider took over in January 2010, the Seahawks have been shrewd in their dabbling in the free-agent market, signing mostly young players, such as wide receiver Sidney Rice, tight end Zach Miller and defensive tackles Brandon Mebane and Alan Branch, whom they think will make up the nucleus of a playoff contender in the years to come.
According to salary cap specialist Brian McIntyre of FootballOutsiders.com, the Seahawks are about $20 million under this year’s salary cap of just over $120.375 million, so they have the ability to push some cap space into 2012 and sign key free agents they don’t want to allow to hit the open market.
“They’re in a very good position, salary cap-wise,” McIntyre said. “They don’t have the most space in the league heading into next year, but it will be interesting to see what they do. If they can push some of the money into next year, they could have $30 (million) to $35 million in cap space, and with (Seahawks owner) Paul Allen’s money, they could do what they want in free agency.”
Seattle was proactive after last season, signing receivers Mike Williams and Ben Obomanu and linebacker David Hawthorne to new deals.
Lynch is one several top-flight backs who are playing for new contracts, along with Chicago’s Matt Forte, Buffalo’s Fred Jackson, Houston’s Arian Foster and Baltimore’s Ray Rice.
An Oct. 23 game in which Lynch was a last-minute scratch because of lower back spasms might have proved how much the hard-running Lynch means to Seattle offensively. In a very winnable game against Cleveland on the road, the Seahawks mustered only 68 rushing yards and lost, 6-3, while Lynch watched from the sideline.
His carefree nature, physical running style and ability to help Seattle control tempo fits the kind of offense that Carroll wants to establish for the long term.
“He has a great spirit about him,” Carroll said. “It’s one that is unique, contagious, attractive – you like being around him, and he’s fun to be around. Coupled with that is a really good work ethic. He really works hard.
“He’s just got a free- spirited nature about him that he sees things that other people don’t see, and he responds to them and points them out, makes fun or makes light of in a way that he’s just a very unique character. I love having him around. He really is a very special guy.”
Lynch, 25, had two 1,000-yard rushing seasons in his first four years in the NFL. With 507 yards so far in his fifth season and seven games remaining to play, it’s not inconceivable that he could reach 1,000 yards this season, becoming Seattle’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Shaun Alexander ran for 1,880 in an MVP performance in 2005.
Lynch said he likes playing in Seattle.
“The team is cool,” Lynch said. “I had relationships with people before I got here. The new relationships that I have made – we’ve got great people here. And the offensive line coming together and T-Jack (Tarvaris Jackson) taking control – there’s some real good things going on around here that I like. So it’s cool with me.”
He said he’s not concerned with contract talks right now.
“This is the place where I’m at right now,” Lynch said. “And I’m excited about finishing this thing out.”
Other key free agents Seattle might soon want to get locked up include linebackers Hawthorne and Leroy Hill, defensive end Red Bryant, fullback Michael Robinson and kicker Steven Hauschka.
Eric D. Williams: 253-597-8437 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/seahawks