To hear Pete Carroll tell it, Marshawn Lynch is coming back to be the Seahawks’ bulldozing runner he’s been the last five seasons.
How else would you expect the (almost) always sunny, tanned-in-icy-Indiana coach to view Seattle’s most pressing offseason issue?
Carroll said Friday the team has been negotiating for months with the 28-year-old running back’s representatives on a new contract, during remarks as the final coach or general manager to speak at the NFL scouting combine.
He also said he will always have with him the way Seattle lost this month’s Super Bowl to New England on its final offensive play from the 1-yard line — but that he thinks he’s dealing with it well.
“I should be,” he said. “I should be pretty damn good at this at this time, you know? It’s important that I am. I’ve got to lead a bunch of people to being special again. But this is a great lesson, this is a great lesson for all of us.
“It’s not about that it happened. It’s, what are you going to do about it?”
He said Pro Bowl strong safety Kam Chancellor doesn’t need knee surgery, afterall, and should be ready for the preseason. Tight end Zach Miller should be ready for training camp after two extensive ankle surgeries. And Carroll said recently promoted Kris Richard will call the defense’s plays as the new coordinator while retaining his responsibility for defensive backs, but the team is interviewing multiple candidates to fill “a couple” defensive-assistant positions.
But the most pressing Seahawks issue is the status of their back who rushed for a combined 1,600 yards in the regular season and playoffs in 2014, along with a league-best 19 total touchdowns this past season, including 15 on the ground. In the last week general manager John Schneider has raised as a you-never-know-with-him possibility Lynch might retire.
On a podium in front of cameras on the third day of the combine at Lucas Oil Stadium here in Indianapolis, Carroll mentioned how “huge” Lynch remains in the team’s plans for 2015. He said that while he nor anyone else in the franchise has talked directly to Lynch since the season ended three weeks ago “we have been in earnest — for a long time now — negotiations to being him back.
“We’ve had big offers out there,” Carroll said. “We are excited about the future. He’s been an integral part of our program for five years.”
Off the podium a few minutes later, tanned from a trip to his vacation home in Hawaii, he looked a far more relaxed than when most last saw him three weeks ago leaving Phoenix.
Carroll was casually leaning against a wall of a stadium suite-holder lounge talking to three Puget Sound-area reporters when he said: “I cherish the style of play that Marshawn has always stood for. We’ve been doing extensive work in negotiating. I really think he wants to come back with us and play for us.”
Asked if he could see any realistic scenario in which Lynch would not be Seattle’s featured back again in 2015, Carroll said: “Only if he doesn’t want to play, because we’ve done everything we can do. We’ve made significant strides in our work; this has been going on for a long time. Well before any of you guys knew it we’ve been working hard at this and making sure that we were preparing for the future with him. We’ve never thought of the future without him.
“Hopefully that will work out and we can make that happen again.”
Has Lynch given the coach any indication he will not be back?
“We haven’t had direct contact with him about what’s going on right now,” Carroll said. “We’ll find that out here soon.”
Soonest is best. The Seahawks want to know before NFL free agency begins March 10 if they suddenly need to sign a featured running back.
The team is asking Lynch to be definitive on his future now instead of breaking off contact as he does each offseason, missing minicamps and then showing up at training camp in late July — or later, as with last summer’s eight-day contract holdout. Only then has the team been certain Lynch is returning to play that season.
Indications are Lynch may soon have a new contract with more guarantees and lower base salaries to lower his $8.5 million salary-cap number scheduled for this year ($5 million base pay, $2 million in bonuses for games on the active roster, $1.5 million in so-called “dead money,” accounting from previous bonuses).
The Seahawks just want a yay or nay from Lynch now, so in case of an unexpected “nay” they can begin shopping.
Carroll, who began as a defensive backs coach, called Richard “the best secondary coach I’ve ever been around.” This month he promoted Richard, very popular with All-Pros Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas and Seattle’s defensive backs, to defensive coordinator. Five years ago Richard was a graduate assistant of Carroll’s at USC; this fall he will call the plays for the league’s top-ranked defense. Carroll said Richard will for now retain primary responsibilities with the secondary, too.
Rocky Seto, Carroll’s defensive coordinator in 2009 at USC, was promoted to Seahawks assistant head coach-defense this month. Seto is going to have “a very significant role in all the work and all the planning that we do” on the defense, Carroll said.
“We still need to hire a couple of spots on defense here at the combine,” Carroll said, “so we are kind of swamped with it. But we really wanted to be open with people and give guys a chance. So there are a couple of spots depending on who the guys are and how we figure it out.”
Carroll said Sherman (torn left elbow ligament) and Chancellor (left knee) not needing surgeries lessens a bit the urgency of needing depth in the secondary. Thomas (dislocated left shoulder) and nickel back Jeremy Lane (left knee on top of a broken arm) do need operations.
“We also have to see what is going on with Tharold (Simon), with his shoulder,” Carroll said of the second-year cornerback who played the final three quarters of the Super Bowl after Lane got hurt.
Starting cornerback Byron Maxwell seems likely to leave as an unrestricted free agent. He said three weeks ago that while he loves the Seahawks for turning into a standout after drafting him in the sixth round he has to do what’s best for his family.
So Carroll and Schneider may be looking at a lot of cornerbacks here this weekend.
Carroll said Miller, who played just three games last fall before needing two ankle surgeries, is on track to be ready for training camp in July.
“He was an intricate surgery, and they had to do some other work on it to make sure it was just right. But the indications are he should be OK,” Carroll said. “That would be a significant opportunity for us to get back a really good football player. Imagine, we didn’t have him at all (last season).”
As for his final, fateful directive to offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell to call a pass from the 1-yard line in the Super Bowl, Carroll said he hasn’t been surprised with the heat — nor with New England coach Bill Belichick defending Carroll’s decision since then.
“No, I had the intuition to what was going to come, immediately, because of all the scrutiny that’s so clear and obviously. Everyone likes to play that placing-the-blame stuff. I’m not surprised at all,” Carroll said. “We were as clear thinking and knew what was going on as we ever can be. We were so ready to win that football game, I can’t tell you.
“But they made a play that just took it away. They did a fantastic job. … There was a time needing for healing; we respect the heck out of that. And then we move ahead.
“We are not at ending points. We are so much in the middle of this. It’s just a thrill to be a part of this time with the Seahawks.”