When Marshawn Lynch signed his two-year contract extension in March, it not only gave him $5 million more in guaranteed cash this year. It made it more conceivable the 29-year-old star running back could retire before his three-year, $31 million deal's expires with a $12.5 million hit against the Seahawks' salary cap in 2017.
His ongoing back pain that caused him to miss the start of the key NFC West showdown at Arizona last December and his unpredictability make anything possible in regards to Lynch's future beyond this season.
That all makes it more necessary than ever for Seattle to find an eventual replacement for the league's top rusher since the 2011 season.
The team drafted Christine Michael in the second round in 2013 for that reason. Yet Michael still doesn't have the trust of Seahawks' coaches. That includes offensive coordinator and play caller Darrell Bevell.
Never miss a local story.
Michael has not always gone the correct way on plays. At times he has visibly pouted -- while still in formation -- just before snaps in games knowing the ball wasn't going to him. He was so noticeable doing that during the game at St. Louis last October an assistant coach berated him on the sideline after the play for his display.
He's also made inexplicable plays such as last Thanksgiving night at San Francisco when Michael caught a pass from Russell Wilson in the left flat, tromped 12 yards through open field and appeared destined for a first down -- before he stepped out of bounds one yard short of the line to gain.
The most damning proof the coaches don't trust Michael, not yet: he touched the ball exactly zero times in three playoff games including the Super Bowl last postseason.
"But he has a special talent," Bevell said this spring. "It’s something that we’re hoping comes to the forefront, that he’ll really take the bit and really compete for us at that spot. There’s no question he has the talent, but he’s just got to do the right thing all the time."
That also includes staying out of the training room. He didn't touch the ball from the last exhibition game of 2014 through the first five regular season games because of a hamstring injury. The season before that, he had a bad back. Last month he missed a couple days of organized team activities then the lone mandatory minicamp practice because of a tight hamstring.
Michael's time to prove he can do the right thing all the time begins July 31 when training camp begins. As usual, Lynch will barely carry the ball in August practices and in preseason games. That will leave the stage clear for Michael to start trying to prove himself all over again this summer.
This may be his last chance.
“This is a fantastic time for him. This is his time,” coach Pete Carroll said this spring. “We’re going to push him in that regard and just match up with his expectations. He wants to be a front-line, first-line back and he’s got tremendous talent and we’re just going to see how it goes.”
How can Michael get coaches to trust that he could be Lynch's heir?
“Have a good game and come on back and have another one,” Carroll said. “Stay with the workload, and handle the bumps and the bruises.”
The Seahawks drafted Robert Turbin in the fourth round in 2012 with an idea he could eventually follow Lynch as lead back. Turbin has carried a chip on his shoulder all the way from Utah State believing he could start for any NFL team, including the one on which he's been Lynch's understudy. But his career high in yards rushing (354) and carries (80) came in his rookie season three years ago, and he's yet to score a regular-season touchdown as a pro.
Turbin has spent the last couple months rehabilitating away from team headquarters following offseason hip surgery, so he will likely be limited into August. That would put him behind -- again -- in his quest to prove he can be "The Man" in Seattle's backfield.
Thomas Rawls is one of the most intriguing undrafted free agents on the Seahawks' roster. The 5-foot-9, 215-pound, power-packed rookie was a much-hyped, all-state back in high school out of Flint, Michigan. He rushed for 333 yards in three seasons at the University of Michigan before he transferred last summer as a graduate to Central Michigan. At CMU in 2014 he romped for 1,103 yards and 10 touchdowns in just nine games.
Rawls played through knee pain late last season before missing the Bahamas Bowl with what the Chippewas announced was an "academic issue." CMU suspended him for two games in September after he was facing felony charges in a purse-snatching incident in a Michigan casino. According to the Mount Pleasant Morning Sun Rawls eventually entered a guilty plea to a high court misdemeanor of attempted larceny in a building. He was sentenced to a year of probation, 104 hours of community service to be completed in nine months, plus fines and restitution costs.
Last month, Carroll talked about Rawls more than head coaches of Super Bowl teams usually talk about undrafted free-agent running backs that played just nine games inside the Mid-American Conference the previous college season.
“I’ve studied Thomas a lot and I love his style of running," Carroll said. "He’s really a head-knocker. He really goes after guys. When you get to see him with the pads on you’ll see how physical he is.
"He had play after play in college of just smacking people and running and breaking tackle. He’s showed very good feet and caught the ball well. He’s going to be a very willing blocker and he was a real bright spot. He really jumped out at us, knowing that his most exciting dimension hasn’t even been seen yet. He’s had a great (offseason) for us. It will be really fun to see him when we start playing ball.”