Dave Boling

Dave Boling: Marshawn Lynch getting back in game feels like risky exploitation

The Seahawks miss Marshawn Lynch. They are getting reminded this week of just how much because they are playing against him Sunday for the first time since their Super Bowl-winning running back came out of his one-year retirement last year to play for his hometown Oakland Raiders.
The Seahawks miss Marshawn Lynch. They are getting reminded this week of just how much because they are playing against him Sunday for the first time since their Super Bowl-winning running back came out of his one-year retirement last year to play for his hometown Oakland Raiders. AP file, 2015

Marshawn Lynch apparently wants to play football again. The Raiders want him to do it in Oakland.

If it comes together, I strongly sense that somebody’s going to get exploited, and we’re conditioned to expect it will end up being the Raiders’ fans, who have been through a lot of it.

The roiling rumor machine always cranks up whenever Lynch is involved, and his prospective unretirement from the NFL, and departure from the Seattle Seahawks, has caused almost daily speculation regarding how it could materialize and what would be the consequences.

Through a cynic’s eyes, it’s obvious the Raiders are interested in anything that will coax jilted fans to continue to buy tickets in the uneasy interim between now and whenever it is the team relocates to Las Vegas.

No question, the homegrown Lynch would be very appealing ticket-bait.

Lynch, meanwhile, has not been at top form since the 2014 season, being injured much of ’15 and retired all of ’16.

He’s now an entrepreneur, selling sweatshirts and hats and chocolate bars. His daily flirtation with a comeback is fabulous free brand marketing.

How many fence-sitting fans will buy season tickets if Lynch is added to the roster? How many headlines will the Raiders get that don’t mention their abandonment?

Lynch would be a great investment if he signs but doesn’t play a down in the regular season. Of course, those fans who bought tickets based on that impetus will be disappointed, but, hey, what’s another insult?

The Raiders may really believe that Lynch can stage a comeback and help them win games. He was a one-of-a-kind back and could be genuinely motivated to greatness in his home town.

But amid all the talk about the machinations required to get Lynch back in the league and switching teams, almost nothing has been mentioned about whether there’s any hope he can actually be a functional running back at this point.

A few athletes are true outliers, physical freaks for whom the laws of physics and nature don’t equally apply. Lynch may be one of those. Sometimes great athletes can summons flashes from the past in their later seasons.

But can there be much more left in Lynch than just spot duty?

The game is so tough on running backs. Especially those who run with the rugged style of Lynch.

Lynch could rely on his instincts, but all those were calibrated to mesh with his physical abilities of three years ago. The timing, the vision, the explosiveness have to be eroded by the passage of time.

Can you imagine how hard it will be for Lynch, who turns 31 next week, to get back in the kind of condition he’d need? He’s never seemed a big fan of training camp, but he’d have to be fully invested in camp, and even in some preseason action, to gain back anything near the physical readiness.

If the Raiders cart him out there just to sell tickets and he gets physically abused, it’s sad exploitation.

Aside from that, why would Lynch put himself back in the position of being under the restrictions and statutory mandates of the NFL?

Lynch has shown with numerous television appearances since his retirement that he has no anxiety about media and exposure, as some suggested when he was dodging interviews.

It’s obvious that he’s just interested in doing it on his terms. Fair enough, but when you get back into the NFL, then it suddenly starts getting dictated by others.

If the Raiders think he can help them and Lynch is returning for the love of the game, or maybe some desire to fulfill goals that have gone unmet, well, we may wish him strength and good fortune.

But does anybody want him to see him struggle or get hurt? Or to be a disservice to that earlier self who played with a competitive passion matched by few in the history of the game?

It seems a lot to risk for a team to sell tickets to an already alienated fan base, or for a player looking for a chance to market more sweatshirts.

Dave Boling: 253-597-8440, @DaveBoling

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