Marshawn Lynch strolled through his locker room wearing his usual winter gear: dark, thick clothing, knit cap, straps hanging down each side of his head. He walked with some teammates and pals. He barely spoke, and certainly not to the media assembled to see if this was in fact his Seattle goodbye.
In that way, clean-out Monday — a day after the end of the Seahawks’ season — was no different than any other day for the star running back.
No different in this way, too: He hasn’t given coach Pete Carroll or the team any indication on what he may want to do next.
Which is to say, as the coach of the independent runner said, “Everything is just normal.”
Lynch has two seasons remaining on his contract, but neither are guaranteed. His salary-cap charge against the Seahawks for the 2016 season is scheduled to be $11.5 million. That’s a prohibitive amount for a back that turns 30 in April and played in just seven regular-season games this past season.
Asked Monday after the players departed into their offseasons for a gut feeling on whether Lynch will be in Seattle’s backfield next season, Carroll said simply: “I don’t know.”
In the previous two seasons, Lynch was believed to have floated through intermediaries to the Seahawks the possibility of him retiring. He did that enough in 2014 to prompt the team to give him an additional $1.5 million. That ended a week-long holdout from training camp. He kept the retirement possibility open enough before the 2015 season to get $5 million more up front in the two-year extension he signed last March but no one expects him to fulfill.
Before Lynch left Monday for what is usually an incommunicado offseason, did Carroll get an indication of his mindset about the 2016 season?
“I have not gotten that indication. I don’t know,” Carroll said. “Everything is just normal right now. Just everything remains to be known.”
How Lynch fits into Seattle’s plans or even its offense may have changed in the last three months. The Seahawks transitioned from being based on Lynch’s power running to becoming reliant on Russell Wilson’s improved drop-back passing. Wilson became the first NFL player to throw for 4,000 yards, rush for 500 yards and throw at least 30 touchdown passes. He did that while Lynch was sidelined with hamstring, calf and abdominal injuries.
His role in the final game plan of the season disappeared after the Seahawks trailed Carolina 14-0 on Sunday after just two offensive plays and 31-0 by halftime of a NFC divisional playoff game. He had just six carries for 20 yards.
On Monday, Carroll had no answer to how Lynch fits in the offense now.
“We’ll figure it out,” the coach said. “It depends on how he comes back and how he works at it and all that kind of stuff.
“He had a difficult year physically. He’s never had to recover from an injury like that. He’s never had to deal with that kind of process. And he made it back, to his credit. He worked hard to get back and made it back to play. It just was a terrible opportunity for him to have a chance to have an impact on the game (Sunday).”
The other highlights of the season-ending press conference Seattle’s coach gave for 29 minutes at team headquarters Monday, a day after the 31-24 loss at Carolina ended the Seahawks’ uneven season two wins short of a third consecutive Super Bowl berth:
Thomas Rawls is on track to return from a broken ankle and torn ligaments for the start of next season, and the team is excited now knowing what it has with the 2015 rookie breakout as Lynch’s fill-in.
The Seahawks would “love” to bring restricted-free-agent-to-be Christine Michael back, Carroll said.
The coach said of his offensive line: “I don’t think we’ve nailed it yet.”
Carroll made it sound as if the Seahawks will make every effort to re-sign wide receiver and 2012 undrafted rookie Jermaine Kearse, who could become an unrestricted free agent in March.
“I tell ya, he had a great game (Sunday),” Carroll said of Kearse’s career-high 11 catches with two touchdowns.
“In the big-game setting he continues to make big plays happen. He can do it all through the year, but he just seems to have a knack to make a special play. And they’re not easy, either.
“He is a terrific player. I don’t know if other people appreciate him like we do. We love him in our system and we’d love him to stay with us.”
Carroll said the feeling after this end of the season is different than the pall the coach now acknowledges lingered over the team into October because of the way it lost at the end of Super Bowl 49 last February. The players were upbeat leaving Monday knowing how good they are and can continue to be, Carroll said.
He likened it to the feeling the young Seahawks had following the 2012 season, when they lost late after rallying from way behind to take a lead at Atlanta in a playoff game.
“They kind of understood this season was one where we didn’t quite capture all the opportunities that were there,” Carroll said of Seattle beginning 0-2, 2-4 and 4-5 but finishing 10-6 before a playoff win at sub-zero Minnesota. “We know there’s a lot of future and there’s big upside for us.
“This is a very young club. We have leadership, and we have big-time players. And leadership from the quarterback position which is so hard to find. The connection of what these guys are like on defense really gives us a hope that as we go into this offseason we’re going to do something really special in the future.”
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle