Cool or Drool: Lynch Joins Oakland Raiders

Dan Bisno, Columnist

The 2016–2017 season was a tough one for the NFL, as viewership dropped sharply. While many fans, including Donald Trump, attributed the mid-season slump to Colin Kaepernick’s protest of the national anthem, there is reasonable suspicion that the startling decline in popularity was also impacted by the retirement of Marshawn Lynch, its most popular combatant to controversial commissioner Roger Goodell.

Despite delivering five consecutive 1,200-plus rushing yard and double-digit touchdown seasons from 2010–2014, then enduring a season-ending injury in 2015, the Seattle Seahawks’ beloved number 24 hung up his cleats in 2016. After 10 years, four with the Buffalo Bills and six with Seattle, Lynch broke the hearts of NFL fans who had just begun to adore him for his 2014 tirade against stringent NFL media policies. Indulging in a little “Cool or Drool” history, my dear friend Henry Weissberg and I debuted this column four semesters ago by covering Lynch’s boycott of the NFL media and his famous phrase, “I’m just here so I won’t get fined.” Some speculated Lynch’s anger about the NFL’s fines and regulations triggered his retirement. Others suggested he feared chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, from the hard hits and concussions he sustained throughout his career, but the reasons for his premature exit from the game were never made clear.

But after a year of retirement at 31 years old and still in prime physical shape, it seems Lynch knew he had to do something about the NFL’s TV ratings. It was time for Skittles and crotch-grabbing touchdown celebrations… in Oakland.

On April 26, the Seahawks traded the rights to Lynch and a 2018 sixth-round pick to the Raiders for a 2018 fifth-round pick. Lynch later took to Twitter: “Yes Lawd 12th man I’m thankful but s— just got REAL I had hella fun in Seattle… But I’m really from Oakland doe like really really really from Oakland doe… town bizzness breath on me.” Despite his excitement, Lynch didn’t leave Seattle without showing the city some love. He paid for a full-page Seattle Times advertisement thanking Seahawks owner Paul Allen.

While this statement confirmed that Lynch will be playing in Oakland this season, he will soon be Las Vegas bound. The Raiders are set to move to Sin City after the 2018 season, where they will move into a new $1.9-billion stadium in 2020. Lynch has been known for his frequent trips to Dave and Buster’s, but trips to casinos are a whole new level.

While Lynch’s contract with the Raiders is approximately $9 million over two years, he is set to earn another $2 million if he can top 1000 yards, among other incentives. For all anyone knows, a Skittles endorsement may be in Lynch’s future, although technically his BEAST MODE chocolate bars sold locally in Oakland are bay area competitors.

Extra cash will help Lynch offset any financial burdens Goodell plans to impose on him. After all, Goodell fined Lynch $100,000 in 2014 for avoiding media interviews that typically unfairly portrayed the veteran running back.

Lynch’s move to Oakland is representative of the push by many franchises to take chances on older running backs. Jamaal Charles, who is 30 years old, was recently signed to the Denver Broncos coming off of his second ACL tear. Adrian Peterson, 32, is the only player with more yards after contact than Lynch since 2010. Peterson will play for the New Orleans Saints in 2017. Lynch is probably poised for the biggest breakout of the three older running backs given the amount of rest he’s had. Experienced players like Lynch can bust out 14 carries per game, and his efficiency is so unparalleled that he is worth millions of dollars if he can stay healthy.

While a year of rest surely alleviated any pestering injuries Lynch has been fighting, there are certainly questions about his athleticism following a year without football and a hernia surgery in 2015. Despite his successful past, Lynch’s first game on September 10th against the Tennessee Titans has a lot of question looming over it.

Another athlete who emerged from retirement, Larry Sanders, found himself floundering this year. Sanders retired from basketball in his mid-twenties in 2015 as one of the rising young stars in the league. He then returned to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers in five games this season. He was waived because taking time away from the game took a visible toll on his basketball abilities — he wasn’t the same dominant center.

Hopefully Lynch will have better luck. He should be bolstered by the mostly positive reception of his announcement. Not only do NFL fans love having Lynch back on the field, but the return to his hometown is a fitting way to resume his career.

As “Cool or Drool” comes to a historic end after five mostly cool semesters, Lynch maintains his “Cool” status. Having Lynch back in the league is sure to be an entertaining start to the 2017 season and should make the AFC West one of the most competitive divisions in the NFL. Taking out an ad to thank his former team owner was a classy move. Lynch is bound to have a bright future on the Raiders (and, hopefully, my fantasy team roster).