For Marshawn Lynch, the decision to come out of retirement and resume his NFL career was made as soon as the league announced his hometown Raiders were leaving for Las Vegas.
Lynch wanted to give Oakland fans one last chance to cheer an Oakland native playing for an Oakland team.
“Maybe them staying probably wouldn’t have been so big for me to want to come and play,” he said Tuesday in his first news conference since joining the Raiders in April. “But knowing that they were leaving and a lot of the kids here probably won’t have an opportunity to see most of their idols growing up being a hometown no more. With me being from here, continuing to be here, it gives them an opportunity to get to see somebody that’s actually from where they’re from and for the team that they probably idolize.”
The NFL approved the Raiders’ proposed move to Las Vegas starting in the 2020 season on March 27. The following week, Lynch visited the Raiders to talk about the possibility of coming out of retirement.
That happened three weeks later when Seattle agreed to trade Lynch’s rights to Oakland in a deal that included a swap of late-round draft picks in 2018. Lynch agreed to a restructured $9 million, two-year deal that includes incentives that could increase the value even more.
There were billboards welcoming Lynch back home and palpable excitement for Oakland fans.
“It was heartfelt,” Lynch said. “At the end of the day, I still walk outside. Besides the billboards and all of that, I really just get out with the people. The billboards are for the commercial people. When you get outside and you walk in the cracks you get to find out what’s real.”
Lynch was born and raised in Oakland, starring at Oakland Technical High School and then going on to play college ball at nearby California. Even during an NFL career that took him to Buffalo and Seattle, Lynch always kept close ties to the community that raised him.
Since joining the Raiders, Lynch has been a regular participant in the offseason program, unlike during his time in Seattle, and he generated buzz when coach Jack Del Rio posted a video Monday of Lynch running for a TD during practice.
“I think it’s a testament to Marshawn as a whole,” offensive coordinator Todd Downing said earlier this spring. “Yeah, he hadn’t really been an offseason attendee, but he showed it’s important to him to integrate himself, not only in the offense, but just in the locker room and with the coaching staff.”
The Raiders will be hoping to see plenty more of that from the 31-year-old Lynch once the regular season starts. Lynch was perhaps the best power back in the league before he retired. He had double digits in touchdown runs every season from 2011 to 2014, and his 51 TDs on the ground are the most in the NFL since 2011 even though he played just seven games in 2015 and was retired last season.
Lynch’s 245 broken tackles since the start of the 2013 season are 66 more than any other player in that span, according to Pro Football Focus.
He averaged 3.8 yards per carry in his limited action in 2015 before retiring. Before that, he was one of the game’s top running backs, with more than 1,200 yards rushing in each of the previous four seasons.
He has already become popular with his new teammates because of his fierce loyalty and willingness to joke around.
“That’s just how he is,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “He likes to talk trash and things like that, but at the same time it’s kind of like the big brother thing, like no one else better do it because he’ll take care of it, kind of thing. We like to jab at each other and make fun, poke fun, I’ve been having fun with him. He’s learning the new system so I like to make fun of him when he doesn’t know stuff. We’re having a good time and he’s been nothing but loyal, and a good teammate.”
His production in Oakland should be helped by running behind a line that had three Pro Bowlers last season in left tackle Donald Penn, left guard Kelechi Osemele and center Rodney Hudson. In his final year with the Seahawks, Lynch averaged just 1.1 yards per carry before contact, the lowest for any back with at least 100 carries, according to Pro Football Focus.
For his career, Lynch has rushed for 9,112 yards and 74 touchdowns.