Marshawn Lynch

Lynch's return 'means a great deal' to Raiders run game, locker room

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USATSI

Lynch's return 'means a great deal' to Raiders run game, locker room

ORLANDO, Fla. – Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie was caught on camera rocking a “Beast Mode” t-shirt scouting at the NFL combine.

That was right when speculation about Marshawn Lynch’s future reached its peak. Would he return for the 2018 season? McKenzie’s choice of attire didn’t answer the question.

A restructured contract featuring significant guaranteed funds certainly did, essentially ensuring Lynch will be the Raiders’ feature back in 2018. That was an important offseason step for the run game and the Raiders offense as a whole.

“It means a great deal,” McKenzie said. “It means that he really wants to be here and be part of this. I think it means a lot our locker room and our offense. We have full intentions on being a physical offensive football team with (head coach) Jon Gruden. That’s what it means, No. 1.”

There was some uncertainty about Lynch’s return, though maybe not as much as some reports suggested.

“It was blown out of proportion with you guys,” McKenzie said. “You never know with a veteran player, in terms of what he wants to do, but everything worked out. We have a new staff and wants to know how he’ll be used. I understand the uncertainty of all that, but we want to go ‘Beast Mode’ this year.”

Lynch took some time to warm up after a year away from NFL football, working within a new system. He really got going in the season’s second half, churning out 625 of his 891 rushing yards over the final eight games.

Having one of this generation’s best running backs, and a bruiser at that, will help the Raiders run game significantly. McKenzie and head coach Jon Gruden have added ancillary pieces in fullback Keith Smith and blocking tight ends Derek Carrier and Lee Smith to help the overall product.

Here are a few other notes revealed during McKenzie’s discussion with Raiders beat writers.

-- McKenzie didn’t offer an update on talks to extend Khalil Mack’s contract – a new deal is expected at some point this offseason – but understands the edge rusher isn’t going to be cheap and is worth the price.

“I’m not negotiating (in the media), but I love Khalil Mack,” McKenzie said. “The Raiders are a greater team with Khalil Mack, without question.

"If you can throw $100 million my way, I’d gladly take it and get it done.”

-- McKenzie reinforced what Bruce Irvin made clear on social media last week, that he will be attacking more and dropping into coverage far less than he has in two seasons with the Raiders. Irvin loves that idea, and should spend most of his time rushing off the edge. He had 58 tackles, eight sacks and four forced fumbles last year.

-- The right tackle spot remains an open competition, even after the Raiders signed Breno Giacomini, a veteran with extensive experience as a starter. McKenzie is interested to see how David Sharpe and Jylan Ware respond to new offensive line coach Tom Cable. Their development, and Vadal Alexander’s work this offseason, will play into that position battle.

The Raiders could also draft an offensive tackle early, and get a starting right tackle in 2018 and a left tackle of the future.

-- New linebacker Tahir Whitehead will play on the outside of the Raiders 4-3 lineup, though he has experience playing all three positions.

-- The Raiders try to predict veterans who might get cut in the offseason, and identified receiver Jordy Nelson as someone who might come free. Sure enough, Green Bay let him go. The Raiders pounced right away, and signed him to a two-year deal and promptly cut Michael Crabtree.

McKenzie thinks Nelson will fit right in.

“We look at the cap situation for each team and try to identify certain guys (who might become available),” McKenzie said. “We identified him as a possibility (of getting released), and when it came to play, we communicated to him. He was interested, and once we got him in the building, things went pretty good.”

-- McKenzie said the Cordarrelle Patterson trade was motivated by two factors: a desire to get a fifth-round pick, and a chance to clear cap space.

Raiders restructure Marshawn Lynch's contract

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USATSI

Raiders restructure Marshawn Lynch's contract

Marshawn Lynch restructured his contract this week, virtually locking him in for the 2018 Raiders season.

The veteran exchanged some base salary for guaranteed funds and an increased incentive package, according to contract details obtained Wednesday by the Las Vegas Review Journal.

His base salary drops from $4 million to $2.5 million, but becomes guaranteed. None of the funds Lynch had coming in his previous deal were guaranteed. He has a $1 million roster bonus coming on Saturday, just six days after receiving a $1 million roster bonus as required in his old contract.

That essentially guarantees him $4.5 million, as sure a sign as any he’ll be the Raiders feature back. Lynch will lead his position group, with support from veteran addition Doug Martin. DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard are also on the roster, though it’s uncertain if both guys will remain there this fall.

Lynch can also earn $3.75 million in incentives, a significant increase from the $2 million available in the previous deal.

The Raiders saved $500,000 in salary cap space with the new deal.

Raiders well equipped to 'slam the ball with a beast'

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AP

Raiders well equipped to 'slam the ball with a beast'

Raiders head coach Jon Gruden needed specific tools to run his running game. He wanted blocking tight ends and a bruising fullback, relics of a bygone offensive era.

“If Marshawn Lynch is the feature back, I think it’d be nice if we serviced him with a fullback,” Gruden said at the combine. … You need a blocking tight end if you’re going to slam the ball with a beast. So, those are two things that I’m looking for.”

Gruden said he wanted to import some old-school elements to help run with brute force.

Enter free-agent fullback Kyle Smith and tight end Derek Carrier. Welcome back, Lee Smith.

Then, on Sunday, Raiders made another vital move in this old school effort. They cut Marshawn Lynch a $1 million check.

The Oakland native’s roster bonus came due and the Raiders had no problem paying it, the clearest sign Lynch will be the Raiders feature back in 2018.

He’ll have a great chance to thrive in that role. The Raiders have a hulking, expensive offensive line (that still needs a right tackle). They have new ancillary blocking elements, and the centerpiece remains in place.

That last part was expected in recent weeks. The coaching staff, offensive line coach Tom Cable especially, wanted Lynch back. NFL Network confirmed those facts, stating Lynch will be around in 2018.

That was the case, even with Doug Martin’s addition. The former Tampa Bay back is expected to be a backup bruiser, someone who might put DeAndre Washington or (less likely) Jalen Richard’s job in jeopardy.

The Raiders can cut Lynch without a cap hit. Lynch is scheduled to make $6 million in salary and bonuses, with another $2 million available in incentives. The Raiders should hope to pay those; it would mean Lynch is running well.

The Raiders have given him a great opportunity to do so. They have solid blocking and a coach in Cable who helped him succeed during dominant days in Seattle.

Lynch proved he’s still got it in 2017’s second half, with 70 percent of his 891 rushing yards in the final eight games. He struggled early on, and upset some fans by helping the opposition during a scuffle with Kansas City. That mitigated a PR bump the Raiders looked for when signing a popular Oakland native just months after committing to Las Vegas long-term.

Jack Del Rio and staff grew tired of what they perceived as leeway given to Lynch unavailable to others, and probably wouldn’t have kept him on if still gainfully employed.

Gruden seems committed to Lynch this season, though nothing is ever 100 percent with an enigmatic rusher who doesn’t make private thoughts public.

His elusive, rough-and-tumble rushing style fits well with what Gruden wants, though he demands commitment to the team and sport. Sports Illustrated relayed a story of Gruden saying he needed a “full-time Lynch.”

If he gets that, the Raiders run game should thrive.