It’s (Finally) Time to Sell High on Marshawn Lynch
Foreword: I’m nervous about this one. All Marshawn Lynch does is prove his detractors wrong. I admit that I’m scared, but the time has come for someone to stick their neck out and say it: It’s time to sell Beast Mode.
The first article I ever read on RotoViz told me not to draft Marshawn Lynch. It was during the offseason following a 2012 campaign that saw Lynch finish as a top-12 PPR RB for the second-straight year. This was a contrarian piece, for sure, but data-driven contrarian viewpoints are the rock upon which RotoViz has built its church. Later that summer, my favorite website doubled-down on its anti-Skittles stance, which caused me to abandon Lynch completely. Beast Mode was the PPR RB5 in 2013 and the PPR RB4 in 2014. We were wrong.1
But now, as Lynch enters his age-29 season, it is time to lick our collective wounds and re-explore the idea that Lynch is still a sell-high candidate. To help illustrate this, I return to my trusty RotoViz Trade Calculator.
Lynch’s Value is More Durable Than Lynch
Last week, I used the Calculator to examine the value trajectory of aging wide receiver Brandon Marshall. A look back at Lynch’s value over time should be equally illuminating. In January of 2014, Lynch was worth 48 Trade Calculator Points (“TCP”).
Lynch was nearly 28-years-old and seemed to be at the top of his game. 48 TCP is solid value for an older dynasty RB, but a younger stud is worth much more. For example, the 23-year-old Le’Veon Bell is currently worth 96 TCP; and Eddie Lacy, age 25, is worth 75 TCP. Despite outperforming both of these younger RBs in 2013, Lynch was worth considerably less because dynasty owners were ostensibly concerned with his age and wear/tear.
It follows that Lynch’s value should be even less today. He is now 29-years-old. Since 2011, Lynch has had more touches than any other player in the NFL. Though he’s missed only one game in this span, his compressed spinal cord has caused him severe discomfort and was likely a major factor when he was contemplating retirement. It only makes sense that Lynch’s present-day value will have taken a hit:
Wait, what?! After 18 months and 317 additional violent touches, Lynch’s dynasty value hasn’t even moved at all? Remember when he was going to retire?2 How has an older, more worn-down, more-damaged RB held his value perfectly despite nearly retiring? How about the fact that the Seattle Seahawks just traded away their best overall lineman (per ProFootballFocus) in Max Unger? What about the addition of redzone warbeast Jimmy Graham?
Here are some possible explanations for this phenomena:
- Lynch has been a top-12 PPR RB for four seasons in-a-row, causing drafters to believe he will simply continue to produce multiple top-12 seasons in the future.
- Lynch has rarely ever missed a game since joining the Seahawks, leading drafters to believe that he will continue to play in every game for multiple seasons.
- Lynch signed a new two-year contract, which suggests to drafters that his team believes in him and will continue to run him upwards of 300 times per-year in coming seasons.
- Lynch is just ’bout that action, boss. His rebellious nature, his crotch-grabs, the Skittle-scarfing, and the greatest playoff run of all time have given him a mystique that makes drafters think he will defy the age-cliff.
- The last mental image drafters have of Lynch is actually Richard Sherman screaming in disbelief that Beast Mode didn’t run the ball. This may have created some sort of compensatory value for Lynch; he “should have been the hero” of Super Bowl 49.
Other RB1’s Tend to Lose Value as They Age
Lynch will be remembered as a champion and one of the most-loved RBs of his era. Still, his dynasty value is an anomaly. Based on Lynch’s age, injuries, near-retirement, and the significant personnel changes in Seattle, a drop in dynasty value should have occurred. Other aging RB1’s have seen diminished value over the same span that Lynch managed to keep his:
Matt Forte did not miss a single game during the last two seasons, but still saw a decrease of 9 TCP because of his age. Like Lynch, he is 29-years-old.
Jamaal Charles, now 28-years-old, has been more efficient and more productive than Lynch over the last two seasons. He missed one game in 2014. In the same 18-month span in which Lynch maintained his considerable value, the younger and more-effective PPR RB lost 21 TCP.
These are not cherry-picked examples. We already know that as a group, RBs tend to stop improving by age 27 and begin a steep decline in production. Naturally, RB TCP begins to diminish at that age as well.
Arian Foster saw his value drop from 53 TCP (preseason 2014) to 43 TCP (July 2015) after turning in a PPR RB5 performance in only 13 games (this data was collected before Foster’s groin injury; his TCP is presumably significantly lower now). Frank Gore experienced the same decline (prior to being traded to the Colts). Nearly every relevant older RB lost value over the last 18 months: Reggie Bush, Fred Jackson, Pierre Thomas; the list goes on. Only Marshawn Lynch seems to be exceptional in this regard3
Just ’bout that actionable advice, boss
The incredible RotoViz Cheat Sheet Calculator projects another top-12 PPR finish for Lynch. This is a good thing for owners looking to sell high on Beast Mode. Because it is nearly impossible to time your transaction so that you sell a player in the instant before he loses value, it is best to move away while they have at least one solid season left in the tank. Based on what we know about the age-cliff and RB performance at 30-years-old, I believe Lynch has one or two productive seasons left. With this in mind, here are some RBs I would be targeting in a trade involving the beloved Seattle RB.
|RB||TCP||2015 SEASON AGE||PPR PROJECTION|
You could reasonably trade Lynch for any of these RBs straight-up. You might have to throw in a small kicker for Melvin Gordon, but their TCP are all in the same range. CJ Anderson probably represents the best combination of youth and projection, though Lamar Miller continues to be criminally undervalued. DeMarco Murray was better than Lynch last season, and is two years younger. He finds himself on one of the NFL’s most potent offenses in Philadelphia. The bottom two rookies on our list are unproven, but Ameer Abdullah already looks like the next great PPR RB, and TJ Yeldon has a juicy situation all to himself in an exciting young Jacksonville offense. Miller, Abdullah, and Yeldon are all valued so much lower than Lynch that a future pick or potential breakout player could be included in the transaction. These young players will probably see their value increase over the next several seasons as Lynch’s age finally catches up with him.
In past years, it has been a mistake to bet against Marshawn Lynch and he may very well find himself atop the RB heap again in 2015. If you traded Lynch in January of 2014, you missed out because he held onto all of his value in the interim. Regardless, Lynch is mortal like all of us and at some point the optimal time to sell him will necessarily arrive. Lynch’s unusually resilient TCP and our knowledge of age-cliffs/old RBs indicate that the optimal time is approaching quickly if it isn’t already here. If Lynch is phenomenal again in 2015, it is possible that he’ll somehow hold onto his 48 TCP dynasty value; he has defied the odds so far. But, be cautioned: Nearly every other old-but-productive RB has demonstrated that after a certain age, trade value diminishes regardless of performance.
Anyone who loves football can and should cheer for Marshawn Lynch on Sundays. Don’t let your sentimentality keep you from cashing out while you can still get significant value.
John Solis is an attorney in California. He wants the Chargers to stay in San Diego and the Clippers to come back. Please check out John’s work on PlayerProfiler.com, and follow him @thelawyerboy.
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- The foregoing articles were penned by some of the most knowledgeable and respected authors in the industry. The logic was sound all the way through; Marshawn simply could not be stopped. (back)
- For my money, this Christine Michael article has the funniest title ever published on RotoViz. (back)
- And somehow, Adrian Peterson, though that is another article altogether. (back)