I'm not sure if people realize why the Bills will trade Lynch. I don't think this problem is as simple as calling him up and smoothing things over. According to USA Today, Marshawn Lynch made $632,080 last season. He's set to make 885 K this season, which I understand seems like a lot, but how much money did Marshawn lose last year via incentives not reached? How much will he lose this year and next year if Jackson stays ahead of him on the depth chart? I believe that Buffalo has three options.
The first option is to play him. That's the way you smooth things over. You guarantee lots of playing time and tell him he doesn't need to worry about incentives because the team will take care of him. Of course, that may put the team in a position where they have to smooth things over with Fred Jackson. It also puts them in an extremely tough situation if Jackson outperforms Marshawn to the degree he did last year. Would Gailey have to break his word with Lynch and cut his playing time, or would Gailey play the less productive player to keep him happy?
The 2nd thing Buffalo could do is play hard ball. Force him to camp. Tell him that he's under contract and he's a Buffalo Bill. The concern here is the obvious one. Marshawn Lynch is already a trouble maker off the field and another season of being the backup RB could lead to him being a trouble maker in the locker room too. Sooner or later, Lynch's reduced role (and reduced pay as a result) could lead to him acting out in a way that hurts the chemsitry of the team.
The third option is to do what Buffalo looks like they are going to do and that is to trade him. Put him on a different team where he is the unquestioned starter. He'll be happy, he'll get his money and keep that athlete's ego nice and inflated. The new team would probably end up being happy and if Buffalo could get something decent in return, they'll be happy too. Obviously, this is the option that I'd like Buffalo to choose. I don't care too much whether Buffalo will get pick(s), player(s) or a combo of the two. I'd trade him to Seattle for a NT like Red Bryant or Colin Cole or a water bug like Justin Forsett straight up and wouldn't think twice about it. Buffalo needs to forget about the value that Lynch potentially has if he keeps his head straight and plays up to that potential and look at the reality of the situation. They've got a good RB who, at his best, has been a little over a 4 yard per carry guy. That's nothing special, Lynch isn't the best RB on the team and as a backup, his production is very replaceable.
In part two of this post, I'd like to make the argument that RBs pretty much are a dime a dozen and Marshawn Lynch is one of the most replaceable players on the entire team:
Running backs are easily replaced for four reasons. The first is that there are a lot of great running backs in the NFL. There might not be a deeper position in terms of top notch production in the rest of the league. There were 15 thousand yard backs last season and 16 in 2008. There were 32 RBs last year who had both 100 carries and 4 yards per attempt. When you consider the emergence of smaller backs and some of the recent draftees who will get an expanded role this year, only a handful of teams don't have a good RB on the roster.
I've seen some use the need for two running backs as a reason to keep Lynch. Teams use two RBs and that gives them more value. I actually think the opposite is true. The running back by committee has made RBs less valuable because teams can find production without a big time back. Only four teams averaged under 4 yards per carry last year. And of those four teams, three of them had great offenses (Houston, Indy and San Diego - Washington was the 4th team at 3.9 yards per carry). Teams like New England, Seattle and Tampa all averaged over 4 yards per carry last year without a name back (Lynch's career ypc is 4.0) while the supposed great running teams finished all over the place. The Giants and Vikings both averaged 4.1 yards per carry. Even the Jets finished at 4.5 per. Outside of the Chris Johnson led Titans and those great passing teams that really struggled to run, the difference between the best and worst teams was about a yard per carry. Compare that to the passing game where the difference between the better attacks and average ones is over a yard per attempt and the difference between the average and below average is another yard per throw. Running by committee has become a productive way to compliment the passing attack.
A third reason is that running backs drafted in the middle rounds bust less often than any other position. Obviously, trying to spin Marshawn into a 4th round pick to draft a new RB is a risky strategy, but the best value you can find in the draft is 3rd and 4th round RBs. Here's the list of the 3rd and 4th rounders from the last few seasons:
2009 - Shonn Greene, Glen Coffee, Mike Goodson
2008 - Kevin Smith, Jamaal Charles, Steve Slaton, Tashard Choice
2007 - Lorenzo Booker, Tony Hunt, Michael Bush, Antonio Pittman, Dwayne Wright – maybe not the best year to grab an RB in the middle rounds
2006 - Brian Calhoun, Jerrious Norwood, Michael Robinson, Leon Washington
2005 - Frank Gore, Vernand Morency, Ryan Moats, Maurice Clarett-haha, Marion Barber, Brandon Jacobs, Ciatrick Fason
Buffalo can find a rotational back for Marshawn's backup role in the middle rounds. And the 4th reason is why it's so possible. That 4th reason being that RBs make an impact right away. You don't need to develop them so filling a hole at RB is so much simpler than any other position. You draft an RB in the middle rounds, play them in a back up role and you know what you've got before the season is over. If you missed, then try again next year and if you hit then give them an even bigger role. Hell, draft two RBs this year. Get a 4th for Marshawn and take Anthony Dixon and Deji Karim and suddenly, Buffalo has a very deep and versatile group of backs for the low price of a 4th rounder, which a lot of people would like to use on Gailey's water bug anyways.