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John Lynch: The Decision, Part Four

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John Lynch: The Decision, Part Four

This is a four part article that will be taking a look at one of the best safeties to ever play the game, John Lynch. A decision about his retirement looms, and its ripple effect will be felt throughout the Broncos organization as everything from the Free Agency period to their potentially strong, 8-pick draft will be shaped and altered by whichever lot he tosses into the murky pool that is the Broncos' defensive future. Will it be the decision to retire, leaving $2 mil on the table? Will it be the decision to return, possibly having to accept less playing time and risking injury?

MHR's own Hoosierteacher took some time to look at the John Lynch situation with me, and provided some of his excellent knowledge and analysis of not only Lynch but of the difficult and oft misunderstood nature of the position he plays. We will be getting his take on the situation throughout this series.

Part One was a look at John Lynch the player and the safety position in general, and looked at what Lynch has done for the Denver Broncos since signing in 2004. Part Two was a more in depth look at John's performance through the 2007 season, a campaign that saw the Denver Broncos post only their second losing season under Mike Shanahan while fielding one of the lowest ranked defenses in the NFL. Part Three was a look at the situation the Broncos are in, and what their options are at the safety position. And finally, Part Four will be the conclusion and the opinions of HT and myself regarding what the best decision should be.

Part Four

Should he stay or should he go?

This is the crux of the article to this point. We have looked at what he has done historically, from being a dominator over the middle of the field and the onfield defensive coach of a Super Bowl while with Tampa Bay, to creating a steadying force in the heart of Coyer’s ‘man-show blitz’ scheme. We have analyzed his placement and misplacement throughout the 2007 campaign, and we have listed in detail what options Denver has open to be pursued in the event that Lynch decides to retire.

But what does Lynch have to say about it?

"I still love the game of football," Lynch said during his show on KCNC-4.

Lynch said during the show he still needs to talk to coach Mike Shanahan about coming back. It is believed Lynch wants to return if he will continue to have a large role in the defense. In the past, Lynch has said he doesn't want to be a situational player. Lynch, 36, said he will make his decision soon.

Lynch went on to say he came to Denver to help the Broncos win the Super Bowl and that "unfinished business lends to me wanting to come back."

Among other things, Lynch wanted to look at game tape to evaluate his 2007 performance. Something that we here at MHR have already done, and our review was encouraging. To wit, 2007 was literally a Tale of Two Seasons for Lynch. The first eight games saw him miss effectively four games with the remaining four games seeing him play adequately in deep pass coverage support. Unfortunately it is difficult to gauge his success in that role, partly because of how little of it is seen on the average TV broadcast, but also because of the two corners he played with, who both had exceptional years. Part of his groin strain in the week 3 game vs. Jacksonville however can be attributed to working so hard to be involved in the play. Rushing up from a deep zone usually sent him into the play in an almost reckless manner, something he had to have been thinking about when a neck stinger sidelined him for two games.
But the second half of the season saw him play in eight straight games without new or aggravated injuries. It also saw a tremendous increase in productivity, including leading the secondary in tackles in four games and leading the team in tackles with 9 (6 solo) in the season finale vs. Minnesota. This upswing in production can be attributed to two main factors:
  • 1. Being moved from FS to SS. SS is a much more natural position for a heavy hitter that has lost a step, and Lynch’s intelligence and instincts were on display where they had the best opportunity to be felt, near the line of scrimmage, between the tackles. Lynch is able to shed blocking TEs and fullbacks with ease.
  • 2. Habit. Lynch will be the first to tell you that starting strong is important because of the advantage it gives you. But his attitude, his play, and now even his career all seem to be saying something different: it is more important that you finish strong, which is an idea that no doubt firmly enamors him of Shanahan’s future roster.
Besides evaluating his current play, he no doubt must have wanted to evaluate his current decline, that is to say, he wanted to be sure that he was playing up to his own standards, not just the standards of others. As we discussed in Part One, this is a player who personally took responsibility for a World Champion defensive unit and its preparation going into Super Bowl XXXVII. This was a player that delighted in knowing the league was out to fine him for dominating his responsibilities on the field. Unlike his performance on game tape, this is likely an area that will give him pause, but should it?

Switching defensive systems part way through the year may be too much to ask of some players, but I think that Lynch holds himself to a higher level of accountability than that. I don't doubt that he looks at this past season as a bit of a disgrace in terms of what is to become his legacy, with the first half of the season spent out of place and unable to exert his will. When he takes note of the fact that the Houston game marked the first time in his career that he played but did not start, and that for the first time in his career it was routine to expect him to come out on certain plays, he is bound to have a bad taste in his mouth.

Another area of consideration will be what the Broncos ultimately would do with him if he returned. The quotes above would indicate that he would need to have a "large role" in the defense, and earlier in the season he had indicated his frustration with situational play:
For a player who has participated in 99 percent of the defensive snaps the past two seasons, it has been a difficult adjustment.

"Believe me, I don't like that," Lynch said. "But I guess everything factors into the decision. That's why I have to step back at the end of the season. It's emotional."

But I believe that this quality of the season will be offset by two important post-season events which will impact Lynch greatly. In no particular order of importance (they both will factor heavily, I believe):
  • 1. The promotion of his coach, new Defensive Coordinator Bob Slowik. Slowik likes to play Lynch at SS, Lynch likes to play at SS. Check. Slowik relies on pressure, and though we have yet to learn of his scheme for the coming season, history says that Slowik brings pressure from wherever he can. No concretized philosophy will stand between Slowik and maximum pressure on weakest vulnerabilities. This plays to the strengths of an intelligent SS. Lynch is an intelligent SS. Check. In short, Slowik knows how to use Lynch the best way possible.
  • 2. Lynch's promotion to the Pro Bowl, the ninth of his career, his fourth in a row. I don't intend to give any weight to the vote of the fans in this instance (the ProBowl is little more than a popularity contest, in my eyes), but I see this occurrence as being unique for Lynch. Firstly, he will be hearing from many other great players who don't want him to hang it up. This admiration of his ability can and should carry a lot of weight with Lynch. But more importantly, Lynch will be going to Hawaii with his family, and Champ Bailey, two VERY important influences on his decision. I believe that both camps are voting for Lynch to return, and that kind of an environment, on vacation amidst the kudos of a league and its fans, should also carry a lot of weight with Lynch.
When it comes to his family, no doubt Lynch will have to give careful, intimate consideration to the fact that the dings and nicks of a football season have a better chance than ever of seriously affecting his qualtiy of life going forward. A strained groin hardly qualifies as life altering, but who didn't find themselves holding their breath when it was learned that he had hurt his neck in the GB game? If he were to, heaven forbid, get injured in the ProBowl, I think you could mark him down for retirement just like that. But aside from that horrific consideration, the ProBowl would be an ideal time for his family to make their feelings known on his return. And likewise, it would be a great time for him to let the rest of the world know his decision as well...
Cornerback Champ Bailey said of his friend's looming decision. "I hope I'm one of the first people he tells because it's been special to be able to play with him. Whatever he does, I wish him the best and I hope he comes back."

Thanks again, and much credit to HT for his helpful analysis and knowledge in preparing this series.