Lost in Marshawn Lynch's NFC Divisional Round postgame speech in Green Bay about taking care of "your chicken" seemed to be an acknowledgment that the 33-year-old knew that he had probably just played in his final NFL game.
Lynch has flirted with retirement on two occasions. After the 2015 season concluded, the 29-year-old announced his retirement from the NFL by posting a picture of a pair of cleats hanging up on a power line on social media. However, he returned to the NFL in 2017, signing with his hometown Oakland Raiders, who he played for in 2017 and 2018. His career again appeared to be over when he didn't play for the first 16 games of the 2019 season, only for the Seahawks, who had been crushed by injuries, to bring him back before a Week 17 game against the San Francisco 49ers.
However, while Lynch found the endzone four times in three games, he averaged just 2.23 yards per carry in the 30 rush attempts that he got in his brief return to Seattle. You never say never, but it feels likely that Lynch's career is actually over this time.
If Lynch has carried the ball for the last time in his career, it was a pretty remarkable journey. A first-round pick by the Buffalo Bills out of Cal in 2007, Lynch ran for 10,413 yards and 85 touchdowns in parts of 13 seasons. He's also the owner of one of the most iconic runs in NFL history, his "Beastquake" run in the Seahawks' upset of the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Wild Card round in 2011. He also was a key contributor to the team that throttled the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII, allowing the Seahawks to win their first title in franchise history.
Lynch probably won't be elected to the Hall of Fame, but he'll be remembered as one of the most popular players the league has ever seen.
Even if Lynch's career is over, there's a slew of other running backs that could become free agents or be available via trade this offseason. Here's a look at where they could wind up:
Kenyan Drake: Re-Sign With The Arizona Cardinals
After being traded from the Miami Dolphins in October of 2019, Drake found a ton of success in Kliff Kingsbury's offense in Arizona.
In eight games with the Cardinals, Drake rushed for 643 yards and eight touchdowns. He also added 28 catches for 171 yards. Between Week 15 and Week 16, Drake rushed for 303 yards and six touchdowns, as the Cardinals defeated the Cleveland Browns and Seattle Seahawks.
Given that the Cardinals would have to take on $16.2 million in dead cap money if they released David Johnson, they're likely stuck with the former star back for another season. In the second-half of their 2019 season, though, Drake was the team's best rushing option, and it seems imperative that the Cardinals find a way to keep him as Kyler Murray enters his second NFL season.
LeSean McCoy: Retirement
Believe it or not, McCoy had never been part of a team to win a playoff game until the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Houston Texans in the AFC Divisional Round. However, McCoy didn't get a single carry in that game, and was inactive for the AFC Championship Game with an undisclosed illness.
It's strange, McCoy, 31, did average 4.6 yards per carry during the 2019 regular season, but got a career-low 101 carries. Even prior to his illness, he appeared to fall out of favor in Kansas City, where Damien Williams gets the bulk of the rushing attempts on a pass-first team.
McCoy could point to his high yards-per-carry mark - albeit, in a small sample size - as a reason to attempt to continue his career in 2020. You wonder, though, if he wouldn't be tempted to walk away if the Chiefs defeat the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV, especially if he gets the sense that his market may be thin this summer.
If the Super Bowl proves to be the final game of McCoy's career, he will have an interesting Hall of Fame case. He hasn't been on a ton of good teams, but he does have 11,071 career rushing yards. Of the 21 other players in NFL history with 11,000 or more rushing yards, 14 are in the Hall of Fame. Two others - Frank Gore and Adrian Peterson - are locks to join them when their careers wrap up. Edgerrin James also has a chance to be elected to Canton some day.
Carlos Hyde: Re-Sign With Houston Texans
Hyde, 29, has been something of a journeyman during his first seven seasons, but he showed enough in Houston in 2019 to return for a second season.
Days after Lamar Miller tore his ACL, the Texans acquired Hyde in a trade from the Kansas City Chiefs. In his first season in Houston, Hyde averaged 4.4 yards per carry and topped 1,000 rushing yards for the first time in his career.
The Texans are a team with Super Bowl aspirations in 2020, one that also happens to be thin on draft capital after the preseason trade that netted them left tackle Laremy Tunsil. A reunion with Hyde makes sense, as a veteran Texans' offense attempts to take another step forward in a crowded AFC next season.
Melvin Gordon: Sign With The Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Like Philip Rivers, the writing on the wall appears to be there that Gordon won't return to the Chargers in 2020.
After holding out for the first four weeks of the 2019 season in hopes of landing a new contract, Gordon returned for the final 12 games of the season to play out his fifth-year option. In his age-26 season, Gordon averaged 3.8 yards per carry, a steep decline from the 5.1 yards he averaged in 2018.
The thing is, while 3.8 yards per carry was the second lowest total of Gordon's five-year career, it's largely in line with what he's done for most of his career. He averaged 3.5 yards per carry in 2015, and 3.9 in 2016 and 2017. He's probably closer to being that player than the one that averaged over five yards per rush in 2018.
There's still plenty of value in the type of player Gordon has been for four-fifths of his career, especially when you consider that he's averaged nine touchdowns per season of the past four years.
Regardless of who plays quarterback for the team in 2020, Gordon would seem to be a good fit for the Buccaneers. While the Buccaneers have two No. 1 wide receivers in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, they had just the 24th-ranked rushing attack in 2019. Gordon, when paired with Ronald Jones II, would go a long way in improving the team's rushing options. The Buccaneers are slated to have over $90 million in cap space this offseason per Spotrac, the second highest total in the league.
The Chicago Bears could also make sense as a destination, as Matt Nagy's rushing attack fell off a cliff after trading Jordan Howard. However, with just under $15 million in cap space, the Bears may be left to hope that David Montgomery takes a step forward in his second NFL season.
Le'Veon Bell: Retained By New York Jets
Adam Gase may never have wanted to invest the necessary resources to bring Bell to New York, but the way he used the former All-Pro in his first season with the Jets makes it hard to imagine he doesn't return for a second season with Gang Green.
In 2019, Bell averaged just 3.6 yards-per-carry, the lowest total he's posted since his rookie season. Potential suitors may still be intrigued by Bell's value as a receiver, and it's not hard to talk yourself into thinking that he would have more success running behind a better offensive line. At the same time, Bell struggled in 2019 and sat out the 2018 season over a contract dispute, so it's now been two seasons since Bell, who will turn 28 in February, has played at an elite level.
In theory, quite a few teams would have interest in Bell as a weapon in their offense. However, with a $15.5 million cap hit in 2020, a team would have to feel sure that Bell could still play at an All-Pro caliber. There may just be too much risk in taking that gamble.
Adrian Peterson: Retained By Washington Redskins
In his age-34 season, Adrian Peterson still averaged 4.3 yards-per-carry. From a purely football sense, that should make it a relatively easy decision to pick up the future Hall of Famer's 2020 option - which comes with just a 3.1 million cap hit.
It is entirely possible that Ron Rivera's coaching staff elects to turn the page for reasons unrelated to football. Peterson is one of the most accomplished players to ever play his position, which makes it difficult to have him on the team in a complimentary role. Former head coach Jay Gruden made Peterson a healthy inactive in the team's Week 1 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, admitting that if he was active it would make it harder to commit to giving the ball to Derrius Guice consistently.
The problem is, Guice hasn't shown an ability to stay healthy. He missed his entire rookie season after tearing his ACL. He did average 5.9 yards per carry in 2019, but was limited to just five games. The Redskins may hope Guice stays healthy in 2020, but banking on it would be foolish given his NFL track record.
With uncertainty about Guice, the feeling here is that the Redskins may very well pick up their option on Peterson, a former NFL MVP, extending his career for another season.
Jordan Howard: Re-Sign With Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles' two most impressive wins during the 2019 regular season came in Green Bay and Buffalo. In those two wins, Howard rushed for 183 yards and three touchdowns combined.
Around midseason, Howard, who the Eagles acquired from the Chicago Bears for just a sixth-round pick, felt like a lock to receive an extension from the Eagles after the 2019 season concluded.
However, a nerve injury in his shoulder cost Howard six games and he didn't get a single carry when he returned in Week 17 and in the team's Wild Card Round loss to the Seattle Seahawks. In his absence, rookie Miles Sanders looked like a star, and Boston Scott emerged as a Darren Sproles-type option in the backfield.
So, as the Eagles retool their offense around Carson Wentz this offseason, Howard's future is unclear as he heads towards free agency. Still just 25, Howard offers a nice change of pace from Sanders, or allows you to flex him out to wide receiver in certain offensive packages. That said, if he's intent on being the lead back or getting a multi-year deal this offseason, a return to Philadelphia may not be in the cards.
The guess here is that Howard will re-sign with the Eagles on a prove-it deal, but if not, there figures to be interest from at least a few times. In four NFL seasons, Howard has racked up 3,895 yards and averaged 4.3 yards per carry.
Derrick Henry: Re-Sign With The Tennessee Titans
It would be unfathomable for the Titans not to retain Henry in some form after he helped carry them to two playoff upsets and an improbable AFC Championship Game appearance.
A 2016 second-round pick, Henry won the NFL rushing title in 2019, as he rushed for 1,540 yards and 16 touchdowns. Over the Titans' final nine games of the season (which includes their three playoff games), Henry turned in one of the most dominant stretches in NFL history, rushing for 1,342 yards.
Certainly, it should be of concern to the Titans that Henry had a massive workload this past season, carrying the ball 386 total times. Said workload may make them more inclined to place the franchise tag on the 26-year-old, as opposed to locking themselves into a long-term pact. However, if they use the franchise tag on Henry, that would keep them from being able to do so with quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who can also become a free agent.
Frank Gore: Retirement
Gore's longevity is the most impressive thing about his career, but it appears he may have hit a wall in 2019.
In 166 carries for the Buffalo Bills, Gore averaged just 3.6 yards per carry, a career-low. Head coach Sean McDermott was very complimentary of Gore after the season concluded, but they could perhaps find a more productive back to pair with Devin Singletary at this stage. Perhaps Gore could latch on with another team for 2020, but he'll be 37 in May, so there would hardly be any shame in retiring after his 15th NFL season.
If he does retire, there's no debate to be had - Gore is a future Hall of Famer. A third-round pick by the San Francisco 49ers in 2005 (the same year Ronnie Brown, Cedric Benson and Cadillac Williams were drafted in the top 10 picks), Gore has racked up 15,347 career rushing yards. The only players in NFL history with more rushing yards than Gore are Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton.
Lamar Miller: Sign With The Detroit Lions
After averaging 4.6 yards per carry in 2018, Miller tore his ACL during a preseason game, which cost him the entire 2019 season.
Miller, who will turn 29 in April, may have to wait until after the NFL Draft for his market to really begin to percolate, but he's averaged 4.3 yards per carry in seven NFL seasons, so there will be interest in him.
Depending upon whether they retain Carlos Hyde or not, the Texans could be interested in a reunion. If not, as Greg Patuto of Clutch Points suggested, the Detroit Lions could make sense as a potential landing spot.
Matthew Stafford played at a very high level in the first half of the 2019 season before a back injury cost him the final eight games of the regular season. There's reason to think he'll thrive in the second year in Darrell Bevell's system, especially given that he has Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones Jr. and T.J. Hockenson as pass-catching options. If you added Miller to a backfield that includes Bo Scarbrough and Kerryon Johnson, the Lions could improve a rushing attack that ranked 21st in the NFL in 2019.
With an improved rushing attack, the Lions' chances of competing in 2020 would come down to Matt Patricia's defense improving next season. The Lions, despite employing a head coach with a defensive background, ranked 31st in total defense in 2019.