Rumors that the Seahawks are willing to trade Richard Sherman aren’t rumors anymore. Given the chance, neither general manager John Schneider nor head coach Pete Carroll shot down the idea that the team has discussed moving one of its best players. As Schneider told 710 ESPN in Seattle on Wednesday, “What you’ve seen lately in the news is real.”
“I don’t know if anything would ever happen,” he said. “Ninety-eight percent of the things we’re involved with, we don’t follow through with. But at least we’ve opened that door, gone down the road, and seen what’s behind Door A or Door B.”
So, as this story morphs from idle offseason trade speculation to a team-confirmed potential reality, we have to ask: Why the hell would the Seahawks actually want to trade Sherman?
On the surface, it makes little sense. After breaking into the starting lineup as a fifth-round pick out of Stanford back in 2011, Sherman’s been a stalwart on the right side of Seattle’s defense. He’s never missed a game, has given up just 12 touchdowns in coverage, and has 10 more interceptions (30) than the next-closest corner since he came into the league. The four-time All-Pro has allowed just 47.8 percent of passes in coverage to be completed during his career, per Pro Football Focus, and has limited opposing quarterbacks to just a 51.1 passer rating. Even as Sherman’s gotten older — he’s now 29 — and has become one of the highest-paid cornerbacks in the league, his play has remained steady and consistent. Despite the perception that Sherman may have struggled in 2016, the Seahawks playmaker surrendered a 63.8 passer rating on throws into coverage (sixth best) and allowed just two touchdowns, while grabbing four picks and knocking away 13 passes.
Sherman’s made for Seattle’s scheme: His excellent length and ball skills lock up the deep shots down the sideline that the Seahawks encourage opponents to attempt. Plus, he has the agility and short-area quickness to master the challenging cornerback step-kick technique that Carroll requires of his corners.
Considering that Seattle’s other starting outside cornerback, DeShawn Shead, is unlikely to start the season on the active roster as he rehabs from a torn ACL, it seems crazy that the Seahawks could trade one of the most reliable players in the league at one of the game’s most important positions. Sherman apparently agrees with that logic.
Yet, the team has its reasons for publicly admitting, multiple times, that it’s taking calls and listening to offers. While Sherman’s performance on the field remained strong, the team was likely unhappy with some of his off-field incidents in 2016. Sherman got into a shouting match on the sideline with defensive coordinator Kris Richard during Seattle’s Week 6 win over the Falcons after a busted play allowed a touchdown to Julio Jones, and that animated discussion then continued with his teammates both during the game (with Kam Chancellor) and then afterward (with Shead). Then, in Week 15, Sherman went off on offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell for calling a pass from the 1-yard line against the Rams — a play that drummed up memories of the Seahawks’ Super Bowl XLIX loss to the Patriots. Carroll and Bevell met with Sherman after the game, but then Sherman reiterated his original criticisms of Bevell in a press conference a few days later that ended with Sherman threatening to “ruin” the career of a Seattle reporter. Sherman sort of apologized about it on Twitter, but then later tried to deny that the threat ever happened, despite the reporters in the room who recorded the whole thing.
Carroll has publicly remained steadfast in his defense of Sherman, blaming the star corner’s competitiveness, pressure from tough matchups, and an unreported knee injury (which almost got Seattle in trouble) for the repeated outbursts. But the public admission that these trade talks are real suggests that the team is more worried about the effect these incidents have on the locker room than it has previously let on. The no. 1 rule for Carroll’s program, dating back to his time at USC, is “protect the team.” Sherman even cited this rule as his reasoning — he referenced accountability — for going off on Bevell’s decision to throw from the 1-yard line.
Beyond those off-field concerns, future performance and long-term financial factors have to be considered, too. Sherman’s still playing at a high level, but he’s approaching 30. Plus, the team has plenty of upcoming cap questions, and Sherman is carrying a $13.6 million cap hit into 2017 and a $13.2 million hit for 2018. Chancellor and Jimmy Graham each have one year left on their deals, and extensions for free safety Earl Thomas, pass rushers Cliff Avril and Frank Clark, and center Justin Britt are all on the horizon. Is Seattle looking to adopt the Patriots-style method of trading big-name veterans, either before they decline or before they inevitably leave in free agency, a la Richard Seymour, Randy Moss, Deion Branch, Chandler Jones, and Jamie Collins?
We’ll see soon enough. Odds are, as Schneider noted, that this is just another in a long line of trade talks that the team doesn’t follow through with. And there’s also the possibility that this is just Carroll and Co. messaging to Sherman that no one is irreplaceable. Or maybe it’s just a scheme by Carroll, who detailed ways to manipulate players in practice in order to get the most out of them in Win Forever, to put a chip back on Sherman’s shoulder.
There are plenty of variables up in the air, as of now. All we really know is this: The Seahawks can certainly talk themselves into the reasons for trading Sherman, but in the near future, they’d be a whole lot worse without him.