The idea that the Seattle Seahawks could trade star cornerback Richard Sherman may seem "clickbaity" at first, but the possibility is very real and the logic behind it never seems to unravel once you start connecting the dots. The timing alone makes sense, but as Sherman began to ruffle more feathers with teammates, coaches and members of the media last season, the need for the Seahawks to potentially start fielding offers and seeing what they could acquire for him as they approach the limit of their cap space also indicates that he could be wearing a new uniform next year.
At 29 (Thursday was Sherman's birthday), Sherman is right on the cusp of where many NFL stars either rapidly decline or prove to be post-30 wonders. Darrelle Revis enjoyed success at 29 and 30 but really struggled with the Jets last season at 31 and is still a free agent. Charles Woodson won Defensive Player of the Year at age 33 with the Packers and was named to the Pro Bowl in 2015 at age 39. If Seattle trades Sherman away right now, it risks losing a player who could have 6-8 more good seasons left in him. For any team that acquires him, they're risking only getting 2-3 good seasons out of him. It's sort of a weird limbo in a player's career where his value is tradable, because you wouldn't have traded Sherman when he was 26, just like you wouldn't want to give up much for him if he were 33.
The Seahawks also just may need to get his contract off the books, reasonable as it is.
Seattle is currently about $9.6 million under the cap, per OvertheCap.com, but must allocate a little less than half of that to rookies, injured reserve and some little things. With most of free agency wrapped up, it's not like the Seahawks desperately need the flexibility, but it could help with rollover to next year and potential extensions for Jimmy Graham and Kam Chancellor. Sherman will count $13.6 million against the cap this season and $13.2 million in 2018, with $4.4 million of that being his prorated signing bonus; essentially for a team acquiring him, his base salary contract is two years, $22.4 million. That's one hell of a deal.
Consider that Josh Norman makes $15 million per season, Patrick Peterson makes $14 million per season and even Trumaine Johnson is set to make $16.7 million on the franchise tag with the Rams in 2017. Sherman is a four-time Pro Bowl, three-time All-Pro corner who has recorded an NFL-high 30 interceptions since 2011, so to get him at $11 million for two years would be a fantastic steal for any team. If Sherman were to have hit the open market this year, surely he would have attracted a contract larger than the five-years and $67.5 million that A.J. Bouye received from the Jacksonville Jaguars.
But then why would the Seahawks even be entertaining the idea of losing Sherman? Because the rift between him and the coaching staff seems to have hit a new width, with Pete Carroll basically putting the message out there to other teams that they are ready to hear some good offers.
As ESPN's Sheil Kapadia pointed out this week, Carroll was defensive against trade rumors surrounding Chancellor in 2015, stating that the strong safety is "going to be with us for a long time." At the owners meeting this week, neither Carroll nor general manager John Schneider spoke in anything that could be confused for those same terms when it comes to Sherman:
"I don't see anything happening at all," Carroll said. "And I don't see anything happening with any other players, just the banter that's out there right now. But it has been talked about. He's a great player and can impact another team. I can see why people would be interested in him."
Though he says he doesn't see anything happening, he doesn't disregard that it could and he even does a bit of a sales pitch to other teams about Sherman's ability to help them. He's relatively cheap and Seattle is already thin at cornerback following the torn ACL of starter DeShawn Shead, so on the surface it may seem like the Seahawks would be crazy to trade him and that a team would have to be even crazier to not want to acquire him, but sometimes it's what's below the surface that really matters.
Always known for his outspoken, sometimes abrasive attitude, Sherman stopped turning on opponents like Michael Crabtree and instead began to turn on the people closest to him -- a rift that potentially began when Russell Wilson threw the game-ending interception against the Patriots in Super Bowl 49, a moment that Sherman himself brought up again last season.
In Week 6, he went after defensive coordinator Kris Richard on the sidelines after a busted coverage against the Falcons, with teammates even having to hold him back. In Week 15, he chided Carroll and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell on the sideline following a pass at the one-yard line. (AKA, the "Super Bowl pass.") Whether or not Carroll and Sherman ever made up after that day sort of seems to be open-ended, with Carroll implying that they had, and Sherman sort of just shrugging it off and calling it just another "kumbaya meeting" that happens every year.
Once you start to see that players and coaches might not be getting along, you can begin to see the outlines of a potential trade scenario, with there always being teams and coaches who believe they can be the one who will get the most out of this difficult-to-handle star veteran. Terrell Owens, Deion Sanders and Randy Moss are among those who should have been too good to ever be with more than one franchise but who often found themselves in new uniforms.
So where could Sherman go and what would it cost?
The first teams to observe would be those who have cap space. Though a lot of teams could absorb his $11 million salary, teams that have a lot of space would be more apt to because it doesn't do as much to impact their 2018 cap and would help them get closer to the league minimum that's required of franchises. The 49ers have the most space at an estimated $76 million, but seeing Sherman go to the Niners would be far too unlikely (within the same division) and ironic.
The Browns are next at $61 million and would make sense for a lot of reasons. No. 1 is that they just spent a ton of money on Kevin Zeitler, Kenny Britt, J.C. Tretter and an extension for Joel Bitonio. The Browns may have gone 1-15 last season, but they are priming themselves for a run at the AFC North crown in 2018 and maybe even a wild card in 2017. Obtaining Sherman may not solve their huge problem at quarterback, but it would give them an elite secondary duo with Joe Haden. Cleveland already has two former Seattle defensive backs in Marcus Burley and Tyvis Powell, so clearly GM Sashi Brown has some liking for the Seahawks secondary. (Who doesn't really?) With Sherman and presumed No. 1 pick Myles Garrett, the Browns would be adding some serious talent to their defense next season, enough to maybe even put them in the middle of the pack. What would it cost?
Well, No. 2 Cleveland has a lot of picks with which to spend. The Browns have more draft capital than any team in the NFL, including picks No. 1 12, 33, 52 and 65. When Revis was Sherman's age, the Buccaneers gave up pick No. 13 to acquire him. It's certainly a consideration that Schneider will begin by asking for pick No. 12 (which would also allow him to draft a corner like Marshon Lattimore or Gareon Conley to replace Sherman), but maybe picks 33 and 52 would get it done. Or 33, an extra fourth-rounder (the Seahawks don't have a fourth- or fifth-round pick this year and would definitely like to add one or two) and a 2018 second-round pick? There are a lot of ways to reasonably see Cleveland and Seattle make a deal like this, but only if the Browns show a lot of interest. They may not, but their moves so far this year would seem to imply that they won't be as patient in rebuilding as they have been in their past failed attempts.
The Titans might make the next-most sense. The Titans also have an extra first-round pick this year and could potentially field an offer of pick 18 for Sherman. Tennessee has the fourth-most cap room ($38.7 million), and though it signed Logan Ryan to a three-year, $30 million deal and already has Jason McCourty, this is a nickel base league now. McCourty and Sherman on the outside, Ryan on the slot could make for a great secondary. The Titans are hoping to win the AFC South next season, and they may be a sleeper to win the conference. They'd have a better shot at that by adding a veteran corner like Sherman rather than plugging a rookie in like Conley or Kevin King.
You could also talk about sending Sherman back to the Bay Area (for now) with a deal to the Raiders. The former Stanford receiver/corner would be a considerable upgrade over either Sean Smith or David Amerson, and GM Reggie McKenzie has a long relationship with Schneider as they both came from the Ted Thompson tree in Green Bay. The Seahawks and Raiders even made a deal as recently as last September when Seattle acquired defensive back Dewey McDonald. The Raiders can't do much to smooth over their relationship with the local fan base at the moment, but they are still Super Bowl contenders for 2017 and Sherman would be able to help them get there. (Would former Seahawks teammate Marshawn Lynch be joining him?) The Raiders don't have extra picks per se, but would they rather use the 24th pick on a rookie and hope he contributes next season as they look to win it all, or on an established veteran who could help fill the void left by Woodson in their secondary?
Other teams to consider include the Colts, Texans and Dolphins, where Sherman would rejoin former teammate Byron Maxwell. The Chargers have his former defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, but only $14 million in cap space and two pretty good corners as is. But the best bet, if a deal were to go down, is probably with the Browns. They have the space, the picks and the need that would make you think that's the phone call that's going to be hottest when Schneider is fielding these offers. They also seem to actually have the desire to win, and win sooner rather than later.
The only question is how much of a desire the Seahawks actually have to get rid of a player who basically defined them from 2012-15 as they rose to prominence thanks to their "Legion of Boom" secondary. He's the attitude and swagger that made them so feared for so long. However, it appears much of that attitude and swagger has begun to turn inward, and that may be causing too much of a distraction for Carroll.