Seattle Seahawks

Schneider’s history suggests Seahawks would be fine without Sherman

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 14: Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman (25) lines up in the second half of the NFC Divisional Playoff game between the Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons on January 14, 2017, at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, GA. The Atlanta Falcons won the game 36-20. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Icon Sportswire)
Todd Kirkland/Icon Sportswire

Richard Sherman has been in the news a fair amount this offseason because there have been several reports suggesting that he is not long for the Seattle Seahawks. There is debate whether the organization is the one trying to move him or whether it’s Sherman himself who’s made the trade request. It’s certainly unusual in the ultra-secretive NFL for a general manager to openly admit that he’s fielding offers for his superstar, which is precisely what Seattle’s John Schneider has done.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that the team was following Sherman’s wishes, saying, “It has been my understanding all along that Richard Sherman was the one who initiated this. He was the one that wanted to be traded initially. The Seahawks were obliging him and his request.”

For what it’s worth, Sherman’s brother refuted that report, and Sherman himself played coy with MMQB’s Peter King, saying, “Very little chance it happens, but both sides are listening. I honestly don’t have much more to say about it than what I’ve already said. We have a great relationship. … There is a lot of love and respect. There is no bad blood.”

It’s certainly true that the Seahawks have a top-heavy roster, more akin to a contending NBA team than an NFL one, where talent needs to be more spread out to win big. As King pointed out, the top 10 earners on the roster will take up $101.26 million of the team’s cap room next season, which represents 61 percent of the total. And nine of those 10 players will be 28 years old or older by the time the season starts.

It’s arguable that shedding Sherman $13.6 million off their books could be a prescient move for the front office, especially with his talents in gradual decline. He was only the 13th-rated corner in the league, per the game charters at ProFootballFocus.com, last season and, as MMQB’s Andy Benoit observed, he had difficulty defending certain routes for the first time in his career.

“Sherman struggled with change-of-direction last year,” Benoit wrote. “When forced to swivel his hips and follow a receiver breaking out on a corner route or, especially, breaking in on a slant, he often allowed too much separation. In-breaking patterns have always posed challenges for the angular Sherman, but 2016 was the first time they consistently posed problems.”

Granted, Sherman played the second half of the season with a knee injury, and it likely affected his play. There’s a fair chance that he’ll return to his usual high standards next year if healthy.

While it’s fun to speculate about the “why” of Sherman’s departure, it’s not going to do us much good. The better question is: What would Seattle’s defense look like without him?

That depends, of course, on what they get for him in a trade but don’t count on it being another veteran corner or some other player(s) of note or even players, period. Again, this isn’t the NBA. Salaries don’t have to come close to matching in this league. Trading players for draft picks are far more common, and that would likely be the case here.

The Seahawks will have three third-round picks (two of them compensatory) but none in the fourth or fifth rounds. Therefore, any deal involving Sherman will have to reward Schneider with ammunition to secure more cheap, young talent. The timing seems fortuitous since this draft class is supposedly rich in cornerback talent.

The thing to understand about Seattle’s defensive philosophy is that it has never relied upon stellar corner play, no matter how exemplary Sherman’s been. It’s always been a zone-heavy scheme, usually “three-deep,” with Earl Thomas patrolling center field while Sherman and his counterpart each play the outer deep thirds of the field. Strong safety Kam Chancellor and linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright handle the short zones. The Seahawks mix in some of two-deep zone that Tony Dungy made famous in Tampa Bay, but coach Pete Carroll’s defenses don’t blitz too often and don’t leave their corners exposed on islands.

The Seahawks re-signed corner DeShawn Shead and still have nickel back Jeremy Lane in the fold, so it’s not like the cupboard is completely bare without Sherman, but they’re expected to draft Sherman’s replacement next week regardless of whether he plays for them next year or not. All a potential deal would do is force their hands to address the position with greater urgency and to perhaps double up there in the draft.

What’s gotten lost in the postmortem of Seattle’s failures last season is that the defense clearly missed Michael Bennett, who missed a good chunk of the year with a knee injury and wasn’t ever 100 percent when he returned. The pass rush would’ve been far more threatening if he were whole, and it would’ve made Sherman and the rest of the defensive backs’ jobs easier. It’s certainly arguable that a healthy Bennett will have more of a positive effect on the Seahawks next year than a healthy Sherman would, and the same could be said for Thomas.

Would Seattle miss Sherman if he were to leave? Yes, but not as much as they would have three, four years ago. And not as much as teams with lesser general managers would. Schneider’s track record has earned him the benefit of the doubt. If Sherman exits, it will be because Schneider believes he can get fair value for the talent cornerback. If he doesn’t, it’ll be because the offers coming in aren’t good enough.

There’s no need to make it any more complicated than that, for now.

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