3 team fits for Richard Sherman if Seahawks are open to trade

Where could Richard Sherman best help a defense if Seattle is open to moving its star cornerback?

| 3 months ago
Seahawks CB Richard Sherman

(Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

3 team fits for Richard Sherman if Seahawks are open to trade

Last season, the Carolina Panthers pulled the franchise tag from star cornerback Josh Norman in late April after most of the available money was spent in free agency. While Norman was eventually able to secure a five-year, $75 million deal from Washington, and proceeded to have a decent season (although one that was marred by 16 total penalties), it’s interesting to wonder where he could have landed had he hit the open market with everyone else. With reports that the Seahawks are considering trading star cornerback Richard Sherman, we have another offseason where one of the league’s best players at the position is possibly on the move, at a time where much of the free-agent money was spent on cornerbacks A.J. Bouye and Stephon Gilmore last month.

While it might be tempting for a team with some available cap space (or its fans) to reflexively jump at the opportunity to trade for one of the best corners of his generation, some context is necessary here. For starters, while Sherman remains a top player at his position, his play has slid a bit in recent years, causing an increase in the number of targets he’s seeing per passing snap, as well as an increase in his passer rating allowed (albeit to what is still a very good number at 68.4 in 2016). This has coincided with Seattle slipping as a whole in pass defense, from first in the league in net yards per passing attempt allowed each season from 2012-2014, to 15th a year ago. The latter can possibly be traced to a revolving door of players the Seahawks have had at right cornerback since Byron Maxwell and Brandon Browner left as free agents, but the correlation with Sherman’s play is nontrivial, as well.

The Seahawks’ ability (or likely, inability) to replace him notwithstanding, where would optimal landing spots for Richard Sherman be? Aside from the necessary draft capital and cap space, a team willing to pay Sherman the roughly $27 million he’s owed over the next two years and/or extend his contract after a trade will be paying for the cornerback that he will be in 2017 and beyond, not the one he has been since taking off in 2012. For a player who just turned 29 yesterday, and whose play is on the slight decline, a familiar system is probably the one for which he would mostly likely to maintain his stellar level of play. No team ran more cover-3 than the Seahawks a year ago (53.02 percent of all passing snaps against), and 89.6 percent of their defensive snaps were in either cover-0, 1, or 3, which was highest in the league by 8 percentage points. These are coverage schemes for which Sherman is the prototype cornerback.

While it’s difficult to predict where players will go (if they go at all), teams with coverage profiles similar to the Seahawks, as well as proper ammunition and motivation, would likely be the ones to come ahead in such a sweepstakes. Here we list three teams that make sense to me as trade partners for the Seahawks and Richard Sherman.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans were a respectable 18th in net yards allowed per passing attempt a season ago, but this was due far more to a defense that ranked in the top 10 in our pass-rushing grades than for any standout performances on the outside. While Tennessee did invest $30 million over three years for former Patriots CB Logan Ryan, they still have over $35 million in available cap room, as well as two picks in the first 18 selections of this month’s draft. While the Titans only ran cover-3 on 23.6 percent of pass-coverage snaps (24th in the league), they ran cover-0 or 1 on 41.8 percent of such snaps (fifth), making the fit of Sherman a palatable one. Such a trade would allow the Titans to move Ryan into the slot on nickel downs, where he would be an upgrade over Brice McCain, who allowed six touchdowns (and a 104.6 rating) from there a year ago.

Pittsburgh Steelers

While Pittsburgh spent a first-round pick in 2016 on Artie Burns, and William Gay played relatively well in the slot (allowing just an 84.3 rating) a year ago, the Steelers struggled in coverage when it mattered most, allowing 384 yards and three touchdowns on just 42 attempts to Tom Brady in the AFC Championship. The Steelers ran cover-3 on 41.1 percent of their pass-defense downs a season ago, the fifth-highest rate in the league, and have almost $16 million in cap space if they want to improve their defense enough to make one more run with a quarterback that has flirted with retirement this offseason. The Steelers own four picks in the first 105 of next-month’s draft, and may also have the relatively-fluent futures of the franchise-tagged Le’Veon Bell and suspended Martavis Bryant in the back of their minds moving forward.

New England Patriots

It seemed far-fetched for the Patriots to make a play for a big-name cornerback when free agency started, and now that they’ve spent the money for Stephon Gilmore and traded their first-round pick for WR Brandin Cooks, at first blush, the idea of Sherman to the Patriots is a laughable one. However, the Patriots still have over $20 million in cap space, two third-round picks, and 27-year-old RFA cornerback Malcolm Butler as assets in a potential swap. It was only three offseasons ago that Belichick went out and rented Darrelle Revis for a season, and he responded by allowing just 51.8 percent of passes into his coverage to be completed, intercepting three passes, breaking up another 12, and helping the Patriots claim their first Super Bowl title in a decade. Given that the amount of dead money on Sherman’s contract falls to a little over $2 million after the 2017 season, a similar play by the Patriots this offseason doesn’t seem so intractable after all.

CB Richard Sherman over the course of his career

Richard Sherman

| Analyst

Eric Eager joined Pro Football Focus in 2015. He is currently working on a number of analytics projects, primarily focused on the NFL.

  • Teddy Salad

    I don’t see the Hawks trading Sherman this offseason. Even if they were to get a first-round pick in a Sherman trade and then drafted two promising CBs in round one, their pass defense would take another step back in 2017, and would significantly diminish their odds of getting to Super Bowl XXII. If they traded Sherm, who would be their opening-day starters at CB in 2017? Jeremy Lane and DeAndre Elliott? Lane and…Kevin King?

    • ashnathan

      Superbowl 22? lol you mean Superbowl Lll?

      • Teddy Salad

        Thank you for pointing out my egregious error of thought! And here I used to be the one to correct others in Roman numeral usage. :(

    • rodrell green

      They don’t teach Roman Numerals anymore?

      • crosseyedlemon

        Not many students in the inner city or deep south are getting off the bus with a name like Flavius Licinius Metellus Crassus these days, so the program has been dropped.

  • kevin Duffin

    Regardless if he’d be a fit in Pittsburgh, no way the steelers make a splash like that. It’s just not the way they do things.

    • crosseyedlemon

      I tried to contain a giggle at the suggestion that the Steelers are reluctant to make a splash. You have seen those bumble bee uniforms haven’t you Kev?

      • kevin Duffin

        Ha. Yes I’ve seen the bumble bees, and personally, I’m glad I don’t have to anymore, they were atrocious!

  • TradeBait

    Sorry Eric, Jon Robinson is much, much smarter that that. He would never sign an aging ‘me’ guy who could destroy team chemistry. He does things the Patriots way with Mularkey’s Steeler influence. Look for him to draft a top 3 CB at some point early depending on him moving back on Day 1. If he stays at #5 he has a shot at a future lock down CB in Lattimore.

    • Tim Edell

      The Patriot way?? I think the signing of Corey Dillon, Randy Moss, Revis is very similar to a trade for Sherman. Seattle has admitted talking to teams with Pats being one of them.

      • crosseyedlemon

        The Patriots have been very aggressive in FA and you don’t often see that level of activity from a team that is defending champs. Some are interpreting that as the team loading up for one more push before the Brady era ends. If that assessment is accurate then I think a deal with the Hawks for Sherman would have happened by now if it were going to happen at all.

  • AJ

    Trading Sherman would make very little sense from Seattle’s perspective. Sherman, Chancellor, Thomas, Bennett, and Avril are all around age 30 (Wagner and Wright are a bit younger). This core isn’t going to be at peak strength forever. This is their window to win while all those guys are still in their prime. Throw in the fact that Pete Carroll is the oldest head coach in the league and therefore also not going to be around forever, this trade makes even less sense for a team trying to win now.

    • crosseyedlemon

      Have to agree with you AJ. In addition, the upcoming draft is strong at the CB position so the Hawks can tap into that if they feel like they need an upgrade. They are also playing in perhaps the weakest division of the league and don’t need to upset the status quo as there is only a small chance the Cardinals, Rams or Niners could prevent them from finishing first.

      • Leon Kalayjian

        Totally agree. Have no idea why I am seeing this a few times reported. If Seattle moves on this, bad idea cause its not like they have a ton behind Sherman waiting for their turn to bloom.

        • crosseyedlemon

          Stories tend to dry up somewhat during the off season yet sports bloggers have to find something to write about to continue receiving a paycheque. The Hawks are well aware that most of their regression on defense was due to injuries rather than Sherman. Their organization is run a lot better than some in the league so I’d be pretty surprised to see them hit the panic button here when there is really no need to.

  • crosseyedlemon

    The Bears have spent freely in free agency but in my opinion they got less return than anybody of the investments they’ve made. Sherman would be an immediate and significant upgrade to what we currently have.