With more and more trade rumors out there about Richard Sherman I thought this was a good time to look back at some of the drafting concepts I’ve worked on before on OTC and use that type of methodology to see the pros and cons of trading for Sherman. This is a pretty unique topic because you are talking about trading a top of the line player who will be 29 and soon looking for a new contract for a complete unknown in the draft. It would be hard to replace Sherman with any rookie.
The first thing I wanted to look at was how Sherman might project moving forward since that should be of the utmost importance to both the Seahawks and a team acquiring Sherman. Sherman is a pretty unique talent and it’s not easy to find comparables so to best pull up a group of players I used profootball references handy season finder and selected all cornerbacks who had a three year AV of at least 20 between the ages of 26 and 28 since 2013. Here is the relevant statistical breakdown of the sample.
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I think there are a few considerations here. The first one is the potential immediate benefit. The team is trading away the potential of four or more years for the immediate impact of Sherman. Unlike a free agent signing a trade for Sherman could bring added complications. Sherman’s contract expires in 2019 which means if you trade for Sherman you are probably receiving one year headache free and a second year in which he looks for an extension. After that he could bolt or you could end up with a financial problem.
Here is the year by year breakdown of the performance of the group by age.
If we apply the drops to Sherman a team acquiring Sherman might expect the following:
While those numbers would not project to be vintage Sherman they are pretty good for the next two years. Those numbers, if they held, would be far better than anyone could expect from a first or second year rookie. For example if you break down the adjusted average AV of players selected number 1 overall in the draft you would be looking at AV’s of around 7, 8, 8, and 9 over the four years of their rookie contract.
In that respect trading for Sherman makes all the sense in the world for a competitive team. If you are a team like Dallas you are bringing someone like Sherman for what may be an average projection of 5, which is effectively our projection for Sherman at age 32. Even some of the cost is offset by the cost of the draft pick. Dallas saves the $6 million or so it would pay the rookie this season which covers a big portion of Sherman’s $11.4 million salary.
That, to me, brings up the point as to why would Seattle even consider a move like this? Seattle isn’t in a position like the Browns where moving veterans makes sense. Seattle, like Dallas or Oakland or anyone else that would consider trading for him is a win now type of team. Those are the kind of teams that can justify making trades at the backend of the first round for a player of Sherman’s caliber. Seattle most likely would get worse in the short term which makes little sense for a team expected to win the division. This probably lends more credence to the report that Sherman is the one asking for the trade, or at least first asked for the trade.
Now one of the differences between Sherman and a rookie is upside and maybe that can help Seattle justify the move. Sherman should be on the downside of his career and there should be little chance that this changes. Only about 25% of our subset of players improved their AV from their performance from 26-28 to age 29. One of those was Darrelle Revis, whose baseline was incredibly low because he missed most of one season with an injury. For those even close to Sherman’s baseline only Chris McAllister and Nnamdi Asomugha showed improvements. The numbers the next year are similar and there are more drop-offs after that. The highest level players pretty much all declined. So for the most part you could probably project him to be between and 8 and 12 AV the next two years, unless he landed on a miserable team.
There is more variance with the draft picks and if we take a 4 year projection for Sherman (approximately 35 AV) and were very bullish on the draft there is probably equal value with the 20th pick in the draft and obviously a big cost benefit over a 4 year period. But if you are not bullish on the draft you would need a top pick to get equal value and there should be no team picking in the top 5 that would even entertain a trade like this. Realistically once you get outside of the top of the draft there is less than a 10% chance you would land someone as good as Sherman now and around a 15% chance that you would find someone to be that good by the end of his rookie deal.
It is really hard for me to see how this works for Seattle unless they do not see Sherman as a major factor in their team success. From the outside we all do but it did seem clear last year when Earl Thomas was injured that he probably has a bigger overall impact on the defense than Sherman, even if Sherman is responsible for “locking down” a higher quality player on most weeks. Typically it is hard to replace the contribution of a prime contributor at a key position (QB, CB, WR, DE, LT) which is why those players rarely hit free agency when they are young and usually aren’t available until they make the turn to 30.
The only other logic in the trade now is finances. Like I mentioned before Sherman is going to want a bunch of money next year. Most likely he’ll be good enough this season and even next to get someone to pay him big money. But when you look at the performance at age 31 and 32 there is no way to justify a $13-15M extension. Quite frankly you couldn’t justify a double digit APY unless you were just being super risky and you loved the name value he brings. If that is the case then his value won’t be higher than it is now so you consider the trade.
In hindsight, if finances are a cause, Seattle made a mistake negotiating a four rather than five year extension. Considering that Patrick Peterson signed for just a few dollars more despite doing a five year deal, Seattle should have been able to keep the numbers reasonable. If Sherman was under contract through age 31 there would be far less reason to even consider doing a big extension. He would be far enough removed from his peak to where he could stick around on an affordable deal and there would be no thought of him looking for an extension next year.
In what seems to be considered a poor draft I’m actually not sure Seattle can justify this trade. I didn’t expect that to be my takeaway when I first wrote this, but its hard to really see them getting better by moving him. At a minimum they need to get one of two things to make this work. They either need to get a pick around 20 and at least one other pick this year or next that is at least a second round value.
The other option is to find a team with a young corner already under contract. There are only a few players who would fit that bill- Robert Alford, Chris Harris, Joe Haden, Darius Slay and David Amerson. Of that group Alford is probably too old to consider and the team fit may not be there, Harris isn’t going anywhere, Detroit shouldn’t consider the trade, and Haden gives no financial relief. Amerson would be the only guy. That would be the perfect fit in terms of cap relief and give more certainty that you get some return out of the trade if the pick is average or worse. He would need to be paired with at least a 2nd rounder and probably a later round pick too.
They could look at the younger group of guys like Malcolm Butler (who would not be a scheme fit but just as an example) but then you get into having to sign a brand new contract and that makes little sense considering they have Sherman for the year at under $11.5 million.
It’s a tricky sport for Seattle if Sherman really wants out. Both sides are saying all the right things to keep his value high, but if the draft comes and goes and his is still on the Seahawks that may change. It depends on what is driving this trade but that has to come into play with Seattle’s thinking. Seattle really needs to find a team that is aggressive, similar to how they have been with trades, to get what they need here. I’m not sure that team exists.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.