For the last few weeks there has been some talk of the Seahawks being willing to move star cornerback Richard Sherman if the right trade came along. It’s a move that would be surprising to many as Sherman is pretty much synonymous with the success of the Seahawks franchise and considered one of the best, if not the best, corners in the NFL. Is this a move that Seattle should consider?
Trades of star players don’t happen too often in the NFL, but if you are going to strike you have to do it a year early not a year too late. Sherman is 29 years old, hasn’t missed a game in his career, and has been named to five straight Pro Bowls. He has two more seasons under contract at the relatively affordable price of $22.431 million. To put that number in perspective Josh Norman in 2016 and 2017 will earn $37 million. This is more or less the perfect time to try to trade someone of Sherman’s caliber. Still that doesn’t really explain why you would trade someone of his skill level.
Seattle is in a bit of an odd place right now. I don’t consider Seattle’s window shut by any means, but last year was the first indication that it could be closing. This was their second straight season where they were unable to get to 11 wins and their first year in which their efficiency numbers over at Football Outsiders took a pretty deep dive– dropping from their four year average DVOA of 37 to under 9. Granted that fall wasn’t so much the fault of the defense, but it may have been a signal that it is about time to change things up.
Seattle’s success was built upon great drafts for the first few years that Pete Carroll was brought in to run the franchise. From 2010 to 2012 their draft picks produced multiple starters who have been selected to over 20 Pro Bowls. Their top picks became household names- Sherman, Earl Thomas, Russell Wilson, KJ Wright, Kam Chancellor, Bobby Wagner- and helped carry the team to a tremendous run. But in recent years that has been lacking. Since 2013 they have produced minimal starters, and only one Seahawks draft pick has made the Pro Bowl.
Seattle employs what I refer to as a superstar contract strategy. They pay big money for big players and don’t let guys they want to keep walk away. Right now I have their spending estimates on a per year basis to be third in the NFL and considering most of their players were signed a few years ago that is probably tops in the league on an inflated basis. It’s imperative when you use that type of strategy that you replenish or supplement the old with the young and thus far Seattle has failed to do that.
That puts the Seahawks at a crossroads right now. Some of this is their own doing and some is just the state of the league. Seattle, when they extended many of their star players, opted to sign somewhat shorter term contracts than other teams normally would have done. They also have set what I think is a bad precedent of opening contracts up to some form of renegotiation at an early date. Salaries have continued to rise to unprecedented levels around the NFL.
If you are Seattle what do you do? Do you opt into another set of contracts with what are now aging players or see if you can get something very valuable for the players that you may see some risk in signing? It is not an easy decision because Seattle doesn’t have the great youth to just jump in and take positions over for the aging players. These are problems that are faced by many teams that have faded out of the picture like the Ravens and the Giants a few years back. Without the young talent a successful team can become pretty old in the blink of an eye and then it becomes hard to get better.
Seattle’s list of free agents in 2018 includes center Justin Britt, safety Kam Chancellor, and tight end Jimmy Graham as well as newly signed LT/G Luke Joeckel and running back Eddie Lacy. In 2019 the real major names hit. Sherman, Thomas, Cliff Avril, and Wright are all free agents. While two years can be an eternity in the NFL it may not work that way here. Given the way they extended Michael Bennett, worked with Marshawn Lynch, etc…these players may be looking for money by the end of 2017 and certainly by the start of 2018. So really the team is just a year away from a ton of major contract decisions and potentially unhappy players.
The market prices for some of the positions can be a problem and that was out of Seattle’s control. A few years ago when the Seahawks signed Sherman to a four year extension that would be renewed when he turned 30 they likely assumed that the going rate for the older corner would be $10 million. The corner market at the time was somewhat stagnant and even that may have seemed high. But it didn’t take long for a 30 year old Darrelle Revis to lock down $39 million in guarantees at $14 million a year and a 29 year old Josh Norman to nail down a $15 million a year contract. Those market increases will also be felt with both Thomas and Chancellor who saw Eric Berry and Reshad Jones land monstrous contracts at the age of 29. So not only is it going to be incredibly expensive to keep these guys in uniform but you are now opting in to a core group of expensive 30 plus year old players at positions where father time is often not very generous.
Last year the NFL only had, by my records, 23 corners at the age of 30 or above. Of those players only 6 had over 85% playtime and just 10 at over 70%. The average salary of those 10 players was just $5.9M a year and the biggest name of all (Revis) was a bust. 8 of the players in the over 30 category don’t yet have jobs in 2017.
While we may say that Sherman is better than all of them the 30+ list is filled with former stars. Revis, Jonathan Joseph, Leon Hall, Brent Grimes, Brandon Flowers, and Brandon Carr were all at one time very highly compensated players. Some were still effective at the turn of 30 and other were not. When you factor in what would be the likely salary demands and potential performance expectations it makes some sense for the team to consider moving on if they don’t think the value is in the contract.
When the Jets traded Revis at the age of 28 and coming off an injury they were able to get a top 15 draft pick despite his demands for a new contract and a pretty nasty split with the organization. That was considered a somewhat weaker than usual draft (and it was indeed a poor draft when all was said and done) which is similar to the perception for this year. There is no reason why the Seahawks should not be able to do similar with Sherman in a trade this year.
Next year it may not be as easy. Sherman will be a year older and it is likely that he will be looking for that new contract. Those are much harder trades to do which is what Carolina learned when they tried to do anything with Norman as a franchise player and eventually just rescinded the tag. Carolina was, in many ways, faced with the same decision as Seattle at that time. Do you want to commit a huge salary to a player at a position that is generally in a declining state or use it elsewhere. They said no and let him walk. While they were criticized that criticism would have been much less had they been able to find a trade partner, but they had almost no leverage. Seattle will have that leverage this year.
While I don’t consider the Seahawks in a salary cap bind the way some say, it is worth pointing out that if Sherman were to be traded that would open up $22 million in cap room over the next two seasons. $22 million is probably enough to cover a new year for Graham, Britt, and Wright and maybe one other smaller player. That’s basically a 3 or 3.5 to 1 swap.
Seattle has had the ability to build a superunit on defense but they may also be considering the need to spend more on the side of the ball where they are having an issue. They recently paid top dollar to keep Doug Baldwin, tried to take a shot at fixing their running game with Lacy, and paid a ludicrous amount of money for Joeckel because their line is a mess. Maybe they need a more balanced approach at this point and this is a spot to get money to do it.
Seattle, for better or worse, is a risk taking organization. They have made some big leaps of faith in the trade market before and on their veteran extensions. A trade of Sherman isn’t as out of the ordinary for a team like this as some may think. That doesn’t mean that they will do it or should do it, but there are a lot of reasons why Seattle should at the least pick up the phone if someone is calling with the right offer.
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.