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Analysis: Did the Seahawks let go of Richard Sherman too soon?

UPDATED: Tue., Jan. 21, 2020

San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman celebrates after the NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020, in Santa Clara, Calif. (Tony Avelar / AP)
San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman celebrates after the NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020, in Santa Clara, Calif. (Tony Avelar / AP)
By Matt Calkins Seattle Times

It was a bit more than three years ago a perturbed Richard Sherman told the media they were going to miss him once he’s gone. The former Seattle Seahawks cornerback was fed up with questions about his insubordination and second-guessing of his coaches and, however brashly, wanted to remind reporters of his uniqueness as a quote.

As Sherman prepares for his third Super Bowl – this time as a member of the San Francisco 49ers – it’s worth wondering if his old team misses him more than any broadcaster or columnist ever could. The question of the day: Should the Seahawks have let Sherman go?

The answer never seemed like a no-brainer, but there was a point where waiving him made sense. From a physical standpoint, the Seahawks saw a player who had torn his Achilles at the age of 29. From an emotional standpoint, they saw a player who publicly criticized his coaches and taunted quarterback Russell Wilson in practice.

If there was going to be a great Seahawks purge – one that included the retirements of Kam Chancellor and Cliff Avril, and the shipping of Michael Bennett – it made sense to include Sherman in the liquidation. Especially if he wanted to be paid best-cornerback-in-the-league money.

But two years later, after the Seahawks finished 27th in the league in pass defense and 22nd in points allowed, that waiving doesn’t look as wise. So, did parting ways with Sherman cost the Seahawks a shot at a title?

Obviously, no one can say with certainty what would have happened had Sherman stayed in Seattle. NFL outcomes are hard enough to predict as it is.

Had the Seahawks gained two more inches in the final game of the regular season, the Niners might have been bounced in the first round. Had Seattle been able to stop Green Bay on a late third down, it might be in the Super Bowl.

Here’s what we know: Pro Football Focus graded Sherman as the best cornerback in the NFL this season, and ranked him No. 3 last year. He was not simply a byproduct of Seahawks coach Pete Carroll’s system, but a bona fide superstar.

Seattle’s secondary, meanwhile, was ranked 15th in the league by Pro Football Focus, but cornerback Tre Flowers received a below-average grade. Would Sherman’s presence have made a significant difference in the Seahawks’ campaign?

There is an argument to be made for that. Along with pass rush, cornerback was the most vulnerable spot for Seattle all year. Shaquill Griffin was average. Flowers was less than that. Ugo Amadi got burned by Davante Adams on third down to all but seal a Packers win in the playoffs.

One regular-season win could have made a world of difference for the Seahawks’ postseason position, and Sherman could have ostensibly provided that. But at what cost?

Sherman signed a team-friendly deal with the 49ers before the 2018 season, but it’s unlikely he would have accepted that same type of offer from the Seahawks. If they gave him best-corner-in-the-league money, would they have been able to re-sign six-time Pro Bowler Bobby Wagner? And if they did, would they have been able to retain left tackle Duane Brown or Tyler Lockett?

Would Russell Wilson have wanted to stick around if he thought he might have to deal with three or four more years of potential jabs from Sherman? For the $140 million deal he signed, yes, probably, but these are still fair questions.

The realities are these.

1) It is difficult to have confidence that a player who exploded on the sideline because his coaches decided to throw a pass from the 1-yard line one year, then tore his Achilles the next year, won’t be problematic going forward.

2) Despite all that, Sherman has been about as dominant with the 49ers as he was with the Seahawks.

3) The Seahawks defense was bad last year.

I mentioned earlier that Sherman signed a team-friendly deal with San Francisco. But because he hit all his financial incentives (playing time, Pro Bowl, All-Pro team, etc.) it turned out to be a player-friendly deal as well. Richard Sherman bet on Richard Sherman. That’s not surprising.

Looking back on it, perhaps the Seahawks should have, too.

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