Ross D. Franklin
One, sure way for the sun to set on Pete Carroll’s shiny disposition?
Ask him how his Seahawks are going to replace Richard Sherman for the rest of this season.
“I don’t know. I don’t even know how to address that right now,” the coach said in the stunned aftermath of Seattle losing its three-time All-Pro cornerback to a torn Achilles tendon during Thursday night’s win at Arizona.
When the Seahawks (6-3) host Atlanta (5-4) next Monday it will be their first game without Sherman since 2010. That was the season before he entered the league as Seattle’s fifth-round draft choice.
The Seahawks have played 105 consecutive regular-season games, 12 more in the playoffs–including two Super Bowls and the franchise’s only NFL title–with Sherman there. He’s started every one of Seattle’s games at left cornerback since Oct. 30, 2011.
Now there’s a gaping void there.
“He’s just been a bastion of consistency, competitiveness and toughness through all of the stuff that we’ve worked through. It’s been awesome,” Carroll said. “It’s been hard. It’s been challenging. And he’s been extraordinary. Almost an iconic player in this league.
“He’s going to have to sit. I’ll try not to go overboard on this, but that’s just the way I feel. We’ll miss the heck out of him. He’ll been with us every step of the way when he can, but we’ll miss the heck out of him.”
Opponents for years have usually avoided throwing to Sherman’s side of the field, often leaving the rest of the Seahawks’ defense only having to defend 75 percent of the field.
Those days and weeks are over. At least for this year. And Sherman’s beyond isn’t exactly set, either.
Good thing Rick Smith likes John Schneider. If not, the Seahawks wouldn’t have a veteran starting cornerback ready to replace Sherman, although not at all near Sherman’s level.
Jeremy Lane replaced Sherman for the final 1½ quarters in the win over the Cardinals. Seattle traded him to Houston a couple weeks ago while acquiring left tackle Duane Brown. But Lane had a bruised thigh and strained groin at the time and had missed two of the last three games when he failed his trade physical with Texans doctors.
Smith, Houston’s general manager, could have walked away from the deal and taken Brown back. Instead, he agreed to the contingency plan Schneider, Seattle’s GM who has consulted with Smith for years, proposed. The Seahawks got Brown and a fifth-round choice of Houston’s in 2018, and the Texans got a third-round pick in 2018 from Seattle plus a second-round choice in 2019.
Lane, 27, has started 19 games and played in 62 during his NFL career, all for Seattle. He’s been the Seahawks’ primary nickel back inside in recent seasons, and that role is why the team signed him to a four-year, $23 million extension before the 2016 season. He had a poor ’16 season in coverage and penalties.
He began this season as the starter at right cornerback, opposite Sherman. Then Lane got ejected early from the opener Sept. 10 at Green Bay for a pushing altercation with Packers receiver Davante Adams. On Oct. 1, after four starts, he strained his groin during the win against Indianapolis. Rookie Shaquill Griffin took Lane’s right-cornerback job, and Justin Coleman his nickel spot.
Now, Lane’s healthy—and Sherman’s immediate replacement.
The Seahawks have other options. Again, none are nearer to Sherman’s level of performance or reputation.
DeShawn Shead, the starting right cornerback, could be an option. Eventually. He remains on the physically-unable-to-perform list following reconstructive knee surgery in January and a follow-up procedure this summer.
The Seahawks have until a week from Tuesday, the day after week 11 of the NFL season ends, to decide whether Shead is healthy enough to practice. If that answer is yes before or by Nov. 21, Seattle has three weeks to either add him to active roster or put him on injured reserve for the rest of this season.
Byron Maxwell is available. Another former Seahawks starting cornerback opposite Sherman, Maxwell got released by Miami Oct. 24 and is a free agent. The 29-year old began his NFL career with Seattle the same season Sherman did, in 2011. He started 17 regular-season games and all six postseason ones for the Seahawks in the 2013 and ’14 seasons, including Super Bowl 48 and 49.
Then he signed a six-year, $63 million contract with Philadelphia before the 2015 season. That was the only one he played for the Eagles. He started 13 games for Miami last season and two this season before the Dolphins cut him.
At 6 feet 1, 198 pounds, Maxwell has the size and length the Seahawks like in cornerbacks, and he obviously knows Carroll’s step-kick technique off the line of scrimmage and coverage system many Seattle imports (remember Cary Williams?) can’t grasp. Expect the Seahawks to at least call—or to have already called—to see how Maxwell might be able to fit.
Sherman turns 30 before next season, the last one of his contract. His salary for 2018 is scheduled to be a non-guaranteed $11 million, with a $13.2 million salary-cap charge.
Any idea the Seahawks might offer Sherman another extension before next season is a more remote possibility with his injury. The Achilles tear also greatly reduced his and Seattle’s leverage for any trade, which the Seahawks so publicly entertained last offseason.
For now, the Seahawks seem more likely to welcome Sherman back for 2018 at his current pay, to offer the opportunity to earn the extension and be motivated for a strong rebound season–plus possible free agency riches in the spring of 2019 at age 31.
And for now, there’s gaping hole on the left side of the Seahawks’ defense that hasn’t been there since 2010. One that Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and the Falcons will be spending all this week preparing to target next Monday night.
NFC WEST WATCH
The Rams smacked Houston at home 33-7 on Sunday, keeping Los Angeles (7-2) one game ahead of the Seahawks atop the division.
The Rams have won six of their last seven games. The one loss was last month to Seattle.
The Seahawks are currently the fifth seed in the NFC playoff picture, ahead on tiebreakers of Carolina (6-3) with seven games remaining in the regular season.. The top six in the conference make the postseason.