If you’re done peeking through your fingers at the sight of Richard Sherman wearing 49ers colors at his first press conference in Santa Clara, feel free take your scheduled sports anxiety meds in double doses and read on to the key pivot point in the saga.
It won’t bring Sherman back, but it might ease the bewilderment, and keep you from mixing alcohol with the drugs.
We still don’t have the Seahawks side of things, and may never. Pete Carroll and John Schneider understand there’s no upside to a public pissing match with Sherman, who can’t allow himself to be wrong.
But Sherman wrote his version of events on the Players’ Tribune, and revealed more than he may realize about why he jumped at the first phone call.
Sherman wrote that at a meeting March 7, the Seahawks told him they were going to release him shortly. No negotiations about an extension, no talk of a pay cut, no trade possibilities. Just thanks and g’bye, and if you get an offer, please call to see if we want to match.
The application of the figurative scythe was indirectly corroborated by tweets that day from startled teammates offering their public salutes to Sherman. Two days later, while Sherman and his fiancee, Ashley, were in Las Vegas attending players union meetings, the news broke. He wrote:
A few hours later, at about 1 p.m. Pacific, the Seahawks officially released me.
After that, things happened really fast.
At like 1:03 p.m. I got a call from the 49ers. They wanted me to fly to San Jose to have dinner with (coach) Kyle Shanahan. So I got my affairs in order — I had literally been a free agent for only a few minutes — and wrapped up some union business. Then I went back to my hotel with my fiancée, Ashley, and we grabbed our things and jumped on a flight.
The key phrase there was, I had been a free agent for only a few minutes.
It explains a lot.
For the first time in his remarkable professional life, he had been seriously injured, then fired during what he believes to be the prime of his career. And he had no imminent salary, because the final year of his Seattle contract at $11 million was not guaranteed.
Doesn’t matter how much money he made previously, those three minutes of free agency constituted a cold wind. He felt he needed immediate shelter. San Francisco provided.
Could he have used a trustworthy agent to calm him? Yes.
Could he have worked the NFL room for more than the $3 million guaranteed signing bonus (plus another $2 million if he passes a physical exam by Nov. 11) he received from the 49ers? Probably.
Could he have feared that with each passing day in free agency, the rest of NFL would tend to believe that the Seahawks, who know his situation best, had good reasons to feel he was no longer worth the investment? Hard to know for sure, but if he didn’t think that, he’s not as smart as I’ve always felt he was.
So Sherman declined to play the field, an ironic turn for a guy whose football style was anything but tentative. His incentives-laden deal that can be ended after 2018 with no cost to the team was criticized by some, including this story by the Boston Globe’s Ben Volin.
The apparent impulse for security also provides insight into the the biggest problem with players representing themselves. Beyond physical gifts, athletes in any sport who achieve at high levels share a trait: They are trained to accept as a virtue the mantra to live in the moment. The athlete who dwells on mistakes or stares into the future is compromised in the now.
Living in the moment is as essential to success in competition as it is often detrimental to creating and sticking to a long-term business plan that emphasizes security over risk-taking.
Then again, the man didn’t think he was going to be fired after surgeries on both legs in the off-season. No long-term plans can accommodate that.
At his press conference Tuesday, Sherman elaborated.
“I got no money guaranteed in Seattle, I’m coming off a ruptured Achilles, what do I have?” he said, answering a question about what pissed him off with Seattle’s position. “What security do I have there? With this deal, I get $5 million guaranteed, which is half of my other contract. I get the ability to make more than I could have done, whether I played at an All-Pro level or not in Seattle. And that’s really all that I wanted.”
The non-cash bonuses for signing with San Francisco were at least three: A return to the Bay Area where he went to college, two annual chances to stick it to the Seahawks, and joining a team on the upswing rather than on a downstroke. The latter is important.
Even though there remains helpful talent in the free agent marketplace, and the draft is here in five weeks, it is inescapable that players who must make decisions right now between similar financial offers often use a team’s prospects for success as a tie-breaker.
For the first time in Carroll’s tenure, the Seattle prospects don’t look good, especially relative to the new regime in Santa Clara that now has a shrewd front office, coach and top-shelf quarterback.
Before the frenzy began, our friend and former Sportspress NW colleague Doug Farrar, now at Bleacher Report, listed his top 50 free agents. Three of the top 15 were Seahawks — WR Paul Richardson at No. 15, DT Sheldon Richardson at No. 7 and TE Jimmy Graham at No. 6. That doesn’t include Sherman, whose three minutes of free agency occurred after publication.
All four signed elsewhere, for a cumulative maximum contract value of $117 million. Given the constraints of the Seahawks under the salary cap, they had little chance to afford any of the four. With each departure, the Seahawks made themselves a little less attractive to other free agents as a place where it still is happening.
Even with all the salary dumps, Overthecap.com has the Seahawks with only about $18 million in cap space, from which they also may have to squeeze extensions for LT Duane Brown and FS Earl Thomas.
Regarding Sherman, it is easy for some fans to villainize him for leaving the Seahawks, but in fact, the team left him. As they did other stalwarts from a time that teeters upon being identified as a golden era bygone, because of higher-priority contracts.
A part of the decay is what all NFL teams go through after successful players are paid well. Another part is the bad fortune of simultaneous injuries to key players. And another part is that Seahawks have drafted sufficiently poorly that quality options for replacement just aren’t there.
Sherman found a solution for the cold wind. The Seahawks continue to shiver.