The Dallas Cowboys have a talent problem on defense. Outside of Sean Lee, there really isn’t a game-changing player on that entire side of the ball. Byron Jones has been very solid, Maliek Collins and Anthony Brown showed well in their first year, David Irving has tons of promise, as does a healthy (if he truly is) Jaylon Smith, but none of those guys have proven to move the needle consistently for the Dallas defense. It’s a problem the team has been attempting to correct since they released DeMarcus Ware three years ago, and one that you could argue has prevented the team from completing two potential Super Bowl runs.
In the early stages of free agency, Dallas has watched as several contributors on defense, specifically in the secondary sign with other teams, Barry Church to Jacksonville, J.J. Wilcox to Tampa Bay, Brandon Carr to Baltimore, and Morris Claiborne to the New York Jets. In response Dallas signed Nolan Carroll to provide a backstop for the projected draft pick (or two) they’ll spend in the secondary next month. And of course, the search for talent is never-ending. Reports say UCLA defensive end Takk McKinley is among Dallas' 30 pre-Draft visitors and it's also been reported that veteran safety Robert Blanton has visited.
However, last week the idea floated around twitter that the Seattle Seahawks were open to the idea of trading veteran perennial Pro Bowl corner Richard Sherman.
Should the Cowboys be involved?
Before you can make that decision a series of questions must be answered.
First of all, If Sherman is still a good player, why would Seattle consider trading him?
Well that one is rather easy to see upon examining the Seahawks cap situation for 2018. In that year, quarterback Russell Wilson's cap number jumps by $3 Million up to $21.7 Million and linebacker Bobby Wagner’s jumps by $6M up to $13.6 Million. Shermans cap number of $13.2 Million is currently the third of five 2018 cap charges of over $10 Million in Seattle. On the surface, Seattle has $45 Million in cap space for 2018, which looks extremely healthy, until you realize that they only have 31 players under contract for that season, and that two key players, Jimmy Graham and Kam Chancellor are free agents in 2018 and will likely see nice paydays, add a successful year and big pay day for 2017 acquisitions Luke Joeckel and/or Eddie Lacy, and things start to get tight. That’s three or four potential large contracts and another 19 rostered players, including their draft picks the next two years, plus a practice squad, injury replacements etc? Seattle may be smart to get some value from Sherman now, while an acquiring team is assured multiple years of service.
Secondly, what would it cost to acquire him, and what does he cost you once you get him?
Since 1994, only one veteran corner has been traded for more than one draft pick. That player was 27-year-old Darrell Revis, in 2013, who despite coming off of an ACL injury in 2012 was widely regarded as the unquestioned best corner in football. In that deal, Tampa Bay gave the Jets their first round pick in 2013 (#13 overall) and a conditional 4th round pick in 2014, in return for Revis -- who was in the final year of his contract. He signed a 6-year $96-Million deal with Tampa upon completion of the trade.
Considering the age difference between the two players, and the fact that Seattle isn’t in a rebuilding window, a package featuring something along the lines of Dallas second-round pick in 2017 (#60 overall), and their third-round pick in 2018, would probably be enough to get Seattle to listen to the idea. Dallas is likely to receive four compensatory picks in 2018, one of which could be tossed into the deal to help get the deal done.
Thirdly: What does Sherman cost you financially, and can you afford it?
Sherman is in the third year of a four-year contract, with base salaries of $11.431 Million (fully guaranteed) in 2017, and $11 Million in 2018. For a frame of reference, at $11.2 Million per season, that would make Sherman the 10th highest paid corner in the NFL, right between Dre Kirkpatrick/Byron Maxwell ($10.5 Million per year), and Darius Slay ($12 Million per year).
The Cowboys currently have around $3-5 Million in cap space, with another $5 Million coming once Doug Free’s retirement becomes official, and at another $5.1 Million coming from whatever resolution comes from the ongoing Tony Romo saga. Add that to the fact that the Cowboys have more options, like restructuring Dez Bryant or Tyrone Crawford, or releasing reserve running back Alfred Morris, to create additional cap space, it’s pretty clear that the Cowboys can indeed afford the cost associated with Sherman’s contract.
Next: Does he fit your Defense?
In many free agency or trade scenarios there is some mystery as to how it will work out because teams play different schemes, and even players who play the same position may have different responsibilities from team to team. However, in the case of comparing the Cowboys and the Seahawks to determine Sherman’s fit in Dallas, it is extremely straight forward. Seattle is a team that spends a drastic majority of their defensive snaps playing with a single safety in the middle of the field, playing either Cover-1 (man coverage), or Cover-3 (zone coverage). They don’t typically move their corners around from side to side to matchup with opposing receivers, and don’t do a lot of exotic pressure or coverage concepts.
Coincidentally, the Cowboys are also a single-high-safety team that majors in Cover-1 and Cover-3, doesn’t move the corners around a ton, and doesn't use exotic concepts. In fact, since the current defensive style was adopted in 2013, we’ve heard people all through the Cowboys organization pointing to the Seahawks as an example of what the team wants to be on defense from a scheme standpoint.
Additionally, Sherman exceeds every threshold for height and length that the Cowboys adhere to when acquiring cornerbacks.
Rod Marinelli, Matt Eberflus, and Joe Baker could take Sherman, put him in his familiar left cornerback position, and let him play there with the exact same style he played with in Seattle, and expect him to be the same type of player he has been with little learning curve or transitional period for the veteran.
Lastly: Is he the “Right Kind of Guy”?
Sherman, while loud and brash on the field, is an extremely intelligent, well-spoken and thoughtful Stanford grad who doesn’t get in trouble off the field. Sherman is lauded in Seattle for his understanding of the game, his preparation in the classroom, and his intensity on the practice field. He is seen as a great teammate who is tone-setter from Monday through Saturday, and a game-changer on Sundays.
Based on all of the factors in play, a trade for Richard Sherman is an idea that the Cowboys should definitely explore, and while it goes against their tendency in recent years of drafting and developing their own -- which is why this column is an "analysis" rather than a "prediction" - a player like Sherman could be the difference-maker for a Super Bowl run in the next couple of years, and that is exactly the type of opportunity the team should be looking for.