Ever since the New England Patriots traded for Aqib Talib in the middle of the 2012 season, cornerback has been a position of strength in Foxboro. From Talib to Darrelle Revis to Malcolm Butler, the Patriots have always boasted a top shutdown option. Even if Butler were to leave as a restricted free agent (or even in a trade) to the New Orleans Saints, the Patriots would have the 26-year-old Stephon Gilmore ready to step in as the No. 1 guy.
However, the Patriots reportedly wouldn’t be satisfied with Gilmore as their only marquee starting option on the outside if Butler were to depart. Earlier this offseason, the Patriots showed interest in Seattle Seahawks superstar corner Richard Sherman (per Patriots Wire), who was the subject of loose trade rumors (via NESN), before signing Gilmore to a five-year deal worth $65 million.
Those rumors involving Sherman have strengthened, to the point where they are no longer just rumors. In fact, Seahawks general manager John Schneider recently gave credence to those rumblings (per Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times), essentially stating that the team is willing to trade Sherman for the right price. Although Sherman himself stated that he would like to remain with his teammates in Seattle, he didn’t sound completely opposed to leaving either, according to The Score.
The Patriots were linked to Sherman before and, even though they spent big money on another excellent cornerback in Gilmore, their interest in the future Hall of Famer hasn’t waned.
According to the Boston Herald‘s Jeff Howe, the Pats would “increase their focus” on trading for Sherman if Butler were coaxed away by the Saints. Howe makes sure to note that there is no impending trade in place, but it does seem like discussions could heat up if the Saints decide to pull the trigger on Butler.
At this point, I don’t think the Saints are willing to risk moving the No. 13 overall pick for Butler in a draft class loaded with cornerback talent, and I doubt the Pats would accept anything less. That said, if the Saints did agree to send the No. 13 pick to the Patriots, I could see the Pats dealing that pick straight-up to the Seahawks for Sherman.
Currently 29, Sherman will make at least $11 million in each of the next two seasons, but I don’t think the Patriots are in a position where cost would be their main worry. I also doubt they would be worried about Sherman declining in that period of time.
Feb 1, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman (left) shakes hands with New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) after Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
He’s still among the best performers at the position, he had four interceptions with 13 passes defended last season, and he’s smart enough to overcome any decline in physical tools. Even though Darrelle Revis has fallen off the map recently, players like Terence Newman have shown us that cornerbacks can maintain a high level of success in their older age. I wouldn’t bet against Sherman being one of those guys.
If Sherman isn’t so lucky, that doesn’t matter either. The Patriots wouldn’t be responsible for paying Sherman big money after the 2018 season if they decide to swing a deal for the Stanford product. He should still be among the top 10 cornerbacks in the NFL into his age-31 season, and that would be enough to justify the price tag.
In Gilmore and Sherman, the Patriots would have the best cornerback duo in the NFL, and that tandem would be aided almost infinitely by the safety pairing of Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon.
McCourty’s ability to be a cerebral, ball-hawking centerfielder would be huge for Sherman, who is used to having more leeway by playing on the same team as Earl Thomas. Harmon is coming into his own as one of the most underrated coverage safeties in the league, too, and the potential to have the NFL’s best secondary would be enticing, particularly given how weak the Patriots pass rush looks on paper.
The cost of trading a first-round pick for Sherman is steeper than the financial cost, but if Butler exits to New Orleans, the Pats need a legitimate replacement. They could draft a guy, but would it be wise to trust a rookie alongside Gilmore and Eric Rowe? I’m not so sure about that. Sherman would be more aggressive than a simple “replacement” for Butler—he’d be an upgrade. But given what we know he can bring to the table, he’d be worth it.
There’s this idea that Sherman rocks the boat too frequently, but I don’t think the Patriots would be worried about that. This hasn’t been a problem for the Pats in the past, and they didn’t exactly seem worried about trading a first-round pick for Brandin Cooks, who didn’t seem too happy with his situation in New Orleans before leaving. Sherman is a passionate football player and a brilliant tactician at the cornerback position, and those are two things that Belichick undoubtedly respects.