Cornerback Richard Sherman’s decision to sign a one-year deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, on paper, makes sense. Sherman needs a job, and he seems to be in a better place mentally more than two months after his early-morning arrest in suburban Seattle.
And the Buccaneers need help at corner, with Sean Murphy-Bunting on injured reserve and Jamel Dean reportedly out a couple of weeks with a knee injury. Tampa made room for Sherman on its roster Wednesday by placing wide receiver Scotty Miller on IR.
But is this a move of desperation or savvy on the part of the Buccaneers, who lost last week for the first time since Thanksgiving weekend 2020? Put more bluntly, does Sherman have anything left in the tank at age 33?
Can Richard Sherman still play at a high level?
Sherman, whose 36 interceptions since 2011 are the most in the NFL, addressed those doubts during his podcast announcing his decision to sign with Tampa.
“I feel comfortable and confident in my abilities to go out there and execute and help that team win,” said Sherman, who appeared in just five games for the San Francisco 49ers last year due to a calf injury. “I’m ready to strap ’em back up and go out there and show that these old legs still got some juice.”
Sherman, of course, won’t be the player he was a decade ago when he had 24 interceptions in his first four NFL seasons. If he could still play at that level, he wouldn’t have been without a job for the past six months.
But will he be the player from 2019, who limited opposing quarterbacks to a passer rating of just 63.0? Or the player from 2020, who surrendered 4 touchdown passes on 29 targets?
Richard Sherman’s advanced stats
First off, it’s important to note that the Buccaneers are not getting a bad player, even if he is diminished. The advanced statistics suggest Sherman was either an average or slightly above-average cornerback in his three seasons with San Francisco.
His yards allowed per completion were 9.5 in 2020, 8.6 in 2019, and 12.0 in 2018. The NFL’s average was 10.5, 10.6, 10.5, respectively.
His yards allowed per attempt the last three years were 6.9, 8.6, and 7.4, compared to the NFL median of 7.3, 7.2, and 7.3.
In 2020, his completion percentage against was a garish 72.4%, but the previous two years, he beat the league average. And his interception percentage the past two seasons was well above the median.
Is he a fit in Todd Bowles’ scheme?
Sherman has dropped 15 pounds this offseason, and assuming he’s healthy, should still be able to run. It’s not like he was ever a burner, anyway, but instead thrived using his size, technique, and ball skills.
But he’s also presumably going to be asked to do something he did little of in Seattle and San Francisco — play a lot of man coverage. That’s what Todd Bowles does with regularity in his blitz-happy scheme. Through three weeks, no team had blitzed more times (61) than the Buccaneers.
Sherman, meanwhile, thrived in Seattle’s system of Cover 3, playing more deep zone.
“It’s about having an understanding of the game, having an understanding of positioning and getting my body in the right position to be successful,” Sherman said on his podcast. “… In a decade of work, you see just about everything. I think over the years, I’ve given myself the best opportunity to be successful by studying, and I plan on doing a ton of that. I think Todd calls a great game, and I think it’ll go hand in hand.”
Tom Brady had enough confidence in Sherman’s fitness and position flexibility that he took it upon himself to recruit the five-time Pro Bowler. The Buccaneers have a win-it-all mindset this year, with only one deficiency — their defensive backfield. If Sherman can play like he did even in 2019, it’ll be a win-win. And if not, he’ll go to the bench when Murphy-Bunting and Dean return from injury.