Byron Maxwell found himself in a tough situation. The cornerback was apparently so bad in his 15 games with the Miami Dolphins that they released him in late October despite weaknesses in the secondary and the hope that they had as a 2016 playoffs team. Regardless of a forced fumble that Maxwell had late in a 20-6 loss to the New York Jets in Week 3, the Dolphins kept him inactive for the next four weeks and elevated rookie Cordrea Tankersley to starter.
On October 24, Miami cut Maxwell but held onto his $8.5 million dead salary cap hit — The only benefit to releasing him was the prospect that the team would be better off using that 53rd roster spot on someone else. The Dolphins actually lost their next five games after that and currently rank 28th against the pass by DVOA, but holding onto Maxwell probably would not have helped much, if at all.
Per ProFootballFocus, Maxwell was targeted nine times, allowing eight catches for 115 and a touchdown. Maxwell continues to make key tackles, highlight stops, and had a good play late in the game, but on a pass-to-pass basis is such a significant downgrade from the lockdown abilities of Richard Sherman that you can’t even really compare past Seattle defenses to this one. My concern was that the Seahawks couldn’t win more than one playoff game without Sherman and the play of Maxwell so far has done nothing to quell that pessimistic outlook.
It’s not even really pessimism, it’s just a realistic look at the situation at hand: Sherman is an elite cornerback and Maxwell was a half-step out of the league a month ago. The Philadelphia Eagles traded him after only one season and Miami barely lasted more than one.
Speaking of the Eagles, the worst drive that the Seahawks had on defense all game against Philly last Sunday included two long passes to Nelson Agholor — one for 51 yards and the other a 27-yard touchdowns — both times when he was meant to be covered by Maxwell. He also ended the game with an interception, but only on a desperation throw from Carson Wentz with barely more than 2 minutes remaining.
Seattle’s next vestige of hope that comes in the form of DeShawn Shead. A teammate of Maxwell’s with the Seahawks from 2012-2013, Shead eventually took over Maxwell’s old spot opposite of Sherman in 2015. (Cary Williams interfered in between.) He started 21 games from mid-2015 to the 2016 playoffs, tearing his ACL in the postseason. Shead practiced last week and could potentially get back to the field this Sunday against the LA Rams. Whether or not he’d be an improvement over Maxwell, who knows, but additional reinforcements are more than welcome at this point.
Maxwell’s coverage abilities are just so far behind Sherman’s that the Seahawks are now navigating December waters that they haven’t seen since 2010, the year before Sherman was drafted. That showed up against the Eagles, it showed up against the Jaguars, and it is likely to show up against the Rams, Cowboys, and Cardinals. There’s no way to get Sherman back or to get a cornerback near his caliber right now, but if Seattle is going to make it back to the postseason, an improvement at that position will be absolutely necessary.