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Little reason to believe that Richard Sherman’s career is winding down

Seattle Seahawks v Los Angeles Ram Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Despite not-so-far-off memories of him dominating elite receivers as a young cornerback who breathed life into the Seahawks defense, many Seattle fans seem to have already parted ways with Richard Sherman in their minds. They’ve gotten a taste for the excitement of a trade — specifically a vet-for-pick (aka rookie) deal that would instantly make the defense younger — from Sherman’s request to be shopped in 2017 and envisioning what LOB 2.0 could look like, without acknowledging the reality that LOB 2.0 is probably going to be a significant downgrade. Regardless of how great of a defensive backs coach Pete Carroll is, arguably the greatest in NFL history, it’s just going to be difficult to replicate Sherman-Earl Thomas-Kam Chancellor.

Instead, I’m telling you that Sherman is not that old, and in fact could have a much greater value from 2018-2021 than your average first round pick. The proof is in his predecessors.

The first thing I decided to do when trying to evaluate Sherman’s career status at this age (he turns 30 on March 30) was look for other cornerbacks who were as dominant in their 20s. The not-perfect, not-wholly-inaccurate way for me to do this was to check for other corners who achieved at least four Pro Bowls in their 20s. Sherman is one of 21 to do so in the modern era.

Pro Bowl Cornerbacks

Player Pro Bowl seasons Age 30 AV Post-30 PBs Last season
Player Pro Bowl seasons Age 30 AV Post-30 PBs Last season
Champ Bailey 8 3 4 35
Patrick Peterson 7 n/a n/a n/a
Mike Haynes 6 1 3 36
Darrelle Revis 6 10 1 32?
Rod Woodson 6 0 5 38
Eric Allen 5 9 1 36
Lester Hayes 5 7 0 31
Lemar Parrish 5 8 3 35
Deion Sanders 5 15 3 38*
Roger Wehrli 5 10 2 35
Dale Carter 4 6 0 36
Jerry Gray 4 7 0 31
Ty Law 4 3 1 35
Ronnie Lott 4 14 3 35
Sam Madison 4 7 0 34
Frank Minnifield 4 2 0 32
Asante Samuel 4 6 0 32
Everson Walls 4 5 0 34
Aeneas Williams 4 10 4 36
Charles Woodson 4 8 5 39

What is outlined above:

  • Total Pro Bowls achieved as a cornerback in your 20s. This is where we see the absolute dominance of someone like Champ Bailey, and also that Richard Sherman is in pretty elite company. *Patrick Peterson’s first Pro Bowl nod came as a kick returner, but even at six he’s accomplished.
  • Age 30 season AV is the player’s Adjusted Value (per Pro-Football-Reference) for that year. It is only meant as a barometer, giving us an idea of how much they have played and contributed after exiting their 20s and entering their 30s. Interestingly, there almost does seem to be a bit of an age-30 curse, because a lot of the players who struggled that season bounced back in later years.
  • Post-30 PBs is the number of Pro Bowls those players accomplished after turning 30, and including 30. For some of these players, the Pro Bowl appearance came at another position, like safety, but that should not be discounted in Sherman’s case either. Whether he’s a Pro Bowl player at corner, safety, or linebacker, he could still have value in his 30s.
  • Last season is the age that player was during their last season in the NFL. In the case of Darrelle Revis, we don’t know if he’s going to return in 2018. Even if he wants to, there may not be a team that is interested beyond a training camp/preseason invite. Revis turns 33 in July and is part of the DB purge by the Kansas City Chiefs after getting released in early February. Deion Sanders retired after playing for the Baltimore Ravens at age 38, but took three years off prior to that.

One thing you’ll notice, when removing Peterson because he is still only 27 (turns 28 in July), is that 12 of the other 19 players had at least one Pro Bowl appearance after turning 30. Part of that could be reputation — a player was a perennial Pro Bowler in his 20s, lets reward him again if he does even have-decent, right? But that requires a little more digging.

Look at Ty Law.

Law was a first round pick in 1995 and maybe the best corner in the NFL in 1998. During his age-30 season, Law won his third Super Bowl with the New England Patriots, then was released by Bill Belichick because he carried a cap hit over $12 million (insane for 2005?) and had just turned 31. Law signed with the New York Jets and made the Pro Bowl that season. A “gift” from fans and the league? Doubtful, because Law recorded an NFL-best 10 interceptions that season. The Jets still released him after the season for cap reasons, and he played the next two years as a starter for the Kansas City Chiefs. He hit the market again at age 34 and returned to the Jets, but only played in seven games. He played one more season, joining the Denver Broncos, then retired after having played to 35.

Law was a valuable player until age 33 and then perhaps a valuable presence at 34 and 35.

Eric Allen also stopped being a regular presence in Hawaii after turning 30 (his last Pro Bowl came at that age, his first with the New Orleans Saints) but that mean he stopped being valuable. Allen started in 88 games from age 31-36 and during his age-35 season with the Oakland Raiders, he recorded six interceptions, three returned for touchdowns. That team went 12-4, toppled only by the dominant 2000 Ravens in the AFC Championship.

How about a tough story, like that of Dale Carter? He had no Pro Bowls after turning 30 and was never more than a role player at that point, but he was also extremely troubled off of the field. Carter was suspended for a whole season for substance abuse problems way before Josh Gordon was a thing, and that came when he was 31. After that he played for three teams in four years, never starting more than half-a-season. But Sherman has no off-field problems. He’s brash. He’s boastful. He’s probably a little too big for his helmet at times. But he’s never going to get in trouble with the league or be a problem in that way, at least based on everything we could know about him.

Asante Samuel was a teammate of Law’s for two years in New England, winning the Super Bowl in 2003 and 2004, but he didn’t really come out of the gate and dominate like Sherman or many others on this list. He blew up in 2006 with 10 interceptions and had about a five-year stretch of Pro Bowls and intrigue with the Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles. Sherman has clearly been in a class of about four or five other corners since he came into the league in 2011 and has gotten by on a lot more than interception totals. Even that being said, Samuel had eight interceptions from age 30-31. He was seen as “washed up” when released by the Atlanta Falcons in 2014, at age 33, and that may have been the case. But Sherman is a better player than Samuel ever was and Samuel even had productive years at 30 and 31.

For most of the rest of the corners and defensive backs here, we’re looking at an average age of retirement around 35 or 36. Charles Woodson played until he was 39, even making the Pro Bowl as a safety that year with the Oakland Raiders. Rod Woodson went until 38, having made the Pro Bowl as a safety at age 37, also with the Raiders.

Champ Bailey, 35. Aeneas Williams, 36. Mike Haynes, 36. Lemar Parrish, 35. Sam Madison, 34. Everson Walls, 34. This isn’t just “every corner,” these are the great corners and safeties of the NFL, most of whom probably played in a decade recent enough for you to remember watching them on TV. Sherman qualifies as a great corner, as well as one who didn’t miss a single game until last season, when he was 29. The Achilles tear is certainly an obstacle, but hardly one that is impossible to overcome and being 30 is way too young to consider it as a career-killer; I’ve had this conversation with Twitter doctor David Chao before, and most injuries are really just seen as “career-killers” when said player is too old or too replaceable for him to make it back to a team in a competition with someone who is younger and cheaper.

Sherman is 29 as of this posting. He tore his Achilles on November 9, putting him about 10 months removed from the injury once the 2018 season starts. If he succumbs to an age-30 “lost season” because of it, it won’t mean the end of his career. Rod Woodson missed the 1995 season with the Pittsburgh Steelers, when he was 30, then made the Pro Bowl at 31. Then again at 34, 35, 36, and 37.

Mike Haynes missed 11 of 16 games when he was 30, then returned to be an All-Pro at ages 31 and 32. Bailey missed seven games during his age-30 season (he had missed only three games total in his first nine seasons) then returned to the Pro Bowl at age 31, 32, 33, and 34.

Though we can all agree that Bailey had run out of steam by 35:

If you’re giving up on Richard Sherman, you’re giving up too soon. You’re giving into your desire for the Seahawks to get younger without considering that Sherman himself has a higher probability for success from 2018-2021 than any rookie would because we already know how special Sherman is as a player. Getting cheaper and cutting down on the cap is absolutely a consideration, but know that you’re also likely getting weaker at one of the four-most important positions in football (my opinion) in doing so — so hope that Seattle spends that money wisely.

I still just prefer they use it to keep Sherman around for a few more years, before his contract expires in 2019. He’s probably got plenty more left to give.