PHOENIX — In September 2015, Pete Carroll stood at the podium next to Kam Chancellor at the Seattle Seahawks’ practice facility and made sure he was delivering a clear message.
Chancellor had held out into the first two games of the season, both Seahawks losses. But he was back now. Carroll knew he needed his Pro Bowl safety in the right frame of mind if Seattle was going to turn its season around.
“Kam’s going to be with us for a long time,” Carroll said that day. “We hope he will always be a Seahawk.”
It was a masterful performance by Carroll. He swatted away question after question about the holdout and focused solely on Chancellor’s value to the organization.
Carroll talks often about messaging. He is aware of his stage, his audience and how his words are going to be interpreted. That’s what made his comments Wednesday about Richard Sherman’s trade availability particularly noteworthy.
“You’re either competing, or you’re not. And so we’ve always had to be open for everything, every suggestion that comes along,” Carroll said. “There have been some teams that have called, and so we’ve talked about it. But he’s extremely important to our football team.
“I don’t see anything happening at all. And I don’t see anything happening with any other players, just the banter that’s out there right now. But it has been talked about. He’s a great player and can impact another team. I can see why people would be interested in him.”
Making sense of Carroll’s words requires some reading between the lines.
He could have showered Sherman with love, as he did with Chancellor back in 2015. He could have skillfully shot down all trade rumors and pointed out what an important player Sherman is to the future of the franchise. He could have noted how last season is behind him and how the Seahawks are counting on Sherman to help lead a team with Super Bowl aspirations in 2017.
Carroll did not go that route. He and general manager John Schneider delivered a different message. They announced to the 31 other teams that Sherman is available at the right price.
But why? The most obvious answer is that they’re guarding against a repeat performance of Sherman’s 2016 season.
“Richard went through a lot last year,” Carroll said. “Most of it self-inflicted.”
In Week 6 of last season, after the Seahawks’ defense busted a coverage that led to a long touchdown by the Atlanta Falcons, Sherman and defensive coordinator Kris Richard engaged in a shouting match on the sideline. Several defensive players had to surround Sherman and calm him down.
In Week 15, after the Seahawks’ offense attempted a pass from the 1-yard line against the Los Angeles Rams, Sherman went after Carroll and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell on the sideline before teammates separated them.
Following the game, Sherman opened up old wounds from Super Bowl XLIX and referenced Russell Wilson’s interception against the New England Patriots.
“I was letting [Carroll] know. We’ve already seen how that goes,” Sherman said of the playcall.
Days later, Carroll indicated that Sherman was apologetic and realized that what he did was wrong. When Sherman spoke publicly, however, he said he had no regrets, doubling down and defending his actions.
Carroll admitted he “was a little surprised” at Sherman’s lack of remorse. The next week, Carroll said the Seahawks held a “special meeting,” in part to address Sherman’s outburst and make sure the team was ready to move forward.
Sherman downplayed the effectiveness of the meeting and said it was more valuable to the younger players than the veterans, who had heard the message before.
“We have a kumbayah meeting just about every year,” Sherman said at the time.
On many levels, trading Sherman would be a monumental gamble. This is a Seahawks team that is ready to compete for a Super Bowl right now. Sherman has never missed a game in his NFL career and played at a Pro Bowl level once again last season, despite a knee injury. The Seahawks are already thin at cornerback, and the 29-year-old is one of the best in the game.
More likely than not, Sherman stays put. Any team that wants to trade for him will have to be willing to take on his salary: $11.431 million in 2017 and $11 million in 2018. That team would also have to meet the Seahawks’ asking price.
Perhaps the Seahawks are expecting Sherman to return but don’t want him to feel untouchable, given how last season played out. Such a strategy could end up backfiring. Doug Baldwin, who has been Sherman’s teammate since Stanford, spoke recently about the cornerback sometimes letting his pride get in the way.
Will hearing his name in trade rumors lead Sherman to improved behavior in 2017 or more defiance?
It’s actually possible that Sherman would welcome a trade, and that could be part of the reason the Seahawks are making it known that they are willing to listen to offers.
“Sometimes people need to see you gone to realize what you had,” Sherman said last week on ESPN’s First Take. “The grass isn’t always greener on the other side. But I don’t let things like that bother me. The chips will fall how they’re supposed to.”
One way or another, the situation got messier this week. If the Seahawks trade Sherman, it will create an enormous hole at cornerback.
And if he returns to Seattle, the two sides will have to make the best of a strained relationship as they try to compete for a Super Bowl in 2017.