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Sunday NFL Thoughts: Can Richard Sherman fit with the Patriots defense?

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Could the Patriots still be interested in acquiring the Seahawks cornerback?

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1. The New England Patriots reportedly reached out to the Seattle Seahawks about the potential for acquiring CB Richard Sherman. Most assumed that potential ship sailed once the Patriots inked CB Stephon Gilmore to a 5-year, $65 million contract- but what if that door is still open?

CSNNE’s Mike Giardi curiously tweeted that it was “still worth exploring” a Sherman trade “if Butler situation can’t be solved,” implying that there’s a world where the Patriots pair Sherman and Gilmore together in the secondary.

It should be fantasy to pair the 29-year-old Sherman (4th highest paid cornerback at $14 million per season) with Gilmore (7th highest paid cornerback at $13 million per season), but it’s important to look at the actual contracts. The pair would combine for a $20.0 million cap hit in 2017 and for a $23.6 million cap hit in 2018.

That sort of money is not unprecedented. The Patriots would be the fifth team with a cornerback duo with a combined $20+ million cap hit: the New York Giants ($24 million) with Janoris Jenkins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie; the Denver Broncos ($21.9 million) with Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr.; Washington ($21.9 million) with Josh Norman and Bashaud Breeland; and the Los Angeles Rams ($20.7 million) with Trumaine Johnson and Kayvon Webster.

If the Patriots acquired Sherman, I’m also sure they would find a way to modify his contract to tack on a few extra years at the end of the contract and to reduce his cap hits in 2017, 2018, or both. Sherman can also be cut after the 2017 season without any dead money if he completely flames out (which is highly unlikely). The money shouldn’t be the problem.

2. From a schematic standpoint, the Patriots are also a great fit for Sherman. Sherman is still a top notch cornerback, although he saw a slight dip in his performance when FS Earl Thomas suffered a season-ending injury and as the #2 cornerback on the Seahawks roster kept changing.

Sherman spent 89.6% of his snaps in a cover 0, 1, or 3 scheme last season, per Pro Football Focus, which marked the highest rate in the league. Cover 1 and cover 3 requires an elite free safety and if you can’t have Earl Thomas, then Patriots FS Devin McCourty is the next best thing.

The Patriots play a far more versatile defensive scheme than the Seahawks, but there are some shared characteristics. The Patriots would use both Sherman and Gilmore in man coverage on the outside with McCourty as the high safety to take away the deep ball. Patrick Chung and perhaps Cyrus Jones or Justin Coleman will cover the slot and the interior of the field.

Acquiring Sherman wouldn’t be like forcing a square peg in a round hole. Sherman makes a lot of senses from a schematic view.

3. But what about the cost of acquisition? What would it take to acquire Sherman? The Patriots don’t have a pick in the first two rounds, but they have a pair of third rounders. They are pretty much not allowed to pick until the end of the fourth round thanks to DeflateGate.

If the Patriots acquire Sherman, there’s no way that Malcolm Butler would remain in New England, as we can extrapolate from Giardi’s note, so Butler is absolutely a trade chip in this circumstance. Pulpiteer SmashmouthD highlighted a possible Butler-for-Sherman swap in the FanPosts section and it’s a concept that deserves a second glance.

Butler will be a cheaper option than Sherman, no question about it, because Butler’s 2017 contract is $3.91 million under the first round restricted free agent tender. Butler is also two years younger than Sherman and is coming off a better season.

Adding Butler into the calculus would mean the Seahawks would have to pay the Patriots draft compensation.

The Seahawks have never been afraid of sending top draft capital away for proven players, like how they acquired TE Jimmy Graham and WR Percy Harvin, so maybe Butler would fall into that same category. If the Seahawks would be willing to give up the 26th overall pick straight-up for Butler (hypothetical, I know), then perhaps Sherman and the 58th overall pick for Butler would make sense. Or Sherman and the 90th overall pick for Butler. Maybe a pick swap would be involved.

But Sherman could fit from a contractual and schematic standpoint, and could be acquired alongside draft compensation if Butler is also moved to Seattle. This is all just a fun exercise in Mental Madden as we create theoretical trade scenarios- but what else is the offseason for?

4. Amazon Prime will be issuing their second All or Nothing series and it will be on the “Rams return to Los Angeles.” Last year’s series followed the Arizona Cardinals.

The series does a great job of going behind the scenes and there will inevitably be great footage from the Patriots 26-10 victory over the Rams in week 13- and probably some more footage of Richard Sherman and the Seahawks.

The Rams were a disaster and went 4-12, winning just one of their final 12 games (9-6 over the hapless New York Jets!). If nothing else, it will be like watching the annual Fourth of July hot dog eating contest- it won’t be pretty and someone will probably throw up.