It’s hard to remember the last time an NFL player had to publicly defend his contract like Richard Sherman has. Then again, most players don’t represent themselves in negotiations.
Sherman wants that to change.
The common reaction to Sherman’s deal with the San Francisco 49ers is it was team friendly. While various numbers have been reported, it seems to be a three-year deal worth a little more than $27 million, with $3 million fully guaranteed and for realistic purposes $7 million in guarantees in all. Sherman got a $3 million signing bonus and if Sherman passes a physical to trigger a $2 million roster bonus, he’ll very likely get his $2 million base salary too. There are All-Pro and Pro Bowl clauses that trigger bonuses and more guaranteed money, which is risky for a 30-year-old cornerback coming off a torn Achilles.
The deal was criticized in the media, which happens, but the story took a turn when former Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas criticized Sherman. You don’t see players rip other players’ contracts.
“The biggest misconception is that it’s a bad deal,” Sherman said in his introductory 49ers news conference Tuesday. “If you’re comparing it to my last deal in Seattle, I had no money guaranteed. If I’m basing it off my last year in Seattle, and you compare it, I’ve got no money guaranteed in Seattle, coming off a ruptured Achilles, what security do I have there? With this deal I get $5 million guaranteed, which is half my other contract, and I have the ability to make more than I could have done whether I played at an All-Pro level or not in Seattle. That’s really all I wanted. If I play at the level I’m capable of, I feel security in the upcoming years. I’m comfortable with that.”
For the most part, if a player is comfortable with his contract then it’s odd why anything else would matter. Sherman wanted guaranteed money, which he didn’t have with the Seattle Seahawks this season before they cut him, and Sherman was fine betting on himself playing well. But athletes’ salaries are publicly consumed, which is why Sherman was defending his deal in his first 49ers news conference and via a first-person story in The Players’ Tribune.
Clearly the story was unique because Sherman decided to negotiate without an agent. He took note of that.
“The thing I’m most frustrated about, all the people who were so high on bashing this deal refused to bash the agents who do awful deals every year,” Sherman said. “There are agents who do $3 million fully guaranteed deals that look like $50 million. When a guy gets cut after two weeks, or after a year and he gets $5 million of a $50 million contract, nobody bashes the agent.”
Sherman then brought up the contract of Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham — and didn’t get Bradham’s name right, which makes a double faux pas in one swing — who signed a five-year, $40 million deal this offseason. It’s a typical NFL contract, which includes a lot of non-guaranteed money at the end of it that probably won’t be paid out. Sherman said Bradham is guaranteed only one year and $6 million on a deal that was reported as five years and $40 million, and Sherman viewed that as a typical deal that agents don’t get second-guessed for.
“These agents sometimes benefit from relationships – ‘Oh, I know this GM, we’ve had dealings for years’ – and they really don’t have to do a ton of work,” Sherman said. “‘Hey, I called this guy, how much are you willing to give him? $5 million? OK, I’ll convince him that’s good enough.’ Instead of guys being able to control their own destiny and control their own finances.”
Sherman said he has heard from players who were thinking about negotiating their own deals, and Sherman hopes he “gave them the confidence to move forward with it.”
And he says the criticism of his deal is based on agents not liking the idea of players representing themselves. Obviously, that’s bad for their business.
“I think this was one of those things where agents feel uncomfortable with a player taking the initiative to doing his own deal,” Sherman said. “It obviously puts a fire under them, it makes them more accountable for their actions because more players will do this.”
Time will tell if Sherman’s deal was a good one — “So talk to me in three years,” he wrote in The Players’ Tribune — though if he’s fine with it then it shouldn’t matter. Maybe it will be a groundbreaking one, if other players are willing to deal with the same type of criticism Sherman has faced.
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