In March 2018, Richard Sherman and the San Francisco 49ers agreed to a contract.
Sherman had just been released by the Seattle Seahawks, where he’d spent the first seven seasons of his NFL career. He was also just a few weeks away from his 30th birthday and was coming off a season-ending ruptured Achilles — a scary injury for a cornerback — and two surgeries to fix it.
And he didn’t have an agent; a vice president of the NFL Players Association executive committee and a union rep for his teammates, Sherman has long advocated that players’ use their voice and power for their own good.
So when the actual details of the contract came out nearly two years ago, that while headlines said three years, $39.1 million, in actuality it was an incentive-laden, one-year, $8 million deal, and Sherman was heavily criticized.
On Friday, the Stanford graduate relished the chance to call out those who doubted him, and we don’t blame him.
‘Fans please find me those receipts’
After he was voted to the Associated Press All-Pro second team triggering a $2 million bonus, Sherman took to Twitter, asking followers, “Fans please find me all those ‘He negotiates a bad deal’ receipts...I wanna see something.”
He got well over 700 responses, many of them screenshots of old tweets from football fans, sports writers, and even Joe Thomas, who had officially retired from the Browns a week before Sherman signed with San Francisco.
Thomas tweeted at the time that Sherman was “letting ego [get] in the way of his pocket book,” and Sherman responded that it was actually a case of believing in himself as a player while coming off a major injury.
On Friday, Sherman pulled up that tweet and said to Thomas, “Remember this? Pockets looking right.”
Sherman called out others who had disparaged his decision, and for others he just commented “hahahaha,” metaphorically laughing at their expense.
Now a five-time Pro Bowler (he earned a $1 million bonus for his most recent selection, last month), Sherman has earned the right to crow.
The truth is, he probably wasn’t going to get much in guaranteed money with another team in 2018, though there were others that showed interest; Sherman’s first visit was to the 49ers and he never went elsewhere. His first year with San Francisco was structured in such a way that if it didn’t work out, or if he wasn’t fully healthy, the team could cut ties without much of a financial hit.
Teams do that with players coming off injuries who do have agents all the time.
The Niners signed linebacker Kwon Alexander in free agency last year, when Alexander was coming off a torn ACL. Headlines touted it as a four-year, $54 million contract, but in reality it was a one-year, $15 million deal, and his salary for 2020 isn’t guaranteed until this coming April.
‘No agent fees for me’
Sherman bet on himself, which lots of NFL players have done, whether they were coming off injury or there was something else going on behind the scenes.
And he isn’t the first player to negotiate his own contract: his former Seahawks teammate, Bobby Wagner, negotiated his own record-setting deal last July, and likely 2019 NFL MVP Lamar Jackson doesn’t have an agent either, though Jackson’s rookie contract is slotted by draft position under the terms of the CBA. (Devil’s advocate: offensive tackle Russell Okung also did his own deal with Denver in 2016 and that was a bad contract for Okung.)
“No agent fees for me. Get to keep the money that I earned,” Sherman tweeted Friday.
If there is one place where Sherman is being a little disingenuous, it’s here: NFL agents can get a maximum of 3 percent of a player’s contract, but these days, elite players are paying as little as one percent. So if we theorize that Sherman’s agent would get two percent, he’s saved roughly $750,000 in agent commission.
That’s of course nothing to sneeze at, and in the case of Wagner, whose deal is for up to $54 million, it’s a savings of well over $1 million at that 2 percent commission.
Is it worth it? To Sherman and Wagner and Jackson, it clearly is. A good lawyer and a good advisor to lean on during negotiations can cost a fraction of an agent, and those men can now spread the gospel of working for yourself.
The danger, if there is one, is that this method isn’t for everyone. Sherman is highly intelligent; not all NFL players are, just like there are members of the U.S. population at large who are brilliant and others who aren’t. Players also have to be willing to be ruthless and risk damaging the relationship with their coach, general manager and/or team owner if negotiations go poorly or are dragged out.
That didn’t happen in Sherman’s case — he’s so beloved in San Francisco, GM John Lynch agreed to pay his $1 million playtime bonus even though he fell a bit short after missing one game to a strained hamstring.
‘Talk that talk’
Some will of course be critical of Sherman still, in part because some people love to knock him and in part because some will think it in bad taste the way he called people out on Twitter and took a victory lap.
But Sherman didn’t get where he is being docile. He’s been knocked throughout his career for being outspoken, usually unfairly, and the one-time fifth-round pick has played at a high level for years on the field. He’s worked off the field on behalf of his fellow players, and is so active in several communities that he’s the 49ers’ Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee.
Later Friday, after Wagner tweeted his list of accomplishments thus far this season — worked his own deal, Pro Bowler, All-Pro, Forbes’ 30 under 30 sports list, Payton Man of the Year nominee — Sherman told him, “Talk that talk.”
And we say the same to Sherman: talk that talk. You gambled on yourself as a player and negotiator, and it’s all worked out for you. Let ‘em know, feed ‘em some crow. You’ve earned it.
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