In a sense, cornerback Richard Sherman was merely responding to a Tom Brady audible.
With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in need of help in the secondary, the legendary quarterback made a call to Seattle to help lure Sherman across the country. The free-agent cornerback, less than three months removed from the lowest moment in his personal life, had brief discussions with the Seattle Seahawks and more involved ones with the San Francisco 49ers about resuming his career. Then came the call from Brady.
“Once he calls,” Sherman said, “it’s like you better come or you’re going to regret not coming.”
Sherman understands regret. He has been receiving counseling since being arrested for an incident at the home of his wife’s parents in Redmond, Wash., in July.
He pleaded not guilty to five misdemeanors: second-degree criminal trespass, malicious mischief in the third degree, resisting arrest, driving while under the influence and reckless endangerment of roadway workers. In a 911 call, his wife told authorities he was drunk and threatening suicide.
It was a stunning development for a face-of-the-franchise player from Dominguez High in Compton, who made the unlikely rise to prominence as a fifth-round pick out of Stanford in 2011 and rounded into a leader of dominant defenses for the Seahawks and 49ers. Although occasionally controversial and bombastic — remember him screaming in Brady’s face after the Seahawks beat New England? — Sherman was widely regarded as a good and community-minded guy off the field, making his personal meltdown even more surprising.
Sherman has begun the arduous process of addressing his issues and piecing his life back together.
“There’s always a silver lining to everything,” Sherman, 33, told reporters this week. “Obviously, it was an unfortunate situation and regrettable. But it led to some really positive changes. Some help. Some therapy. Some tools that I didn’t have before to address some things that you kind of let stack up in your mind.
“You never have time to address them. It’s not the right moment. It’s not the right place in your life to deal with these emotions and feelings. It really forced me to step back and go ask for help and get the help I need, and not be afraid and be [too] proud to ask.”
He said he’s been flooded with texts and messages from other people, including players, dealing with similar concerns, although he declined to get into specifics about the issues.
“You always feel like you’re alone,” he said. “You always feel like, ‘Hey, man, I’m the only one dealing with this. I don’t want to burden anybody else … ’ In the Black community, it’s one of those things that you’re never taught to do, taught to seek counsel, to seek help.
“You always feel like, ‘Hey, man, I’ll deal with it. Tough it out. Let’s get on to the next play.’”
Sherman credits his wife, Ashley, with keeping him moving forward both personally and professionally, by staying on track to resume his playing career.
“She’s been a huge part,” he said by phone. “Her support with the kids has been monumental. Just my process and my growth and healing, and also my preparation for this moment, and even the ability for me to fly across the country on this journey with this team.
“My wife was the one who would get me out of the bed when I didn’t feel like getting up, didn’t feel like going to work out, or go run, or going to see the therapist, or going to treatment. She’d be the one who said, ‘Get your butt up. Get out of the house.’”
The Buccaneers are glad she did. They need help at cornerback with starter Jamel Dean suffering a knee injury against the Rams last week that will sideline him for Sunday’s game at New England. Although Sherman is unlikely to step right in and play, he should provide depth soon enough.
“He’s got so much to learn, and he hasn’t had pads on in so long,” Tampa coach Bruce Arians said. “But he does know how to play the game.”
Sherman, a five-time Pro Bowl selection and member of the 2010s All-Decade Team, has 36 career interceptions and 115 passes defensed. One of his iconic moments came in his second season when the Patriots played at Seattle, and the Seahawks overcame a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win. As they were walking off the field, Sherman found Brady and screamed, “You mad, bro?” That photo, with the caption “U mad bro?” became a tweet and then a meme.
Of course, that was more pro wrestling than reality, with Sherman and Brady striking up a friendship behind the scenes.
“I think people get confused [by] on-the-field stuff, but we’ve texted over the years and have had a really cool relationship,” said Sherman, whose Seahawks suffered a bitter, last-second defeat to New England in the Super Bowl two years later.
“I always thought it would be really cool to play together if we had the opportunity. It’s crazy how things shake out.”
Said Brady: “I like Richard a lot. I got to know him on that one particular day out there. He was kind of young and brash and excitable. I threw him a pick, that was the problem. I should have never tried him, but I didn’t quite know the scouting report as well as I should have.”
The Buccaneers coaching staff was especially familiar with Sherman, as Arians, offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles all coached the Arizona Cardinals. Until signing with Tampa Bay, Sherman had spent his entire career in the NFC West.
Asked about Brady making a recruiting call, Arians said: “When you want to talk about a veteran player and you want to win a championship and Tom calls you, you’re going to listen, especially knowing the roster we have. I think there are a bunch of veterans out there wishing [Brady] would call them.”
The coach said he was unconcerned about Sherman’s troubles over the summer.
“I’ve known him a long, long time, 10-11 years, so one incident, that doesn’t affect me,” Arians said. “We all make mistakes.”