Requiem for the Legion of Boom: Seahawks Draft for Life Without Sherman

Mike TanierNFL National Lead WriterMay 2, 2017

Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman (25) walks onto the field with safety Kam Chancellor (31) and defensive back DeShawn Shead (35) prior to an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)
Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

On Thursday, Richard Sherman posted a photo on Instagram of himself standing next to Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor on the football field. "Some things never change," read the caption. 

It was a reassuring message to many Seahawks fans, who feared Sherman would be traded during the first round of the NFL draft. That opening round came and went without incident for Sherman. The Seahawks made a first-round deal, but it was to trade down, not to move on from their famously disgruntled superstar cornerback.

Sherman stayed put. The Legion of Boom will be back for 2017. Great news.

But look carefully at the photo, and you can see something is not quite right.

It's old, first of all. Sherman and his teammates are wearing pink accessories with their uniforms, so the photo came from a game during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The photo appears to be from the Seahawks' regular-season victory over the Falcons, their only home game in October last year. Sherman squabbled with teammates and coaches about coverage miscues on the sideline during that game. So...not exactly the best of times.

Also, Sherman is a little out of focus in the picture, as he was for much of last season and all of the offseason. It gives the photo a little bit of a Back to the Future vibe. Look at it again after a week or a month, and you may notice the players are slowly fading.

Sherman was not traded, but he was on the block. Seahawks general manager John Schneider was frank about efforts to trade Sherman, and multiple sources verified Sherman's desire to be traded.

After the first round, Schneider said he received "calls about, like, tons of players. Not specifically Richard." Common sense dictates few teams were calling about Russell Wilson or trying to break up the mighty Seahawks offensive line. There was a price tag for Sherman's services. It was just never met.

Thomas will be coming back. Probably. His murmurs about retirement are long in the past. But rehab from his fractured leg will make him a limited participant in OTAs, so he won't be wearing a helmet next to Sherman anytime soon.

That leaves Chancellor. Except Chancellor had surgery on both ankles in January. And DeShawn Shead, the latest D'Artagnan to the Three Legionnaires, is recovering from an ACL tear he suffered in the playoffs.

The trio was at OTAs (after some brief early absences), but it has been months since all three were on the field together, and it will be months before it happens again. The Seahawks would be foolish to pretend Sherman, Chancellor and Thomas will be capable of playing at a dominant level much longer.

Still, what happened on the second and third days of the draft was shocking.

Things started quietly for the Seahawks. They selected hyper-talented defensive line project Malik McDowell at the start of the second round and addressed their tragicomic offensive line by grabbing center Ethan Pocic later in the round.

But then the team that had traded back for an extra slate of mid-round picks started stockpiling defensive backs, and it did not stop until it was clear nothing would be the same again in Seattle.

The third round brought Shaquill Griffin, whose game bears more than a passing resemblance to Sherman's, and Delano Hill, a strong safety whose superhero nickname could be Kid Chancellor.

Free safety Tedric Thompson and his ball-hawk reputation arrived in the fourth round, and Michael Tyson and his reputation for reading plays and flying forward in run support came in the sixth. Merge Thompson and Tyson into one player, and you might get Thomas. Thompson, in fact, idolized Thomas and Chancellor as a young player (though in fairness, it would be hard to find a draft-worthy safety who didn't).

New Seahawks cornerback Shaquill Griffin: tall, tough and sure-handed, like a certain frustrated superstar.
New Seahawks cornerback Shaquill Griffin: tall, tough and sure-handed, like a certain frustrated superstar.Michael Conroy/Associated Press

That's an entire Junior Achievement Legion of Boom. Sherman and Co. may still be in the picture, but the Seahawks are preparing for life without them.

That's a shocking new attitude for a team that once planned to build a dynasty around a secondary that some (like me) consider the best in NFL history. Sherman and Thomas signed four-year contract extensions, for $56 million and $40 million, respectively, after the Seahawks' victory over the Broncos in the Super Bowl three years ago. Chancellor has been playing under a $28 million contract signed the previous year and hasn't always been happy about it (see: his 2015 holdout). Wilson's scrambling miracles defined the Seahawks offense, but the Legion of Boom was the franchise's present, future and identity.

Now, it is the injured, restless present and the very cloudy future.

Chancellor is in the final year of his contract. Thomas and Sherman can be affordably released after this season. The thought of any of these three players becoming cap casualties would have been ludicrous this time last year. Now, it's inevitable someone will have vanished from that photo by this time next year.

The new Seahawks defensive backs should not be disregarded as "depth" or "insurance" selections just because they arrived in the middle and late rounds. Seattle entered the draft with needs all over the roster. It has fielded the most hapless offensive line of any playoff team in NFL history for two years. No wide receiver besides Doug Baldwin caught more than 50 passes last year; Tyler Lockett, the team's designated deep threat, is still recovering from a severe leg injury. If they were going to draft in volume at any one position, the line and receiving corps were the most likely candidates.

The Seahawks did draft receiver Amara Darboh in the third round, but not until after they had selected Griffin and Hill. And after they picked Pocic, their offensive line was back-burnered until after Thompson and Tyson came aboard.

Here's the most remarkable "tell" about the significance of the new arrivals: Before they took Griffin on Friday, the Seahawks had not selected a defensive back earlier than the fifth round since they drafted Thomas 14th overall in 2010. Sherman, of course, was a fifth-round pick in 2011; long-departed Legion member Byron Maxwell was a sixth-rounder that year; Chancellor a fifth-rounder in 2010; Shead an undrafted rookie in 2012.

Newly drafted Seahawks safety Tedric Thompson idolized Earl Thomas, and soon he may replace him.
Newly drafted Seahawks safety Tedric Thompson idolized Earl Thomas, and soon he may replace him.David J. Phillip/Associated Press

For six years, through an entire Super Bowl cycle dominated by the play of their defensive backs, the Seahawks never felt the need to make serious investments in a new batch of defensive backs. Until now.

Seattle is preparing for life after the Legion. And while the end still looks like it's a year away, all it could take to bring an era to a close is an injury or just the right trade offer.

Wise franchises prepare for the future, but it's stunning to see how quickly a team's priorities can change from "let's win with these guys" to "let's get ready to win with the next guys." The Seahawks crushed Peyton Manning in one Super Bowl and nearly beat Tom Brady in the next. Then they fell flat against the Panthers in one set of playoffs and flatter against the Falcons in the next.

The Legion has lost a little luster each season, because of injuries and Sherman's metastasizing disenchantment, but it always looked poised to bounce right back into the Super Bowl if everyone got healthy at once and Wilson finally got a block now and then. Now, it's win immediately or we break up the band. But no one sounds healthy or happy enough to win immediately.

That's life in the NFL. Irreplaceable All-Pros become replaceable. Players in their late 20s—Sherman and Chancellor are 29, and Thomas will turn 28 this weekend—go from superstars to tired horses ready for the pasture. Eras come to quiet ends in the late rounds of the draft.

Everything happens much sooner than you think it will. Sherman can post all the Instagram photos he wants, but that's the one aspect of NFL life that really never changes.

    

Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeTanier.