Richard Sherman shakes hands with Tom Brady after Super Bowl XLIX.

Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports

Tomase: Richard Sherman, not Aqib Talib, the answer for Patriots at corner

John Tomase
March 08, 2018 - 9:30 am

Of all the iconic images from the Patriots' Super Bowl victories, one belongs near the top of the list.

Malcolm Butler's miracle goal-line interception had just repelled the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX. Quarterback Tom Brady dropped to one knee in a moment of shocked repose, a football tucked beneath his right arm, his chin resting in his left hand.

Looming over him, an unlikely rival extended his hand. Seahawks corner Richard Sherman had once taunted Brady with a photo captioned, "U mad bro?" after a 2012 victory. Now he was offering his sincere congratulations after New England's classic 28-24 victory gave Brady his first title in a decade and his fourth overall.

A brash talker practically from the day he entered the league, Sherman had done his part between the lines that night in Arizona, recording three tackles and blanketing the left side of the field. The Patriots threw away from him virtually all game.

But now that it was over, Sherman exhibited class, sportsmanship and grace. He recognized what Brady had just accomplished in completing a then-record 37 passes in 50 attempts for 328 yards and four touchdowns. As the two shook hands, Brady told Sherman, "You're a great player."

I've always thought that moment said more about Sherman than any of the histrionics or hubris (which are wildly entertaining in their own right). At his core, he's a competitor who recognizes greatness even when it sends him into the offseason with a shot to the Adam's Apple.

We're talking about Sherman today because reports out of Seattle point to his looming release. Nothing is official, but Sherman's departure feels like a matter of time.

The timing creates an obvious storyline for the Patriots, because the Broncos could be preparing to part ways with a brash corner of their own in Aqib Talib, and the former Patriots standout would reportedly like to return to New England.

This presents a fascinating question of whom you'd rather have, and colleague Ryan Hannable made a compelling case for Talib, but for me the answer is easy.

Sherman, Sherman, Sherman, Sherman.

With all due respect to Talib, who helped anchor a championship defense in Denver, Sherman plays at another level. Sherman will start opposite Darrelle Revis on whatever All-Decade team he's eligible for. Talib is great, but he's a second-teamer.

The question is health. Sherman ruptured his right Achilles' tendon in Week 10, and recently underwent minor surgery on his left Achilles as well.

Signing a corner with one bum heel is bad enough, let alone two. But Sherman is no ordinary corner. At age 29, he's two years younger than Talib. He's a four-time Pro Bowler and three-time first-team All-Pro. Talib, by comparison, has made five Pro Bowls and one All-Pro team.

Sherman is a lockdown corner in the mold of Deion Sanders -- at his best, teams simply ignore his side of the field. But unlike Prime Time, Sherman isn't afraid to get his nose dirty. He's an above-average tackler and willing impediment in the running game. He earned his membership in Seattle's Legion of Boom.

No corner in the league has been better than Sherman since 2011. According to the NFL Research Twitter account, no one has more interceptions (32) or passes defensed (99), and no player with 300-plus targets has allowed a lower completion percentage (47.4) or passer rating (50.9) than Sherman.

He's also been more durable than Talib overall, though his latest surgeries now call that into question. Sherman didn't miss a game until blowing out his Achilles in November, a streak of 105 games. Talib, however, has yet to play 16 games in a season and has missed 25 games throughout his career.

While both players are colorful, Sherman is legitimately thoughtful. The Stanford grad has no problem speaking truth to power, and bringing him to New England could create some awkward moments, given Sherman's Deflategate criticism of Patriots owner Robert Kraft, whom Sherman considered too buddy-buddy with commissioner Roger Goodell to actually get punished. Kraft fired back by calling Sherman a "marketing whiz."

With Patriots head coach Bill Belichick seemingly tired of off-field drama, Sherman could be dismissed as too much of a headache. But considering how consistently he has backed up his words with dynamite play, bring it on.

Sherman showed Patriots fans his true character after Super Bowl XLIX. Assuming he can pass a physical, that's not a player you run from -- it's one you build around.

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