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Seahawks release Richard Sherman, but their teardown might not be over yet

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Sherman defined the most successful era in Seahawks history, but moving on is necessary for a team whose Legion of Boom years are in the rearview.

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Richard Sherman transformed from fifth-round draft pick to bonafide superstar in seven seasons with the Seattle Seahawks. Now he’ll have to prove he’s still one of the league’s best cornerbacks in a new city. The Seahawks informed the four-time All-Pro on Friday that they would be releasing him, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

It was made official in the afternoon with the team tweeting a statement to bid Sherman farewell:

The move has been expected for a while and reports started ramping up earlier this week, with teammates and even Sherman’s mom hinting about his exit on social media.

ESPN’s Josina Anderson provided some insight on their reasoning:

It also marks the official end of the Legion of Boom, the Seahawks’ group of defensive backs who have terrorized opposing quarterbacks since Sherman entered the league in 2011.

Through a combination of age, salary, and injuries, the Seattle defense is shedding loyal soldiers left and right this offseason. Sherman’s exit is the latest, but it might not be the last.

How did the relationship between Sherman and the Seahawks come to this?

Sherman’s tenure in Seattle ended on a sour note. The shutdown defender bid a tearful goodbye to the regular season after suffering a torn Achilles’ tendon in Week 10. Injuries decimated the Seahawks 2017, leading to a 9-7 campaign and the end of their five-year playoff streak.

He planned on playing this season as the final year of a four-year, $56 million contract inked back in 2015. However, signs Seattle was preparing to move on from the veteran cornerback manifested as early as last year, most notably when the team put him on its trading block during the offseason.

Sherman will now move to another franchise in need of a game-changing corner who talks a big game and then backs it up. Several teams have been linked to the former All-Pro whenever his name has come up as a possible trade target, and a handful of secondary-needy teams stand out in a rich field of suitors.

There’s still a slight chance Sherman returns to Seattle. The impasse between team and player revolved around the $13.2 million the club owed Sherman in 2018. Sherman, who recently underwent Achilles surgery, might have a hard time finding a new home willing to meet his asking price. If so, the Stanford grad could return to the Seahawks on a cheaper contract that reduces his cap hit and potentially retains him into 2019 or beyond.

They’ll have to do so while working with the seven-year veteran directly, however; Sherman is working as his own agent this offseason.

What does this mean for the Seahawks?

Release Sherman is a painful step toward Seattle’s rebuild. Injuries have prevented the Seahawks’ Legion of Boom defense from living up to its high standard the past three seasons, leading to a 1-2 playoff record after two straight Super Bowl appearances. As its core members — Sherman, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Cliff Avril, Bobby Wagner, and Michael Bennett — got older and more expensive, it became more and more difficult to keep them together and effective.

Months after missing out of the postseason for the first time since 2011, the franchise has been proactive. It started in January, when Pete Carroll fired several of his coaches, including defensive coordinator Kris Richard.

On Wednesday, Seattle shipped Bennett (and a seventh-round pick) to Philadelphia in exchange for a fifth-round draft pick and wide receiver Marcus Johnson.

With 17 players set for free agency and limited cap space, the departures of Bennett and Sherman could be just the first in a series of dominoes to drop for the Seahawks. Cornerback Jeremy Lane is also being released. Thomas is another potential trade candidate (for the right price). There are also questions as to whether or not Chancellor or Avril will return after suffering major neck injuries in 2017.

Trading away Bennett sent his $6.65 million deal to Philadelphia while absorbing just $555,000 in salary. Jettisoning Sherman saves another $11 million in salary cap space that can be spent to retain players like Paul Richardson or Sheldon Richardson or chase offensive line help for Russell Wilson on the open market.

The Seahawks of 2018 and beyond will likely look much different. While the defense undergoes its radical makeover, the offense still has Wilson, and it’s clear now more than ever that the team is being built around him.

What can Sherman bring to his next team?

There are two caveats that will hang over who he signs with — the Achilles injury that threatens to sap Sherman’s speed and athleticism and the fact that the cornerback will turn 30 in a few weeks.

Then again, straight-line speed was never a hallmark of his tenure with the Seahawks. He’s used his atypical size (6’3, 195 pounds) and his intelligence to offset his other deficiencies, allowing him to dissect plays and jump routes with little lag due to decision time.

When he’s at the top of his game, there’s no one better in coverage. In seven seasons, he’s knocked away 104 passes while adding 34 interceptions.

He certainly believes he’s still elite:

His inability to restructure his near-expiring contract with Seattle suggests he won’t come cheaply. But if he can return to health, Sherman can bring a wealth of experience and knowledge to his new team.

According to Sherman, that team needs to have a “great quarterback” in place.

The 49ers are the early favorite to be Sherman’s next team with the cornerback meeting with the team Saturday, one day after his release. But there’s no shortage of interested teams.

Sherman defined the most successful era in Seahawks history. Losing a player of that stature hurts, but it was a necessary move for a team whose Legion of Boom years are in its rearview.