Byron Maxwell is apparently back.
Reports from NFL Network and ESPN Monday said Seattle’s starting cornerback in its 2013 and ’14 Super Bowl seasons is returning to the Seahawks on a one-year contract. What that really means is a deal for the remainder of this season.
The 29-year-old Maxwell started 17 games at right cornerback in 2013 and ‘14 for Seattle, plus all six of the team’s playoff games in those seasons. That includes starts in Super Bowl 48 and 49.
News of the agreement came four days after the Seahawks lost Sherman, their All-Pro left cornerback, for the rest of this season to a torn Achilles tendon.
Maxwell has been a free agent since Miami released him on Oct. 24. He made two starts this season for the Dolphins. They wanted to shed him so much they ate his $8.5 million guaranteed salary for this season while cutting him.
Miami is still paying Maxwell. That’s on top of the prorated amount of the veteran minimum salary to which Seattle will likely be signing him.
Maxwell began his NFL career with Seattle the same season Sherman did, in 2011. He was drafted in the sixth round by the Seahawks that year, one round after they drafted Sherman.
Maxwell signed a six-year, $63 million contract with Philadelphia months after his final start for the Seahawks in Super Bowl 49 in February 2015. That 2015 season was the only one he played for the Eagles. Philadelphia traded him in March 2016 to the Dolphins. He started 13 games for Miami last season, then fell out of favor with that team, too.
At 6-foot-1 and 198 pounds, Maxwell has the size and length the Seahawks like in cornerbacks. And he is more qualified than most free agents currently available. Maxwell obviously knows coach Pete Carroll’s step-kick technique off the line of scrimmage and Carroll’s coverage system that many Seattle imports (remember Cary Williams?) can’t grasp.
Because of that Maxwell conceivably could play in the Seahawks’ next game, at home Monday night against Atlanta (5-4).
When the Seahawks (6-3) host the Falcons Monday it will be their first game without Sherman since 2010. That was before he entered the league as Seattle’s fifth-round draft choice a year later.
They’ve played 105 consecutive regular-season games, 12 more in the playoffs — including two Super Bowls and the franchise’s only NFL title — with Sherman there. He’s started every Seahawks game on that corner since Oct. 30, 2011.
“He’s just been a bastion of consistency, competitiveness and toughness through all of the stuff that we’ve worked through. It’s been awesome,” Carroll said. “It’s been hard. It’s been challenging. And he’s been extraordinary. Almost an iconic player in this league.
“He’s going to have to sit. I’ll try not to go overboard on this, but that’s just the way I feel. We’ll miss the heck out of him. He’ll be with us every step of the way when he can, but we’ll miss the heck out of him.”
For years, opponents have usually avoided throwing to Sherman’s side of the field. That has often left the other Seahawks defenders having to defend only 75 percent of the field.
Those days and weeks are over, at least for this year.
Maxwell’s arrival suggest how far veteran Jeremy Lane has fallen out of favor with Seattle’s coaches in this his second year of a four-year, $23 million extension with the team.
Lane replaced Sherman for the final 1½ quarters in the win over the Cardinals. Seattle traded him to Houston a couple weeks ago while acquiring left tackle Duane Brown. But Lane had a bruised thigh and strained groin at the time and had missed two of the last three games when he failed his trade physical with Texans doctors.
The Seahawks got Houston to agree to a amended deal: Brown and a fifth-round choice of Houston’s in 2018, and the Texans got a third-round pick in 2018 from Seattle plus a second-round choice in 2019.
Lane, 27, has started 19 games and played in 62 during his NFL career, all for Seattle. He’s been the Seahawks’ primary nickel back inside in recent seasons. He had a poor ’16 season in coverage and penalties, then began this season as the starter at right cornerback, opposite Sherman, because DeShawn Shead was recovering from reconstructive knee surgery.
Then Lane got ejected early from the opener Sept. 10 at Green Bay for a pushing altercation with Packers receiver Davante Adams. On Oct. 1, after four starts, he strained his groin during the win against Indianapolis. Rookie Shaquill Griffin took Lane’s right-cornerback job, and Justin Coleman his nickel spot.
Now, Lane’s healthy and seemed like Sherman’s immediate replacement, until Monday’s news of Maxwell’s return.
Maxwell could be arriving for depth behind Lane, but the Seahawks already had Neiko Thorpe for that. Odds are they wouldn’t be bringing back Maxwell to have him stand on the sidelines.
Maxwell’s reported contract agreement suggests Shead may not be back anytime soon to even practice, let alone play. The Seahawks’ 2016 starting right cornerback has been on the physically-unable-to-perform list all season following reconstructive knee surgery in January and a clean-up procedure this summer.
Carroll said on his weekly show with Seattle’s KIRO-AM radio Monday that Shead would not be returning to practice this week, that he has “hit a bit of a plateau” in his comeback.
The team has until a week from Tuesday, the day after Week 11 of the NFL season, to decide whether he’ll return to practice. If that answer is yes before or by Nov. 21, Seattle has three weeks to either add him to active roster or put him on injured reserve for the rest of this season. If it is no, the team could put him on injured reserve.
Sherman turns 30 before next season, the last one of his contract. His salary for 2018 is scheduled to be a non-guaranteed $11 million, with a $13.2 million salary-cap charge.
Any idea the Seahawks might offer Sherman another extension before next season is a more remote possibility with his injury. The Achilles tear also greatly reduced his and Seattle’s leverage for any trade, which the team so publicly entertained last offseason.
For now, the Seahawks seem more likely to welcome Sherman back for 2018 at his current pay, or perhaps after asking him to restructure his deal down to a more team-friendly cap number. That would offer him the opportunity to earn the extension and be motivated for a strong rebound season, plus possible free agency riches in the spring of 2019 at age 31.
As Maxwell arrives, there remains a gaping hole on the left side of the Seahawks’ defense that hasn’t been there since September 2011.
Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and the Falcons will be spending all week preparing to target Seattle’s new weakness next Monday night.