TAMPA — Opportunity with the Bucs never knocks. Most of the time, it arrives via a ringtone when Tom Brady calls for help, as he did with Rob Gronkowski, Leonard Fournette and Antonio Brown.
Shortly after the Bucs needed a two-minute drive to set up a winning field goal to beat the Cowboys 31-29 in the season opener Sept. 9, Brady contacted Richard Sherman to see if the five-time Pro Bowl cornerback was almost ready to join him in Tampa Bay.
Sean Murphy-Bunting suffered a dislocated elbow in the game, and the Bucs had allowed Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott to pass for 403 yards and four touchdowns.
“Tom actually called, and once he calls, you’ve either got to come or you’re going to regret not coming,” Sherman said Wednesday. “That’s what it seems like. That definitely went into the conversation.”
About a week or so later, Sherman said the Bucs’ front office contacted him about joining the team. Those discussions intensified after the Bucs’ loss to the Rams on Sunday in Inglewood, Calif. He arrived in Tampa on Tuesday night and announced Wednesday morning he had signed a one-year contract.
Serving as his own agent, Sherman agreed to a deal that includes a $1 million base salary and per-game roster bonuses that could total $350,000. With performance incentives, the 33-year-old could earn $2.25 million.
“I think when you talk about veteran players who want to win a championship, when Tom calls you, you’re going to listen … especially with the roster he has,” coach Bruce Arians said. “I think there’s probably a bunch of veterans out there wishing he’d call them.”
With the addition of Sherman, the Bucs have five members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s All-Decade Team of the 2010s on their roster, a group with a combined 21 Super Bowl appearances among them: Sherman, Brady, Gronkowski, Brown and Ndamukong Suh. Brady recruited three of them to Tampa Bay.
“(Sherman is) an all-time great player,” wide receiver Mike Evans said. “Very, very smart player — one of the smartest players to ever play this game, and I think he’s going to help us a lot.”
About nine years ago, the pairing of Sherman and Brady didn’t seem possible. That’s when a postgame Twitter comment Sherman directed at Brady launched an internet meme and a lucrative T-shirt business.
“U mad bro?” Sherman tweeted following the Seahawks’ 24-23 comeback win over the Patriots in October 2012.
Sherman said he and Brady have texted each other over the years and always thought it would be “cool” to play together if they had the opportunity.
“We exchanged jerseys maybe four or five years ago, and he said, ‘I’m still mad, bro.’ He wrote it on the jersey,” Sherman said. “He’s a great sport about everything. He’s just a competitor. We’re a lot of the same spirit in that regard. … That’s what kind of attracted me to come, because I know he’s the same kind of animal I am.”
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Shortly before 11 a.m. Wednesday, Sherman walked onto the Bucs’ practice field wearing a No. 5 jersey, not his familiar 25. He was the only player in full pads.
Sherman engaged in conversation with cornerback Carlton Davis and safety Jordan Whitehead. The starters in the secondary are young, with Davis serving as the old guy of the group at 24 entering his fourth season.
We’re all young, and we kind of need that leader,” Whitehead said. “(Sherman) came in (Wednesday) and started giving us lots of tips and was talking ball with us. He fits right in.”
Still, Sherman said it would be unrealistic for him to think he could play Sunday at New England.
“I’ll need at least a week of practice to hone into things and play at the level I’ve been before,” he said. “I think it would be foolish to expect me to come out this week and play at a super high level. If I did it, it would be another thing to chalk up as a cool thing I did. But I think the expectation is to train and get in shape and give me an opportunity to play the following game.”
Sherman had some leverage during contract talks and was talking to several teams, including the 49ers, with whom he played the past three seasons, and Seahawks, with whom he played his first seven in the NFL. However, neither of those teams had made a formal offer.
He talked to his wife, Ashley, who gave him the green light to leave the West Coast, where he has always lived and played, to come to Tampa Bay.
“She thought this was the best opportunity to go do what I love and play at a high level and have a chance to chase a trophy,” Sherman said. “Obviously, in San Francisco they have a fantastic team as well. … I tried to wait as long as I could to avoid the heat or whatever this is. But I think I timed it right.”
Physically, Sherman had to get in shape without the benefit of a structured offseason or training camp. He is said to be down to 195 pounds and had played about 10 pounds heavier coming off an Achilles injury with the 49ers.
Mentally, he also has been a work in progress.
Sherman was arrested in July, accused of drunkenly crashing his SUV in a construction zone and trying to break into his in-laws’ suburban Seattle home. He has pleaded not guilty to five misdemeanor charges, including driving under the influence and second- degree criminal trespass. He said he has been getting counseling since his arrest.
A first DUI offense results in a three-game suspension, according to a provision in the NFL’s substance-abuse policy added in 2020. No sanctions would apply to Sherman until his case is adjudicated.
While calling the situation “unfortunate” and “regrettable,” Sherman said it ultimately led to necessary changes in his life.
“It ended up being a positive thing, and I do feel like I have the support system in my wife and my family and obviously here,” he said. “We talked about it, and (the Bucs) have a great team, a great staff, who are very aware and helping.”
Contact Rick Stroud at email@example.com or 727-709-5982. Follow @NFLSTROUD.