It appears the Richard Sherman injury caper may end up being a lot about nothing -- perhaps the “foolishness” Sherman said it was.
Ian Rapoport of league-owned NFL Network reported the NFL is not expected to punish the Seahawks much, “if at all,” for not reporting their star cornerback’s knee injury late this past season. Coach Pete Carroll disclosed Sherman’s “significant” injury without being asked two days after Seattle’s season ended last month.
The league reportedly was considering taking away a second-round draft choice from the Seahawks. Seattle is already minus a fifth-round pick in April’s draft for a third violation of too much hitting in what are supposed to be non-contract organized team activities in the offseason.
In their cooperation with the league’s fourth investigation of the team in six years for potential violations of team rules, the Seahawks assuredly pointed out Sherman not only didn’t miss a game, he played in the Pro Bowl all-star exhibition late last month.
"Honestly, I didn't realize we hadn't revealed it," Carroll said last month, two days after Seattle lost in the divisional round of the playoffs at Atlanta. "I don't even remember what game it was, it was somewhere in the middle ... I don't know.
"He was fine about it. He didn't miss anything."
Carroll mentioned on Jan. 16 that Sherman played with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his knee while describing how difficult a season it was for the three-time All-Pro and how much weighed on him.
So what was the big deal?
Before the 2016 season began the NFL sent to each of its 32 teams a reminder of its policies on official injury reports. In it is this subsection for practice reports:
"The Practice Report provides clubs and fans with an accurate description of a player’s injury status and how much he participated in practice during the week. If any player has a significant or noteworthy injury, it must be listed on the practice report, even if he fully participates in practice and the team expects that he will play in the team’s next game. This is especially important for key players whose injuries may be covered extensively by the media."
There are precedents for the league fining teams for not disclosing injuries, particularly to star players. In 2009 the NFL fined the New York Jets $125,000 for not reporting an injury to quarterback Brett Favre, for instance.
Sherman’s knee injury never showed up on any of the team’s daily practice reports, nor on injury reports due to the league 48 hours before each game. In six of the last seven game weeks to end the season, he missed one practice. The team listed the reason for those absences as "NIR." That stands for "not injury related."
Asked why Sherman’s injury never showed up on a practice report, Carroll said last month: "I don't know. I'm feeling like I screwed that up with not telling you that because that happened, but he was OK.
"So I don't know. He never missed anything, which is probably why."
The NFL previously investigated the Seahawks in 2012, ’14 and ’16, all for alleged violations of limits on player contact during spring minicamps. All three times the league fined Seattle after finding the team broke NFL rules. In September, the league fined the Seahawks $400,000, Carroll $200,000, took away a fifth-round draft choice this year and three of its OTA/minicamp practices this spring.
So it would be a surprise if the Seahawks don’t at least get fined for what appears to be a violation of the league’s practice- and injury-reporting policies.
Yet Carroll saying "my mistake" after the fact that Sherman was playing with a significant knee injury and dealing with the possibility of a sanction -- or now perhaps nothing at all -- from the league is preferable to the Seahawks than opponents knowing Sherman was playing while potentially compromised. Foes’ game plans would have targeted that potential weakness with top wide receivers and pass plays. That potentially would have been more costly, in a pragmatic sense of wins and losses, than a possible fine or other league rebuke.
Carroll met one more time with Sherman after the team returned from Atlanta early Sunday, before the three-time All-Pro began his offseason. Sherman had a tumultuous December and January. He screamed at offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and Carroll for play-calling decisions during the Dec. 15 win over the Los Angeles Rams. Then he threatened the career of a Seattle radio host and ended his weekly press conferences he called his "privilege" to the media.
"I just wanted to make sure we left on really good terms," Carroll said. "We talk a lot. I talk with him all the time. I just wanted to make sure to touch base one more time, because it was a difficult year for him.
"The media thing was a big deal and all that. He made it through it. It was hard."