When the 2021 NFL season began and all 32 teams had their 53-man rosters set, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers led the league with 16 players who were 30 years old or older. Obviously, these Buccaneers do not shy away from adding more, shall we say, seasoned players. Or to be more exact, they know how to pick them. Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Brown, Ndamukong Suh, Jason Pierre-Paul…if you can still play, age is just a number.
So it was no surprise to see the Buccaneers add an "insurance policy" for a banged-up secondary by signing 33-year-old cornerback Richard Sherman, a five-time Pro Bowler. Recent results suggest that Sherman can indeed still play – he was a Pro Bowler as recently as 2019 before missing 11 games last year – and moreover, he seems to have a Brady-esque refusal to let his play decline with age.
"I think I bring a level of leadership and accountability," said Sherman on Wednesday after his first practice as a Buccaneer. "I think I bring a high level of play. I think sometimes from the outside looking in people think, he's this old and that changes the way you play, but it really doesn't. My standard of play is just higher. The standards that people hold me to are just higher. I'm not allowed to have bad games. I'm not allowed to give up catches without getting killed. I think the accountability part, I'll bring that, and hopefully I'll earn the respect of my teammates."
There's little doubt of that. Safety Jordan Whitehead, one of the many very young players that have made up the Buccaneers' secondary for the past three seasons, said Sherman had a noticeable presence right from his very first walk-through with the team on Wednesday. The 11th-year veteran has a level of NFL experience – not just in terms of years but also within excellent defenses and on teams that routinely battle for championships – that is unmatched in the rest of the Bucs' secondary.
"We haven't had this, so we're all new to it," said Whitehead. "The first day you never know what to expect. He came in and we told him we're all young, we kind of need that leader. He came in today and he started giving us a lot of tips, talking ball with us. He fits right in like he's been here for a while."
How quickly Sherman will make an on-field impact for his new team has yet to be determined, but both Sherman and Head Coach Bruce Arians seem to be aiming for Week Five against the Dolphins as the best opportunity to make his debut on defense. Both feel that Sherman could use a second week of practice to get a good grip on Todd Bowles' schemes before he has to try to translate it to the field. Sherman also hasn't played a game since last December and might need some time to get in peak football shape. Arians said "a bunch" of players would have to be hurt before Sherman got into Sunday's game in New England.
"We'll see," said Arians. "We'll measure everything he does. We have all those ways of measuring every movement in their body. So, we'll measure some of that and see how he goes, see what he does tomorrow and see where he's at."
In addition to his leadership and veteran savvy, the Buccaneers could use Sherman's playmaking ability in the secondary. A two-time first-team All-Pro, Sherman has 36 interceptions over the past 10 years, more than any other player in the NFL in that span. He had four picks in 20 games over the past two years in San Francisco and he also broke up 12 passes. He's joining a team that has high expectations for the 2021 season, and a bunch of teammates he will surely expect a lot from him.
"It's exciting," said wide receiver Mike Evans, who has had some highly-entertaining battles with Sherman. "Looking forward to see what he can do for us. It's great to have him as a teammate. He's an all-time great player. 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."
As for adding yet another 30-something established star to the roster, well, those players seem to attract each other. To no one's surprise, Brady got into the effort to recruit Sherman to Tampa, giving him a shout even before the Bucs came calling with an offer. Sherman said that call from Brady helped him warm his wife, Ashley, up to the idea of him going across the country to play football.
"Tom has actually called," he recalled telling Ashley. "Once he calls, it's like you better come or you're going to regret not coming. That's what it seems like. That definitely went into the conversation, and she was right on board. She thought this would give me the best opportunity to go do what I love, to go play at a high level and to have a chance at chasing a trophy."