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The Trent Sherfield Prophecy
This is real NFL life. The free agent wideout opens up on his rise, "politics" in Arizona/San Francisco and the pastor who foretold it all. There's one guarantee: Sherfield will continue to bust ass.
He hands his infant son back to his wife. This beautiful baby’s snoozing right now, shortly after dinnertime, which means… uh-oh. Another sleepless night. Mom and Dad are getting used to the nocturnal lifestyle. The night prior, they were awake from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m.
To survive, Trent Sherfield is binging episodes of Survivor. A fitting reality show given his NFL career to date. The 6-foot-1, 206-pound wide receiver has every reason to freak out right now.
The barometric here we go again pressure could suffocate this 27-year-old entering his sixth pro season. Only, it’s not. Not anymore. Last season, Sherfield was finally able to show the world what he’s capable of at wide receiver and that’s all the peace he needs while rocking Trent Jr. in the middle of the night. He’d love to re-sign with the Miami Dolphins. While most of the world may see an unrecognizable name — a No. 14 flashing across the screen that requires hours of Googling — Trent Sr.’s fight to this state of bliss represents the true NFL story.
Ignore the Disneyfied simulations on your television screens.
For eight weeks, draft prospects will be romanticized. Pundits are already drooling over quarterbacks chucking the ball 60 yards in spandex and, sadly, those parasitical seven-round mock drafts are infecting our brains. All along, these prospects turning pro adopt a skewed perspective on how this whole pro football thing works. Not everyone gets a bear hug from Uncle Roger en route to 10 Pro Bowls, $200 million in earnings and a gold jacket. This industry does not coddle and nurture and ensure a lifetime of happiness. It’s often cruel. I think about one of Ryan Leaf’s comments often in our emotional interview two years ago. After Vincent Jackson’s tragic death, Leaf couldn’t shake the juxtaposition of how a draft pick enters, then exits the NFL: “This huge emotion of getting hugged by the commissioner,” Leaf said, “and when he retires, it’s ‘Don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out, kiddo. Good luck.’”
Here, via Zoom, Sherfield takes a deep breath and starts the NFL portion of his journey by saying it’s crucial to speak truthfully on the “politics” of the sport. The reality that it is not always rooted in merit.
“A lot of guys who are in that undrafted position and are low on the totem pole,” Sherfield says, “need to hear what I’m going to say.”
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He points to Year 2. The 2019 season with the Arizona Cardinals. That spring, Sherfield trained 1-on-1 with one of the best receiver coaches ever in Jerry Sullivan, “a legend,” who dissected the position down to a science. Releases. Breaks. Footwork. Then, Arizona drafted three wide receivers — Andy Isabella (62nd overall), Hakeem Butler (103rd) and KeeSean Johnson (174th) — to grow with first overall pick Kyler Murray. And Sherfield accepted the challenge. He told himself “let the best man win,” applied the new technique to the practice field, and objectively dominated. That summer, Sherfield outplayed them all.
“I can feel my game just skyrocketing,” he says. “It’s just going really, really well. I had one of the best training camps of my life. I was playing lights out.”
In the preseason, he caught touchdowns in back-to-back games. The first, he roasted the corner for an over-the-shoulder, toe-tapping beaut straight out of a textbook. The second, he slipped past two Raiders DBs for a 40-yard score.
Arizona’s season opener vs. Detroit closed in and the team’s wide receivers coach was brutally honest. “You should be starting,” Sherfield remembers him saying. “But the GM doesn’t want to see you play. They want to see the drafted guys play.” Steve Keim, the head boss, had stepped in. Nothing that transpired from March to September mattered because Sherfield was the UDFA scrub.
A crazy work ethic carried Sherfield to this point. Right then, memories looped in his mind. All the agility drills around leaf bags, all those college letters pinned on his wall, all the 4 a.m. workouts at Vandy. He couldn’t fathom any football team admitting it was playing the lesser talent because the lesser talent was a draft pick.
Sherfield put in endless hours of work… for nothing.
“This is my first time being told ‘No,’ when I rightfully deserved it and earned it and won the spot,” Sherfield says. “But that’s just how the league works. There’s politics. There’s things that are completely out of one's control. And it really hit me hard. That year, I really went into a shell. I was like, ‘F it. If this is how it's going to be? Whatever.’”
He entered a dark place. His NFL career should’ve crashed, burnt.
How Trent Sherfield reached this point is a sage lesson for all. Weathering the mental rigors of professional football is more important than shaving a split-second off your three-cone time.
This receiver insists he isn’t finished yet.
“My whole world opened up”
When you’re a teenager, words are not merely words. Not when they come from loved ones.
Sherfield sees now how badly he needed both messages that sophomore year of high school.
Hard work was always woven into the family’s DNA. His grandmother worked as a Walmart cashier for 16 years. Customers loved her so much they’d specifically wait in her aisle for her services. She cleaned her own register, she got to know everyone on a first-name basis, she took immense pride in a job others would dismiss. His mother had him when she was 16. During the day, Tedrone went to class. At night, she worked at Burger King to bring in diaper money before taking over parent duties. A small village of family members helped raise baby Trent throughout. Before he finished middle school, the family had moved four or five times. Once, Sherfield lived with five family members in a motel room for five months.
Yet here in this small town of Danville, Ill., three hours south of Chicago, Trent was coasting through high school.
His grades were terrible. And with Trent’s biological father long gone, Mom finally spoke up. She always brought both the compassion and the discipline to this household. Point blank, Tedrone told Trent she wouldn’t be able to pay his way through college. When son turned 18 in a couple years? He needed to get out of the house.
“I don't know if that was a scare tactic or what,” son says, “but it worked.”
Around this time, his stepfather spoke up. Their car strolled into the driveway and — before either one opened a door — DaJuan Gouard told Trent he doesn’t work hard enough. He was lazy. When Trent asked what he meant, his stepdad didn’t hold back.
“You say you want to do this, you say you want to do that,” DaJuan told him. “You don’t want to go Division I. You don’t work hard enough.”
Face scrunched in disgust, leaning forward, Sherfield re-enacts his reaction. No, he didn’t enjoy having a riot act read to him. Yes, DaJuan’s perspective was needed. DaJuan was a local star himself who went on to play college basketball at Loyola University — where he averaged 16 points per game as a senior — and then overseas in Europe and South America. He’s been the head coach of the Danville Community College men’s team since 2013. Thus, he supplied a big-picture perspective. He reminded Sherfield that what he does in high school doesn’t matter nearly as much as after high school.
Many other local legends ended up working warehouse jobs at nearby McLane Company.
Sherfield wanted more.
“I just didn’t want to have that label on me,” he says. “I didn’t want to be just another guy that just did well in high school and wasn’t able to do anything after that.”
Right then, it became his mission to prove his stepdad wrong. To start getting letters from colleges. The only answer? Work nonstop. He started setting up a row of leaf bags in his backyard. He’d do high knees. Zig ‘n zag around them until he could pass out. A quarterback and defensive back then, Sherfield called receivers to run routes. All he needed was this kick in the ass.
“That lit the fire up underneath me,” Sherfield says. “After that day? Nobody on earth was going to outwork me.”
Trent didn’t know his biological father until high school. As he says, “the ship sailed by then.” They’re cordial now. As a kid, he was raised by his younger brother’s father (Tomas Reed) up to age 13. They were close. He credits Reed for much of his drive today. When Reed and Trent’s mother split — and Reed left for Arizona — Gouard entered the picture. That’s who his mother’s still married to today. Sherfield also had a pair of uncles serving as inspiration: Dabo and Ayron Washington. In middle school, he’d see both of them get letters from colleges for baseball, for basketball. Staring at that University of Illinois return address one day, young Trent couldn’t wait for his uncle to get home. He tore it open. He read every word. Those letters planted a seed of motivation, and he once his own fire was lit? Playing in college became a reality.
College football coaches don’t schedule Danville into their recruiting trips, so Sherfield knew he needed to latch on with a 7-on-7 team in Chicago.
One cold DM blew the doors open. He asked Paul Szczesny, the president and CEO of “Core 6 Athletes,” how to try out for the team. Szczesny told him they were heading to Ohio State University for a camp and he was more than welcomed. Mom was working. Grandma was working. But one of his mentors, Denver Brigham, was able to transport Sherfield to a Taco Bell in Chicago where the Core Six caravan picked him up and trucked to Columbus, Ohio.
This camp, essentially a tryout for the elite 7-on-7 squad, made a dream feel real. Under the lights… his first time in a collegiate stadium… against the best of the best, it hit Sherfield: This is what I want to do.
Says Sherfield: “My whole world had just opened up. Like, ‘I can really do this.’”
He blew up on his high school team, accounting for 4,790 yards and 64 total touchdowns his two years as the starting QB, but Sherfield didn’t have the luxury of letting these numbers speak alone. He hit the camp circuit hard. He shined on this 7-on-7 team. And when the first college letter of his own arrived, from Iowa State, Sherfield sprinted through his neighborhood in jubilation.
Suddenly, the letters poured in.
The letterhead. The cursive signatures. Visibly seeing that people in positions of power believed in him. Sherfield cherished every single one, pinning each Division I letter on his bedroom walls. When all four walls were covered, he started stacking letters in a crate underneath his bed. It was psychological. Sherfield wanted to wake up each morning and stare at those letters so the goal was clear: This is where we’re going. Considering schools also sent letters to his high school, Sherfield volunteered as a “mail runner” for teachers. That way, he was the first person to see if colleges sent his high school coach anything. (“I didn't want nobody touching my mail!)
These weren’t even official scholarship offers — those came in-person. Honestly, he didn’t even care what the coaches wrote.
“There was something so infatuating about those letters,” he says.
He’ll never forget receiving a letter from his No. 1 choice. Alabama never extended an offer, but hearing from Nick Saban? “Crazy for me, bro,” he says. “Because dang, they see me!” To stay in the SEC, he chose Vanderbilt. James Franklin recruited him as a defensive back, switched Sherfield over to wide receiver, then left for Penn State. Understandably, most from this loaded recruiting class bolted. Some to Penn State, others to Tennessee. It would’ve been easy for the kid with letters all over his walls to embrace virtual free agency. Instead, he stayed. Sherfield liked the fact that Nashville was five hours from home — a healthy distance from Danville — and he wanted to stay loyal.
So as Derek Mason informed Sherfield he’d be moving back to defensive back and he spent the entire summer training at DB only to be told he’d actually be moving back to wide receiver, he didn’t complain. He was admittedly a “terrible” wide receiver as a freshman, too.
The next year, in May 2016, he received a phone call from Mom.
The man who raised him, Reed, had died.
‘I’ve got to get to the league’
Tomas Reed was a competitive individual. Ultra-, ultra-, ultra-competitive. He was always trying to see who could do something “the longest, the first, the fastest,” says Sherfield, who knows he is wired the exact same way. To his knowledge, this is how Reed’s tragic death went down. After splitting with his mother, and moving to Arizona, he was playing around with some kids. They were all seeing who could hold their breath under water the longest.
When Reed submerged, the count was on… and he never came up. He drowned.
He was put on life support. He was soon taken off of life support.
Gone, just like that.
Sherfield cannot imagine the horror on those kids’ faces. He refused to believe the man he called “Dad” for so long had passed. Sherfield kept his first stepdad’s ashes inside an urn at his dorm room.
“It still hurts me to this day,” Sherfield says. “Not being able to really say something to him before he had passed away. That always hurts me.”
He was a busy man that summer. In Nashville, 1,600 miles away, Trent Sherfield was putting himself through a personal boot camp. He chuckles at how ridiculous he and his friends pushed themselves. Honestly? It was too much. Vanderbilt is different than ‘Bama, than Georgia, than Florida, than any other SEC school, he explains, carefully tiptoeing around his point. Informed that he actually needs to go to class and author his own papers at Vanderbilt — a school known for academics — he nods. “Exactly, exactly.” Here, most players have a clear Plan B if football doesn’t pan out. They become doctors.
“For me,” Sherfield says, “my Plan A was my Plan B. I’ve got to get to the league.”
He wasn’t alone. Trey Herndon, Arnold Tarpley and Trey Ellis felt the same way. They stuck around campus for a “Maymester” and, together, routinely woke up at 4 a.m. to catch footballs at the JUGS machine and lift and run and find an edge. All four knew just about everyone else in the SEC was more talented. Hell, they knew they’d get waxed most Saturdays. Vandy never had a winning season in Sherfield’s college career.
“But,” Sherfield adds, “you’re not going outwork us. That’s what we prided ourselves on.”
He learned the intricacies of wide receiver from position coach Cortez Hankton, a former NFL wideout. (“My game went to a whole other level,” he adds. “From constantly just working, working, working, working, working on it.”) He soon had a new big brother in former Vandy star Jordan Matthews. Each offseason, the ex-Eagles receiver returned to campus to train and Sherfield took mental notes. Matthews became his blueprint. They ate lunch together. Watched film. Matthews was proof that the NFL was a real possibility despite all this losing.
His final season, Sherfield caught the NFL’s eye with 50 passes for 729 yards and five touchdowns.
But before he dives into the NFL — into the madness that pushed him to the brink— Sherfield brings up a trip to “All Nations” church. He was in Chicago prepping for his 2018 pro day with trainer Kerry Neal. Sherfield had previously heard a few sermons from the pastor at this church, Matthew Stevenson, and decided to attend a service for himself since he was in town. At the tail-end of the service, Stevenson pointed to Sherfield in the crowd.
He asked the young man in the red shirt to come forward and, first, run back and forth three times.
Then, he prophesied over Sherfield.
“I’m looking at your life,” said Stevenson, mic in hand. “I see that you play college football and you’re in some aggressive training right now. But you are going apostolically into the NFL. It’s not going to go the way you had hoped. … It has been so hard for you to figure out relationships because of what’s on its way to your life. I had you run because the Lord said to tell him, he’s like Jacob. What I’ve done is I’ve touched his thigh. When you ran three times, a miracle was done in your hamstrings.”
To cheers in the pews, the pastor grips Sherfield’s head.
“God did some things in your hamstrings that’s going to put some speed deeper in you.
“You’re about to come to a new level of influence in America. This is your life dream. God wants you to know, because of what you walked away from, I’m going to open up doors of great favor, great success, great opportunity.
“You’re going to very often feel the fire of God and it will be like Samson. The spirit of the Lord will come upon you and power and will enable your arms, your legs.
“We’re sending him into the NFL. We’re sending him into the arena of sports. We’re sending him. We’re sending him. We’re sending him. Father, give him influence, give him access, give him reach, give him depth.”
The scene is powerful. Arms up, eyes closed, Sherfield whispers prayers himself.
To this day, he hasn’t shared the visit with anyone. But everything that happened this point forward truly felt like a “living testimony.” He didn’t know Stevenson. Never spoke to him in his life. But one of the pastor’s messages particularly — that the NFL wouldn’t be what he envisioned — soon was brought to life. For six years, he’s been thinking about this day in Chicago. He relives the footage embedded above.
The Cardinals signed Sherfield as an undrafted free agent in ’18 and drafted those three receivers in ‘19. As he watched each name appear on the screen, Sherfield vowed to work harder than each of them.
To catch every ball thrown his way. To prove he was superior.
“And that’s exactly what I did,” he says. “For whatever reason, it didn’t go the way that it was supposed to go.”
‘In a hole’
We love sports because sports represent the ultimate meritocracy. The best players start because there’s too much at stake.
Ego, however, is a hell of a drug.
Steve Keim wouldn’t be the first, nor the last GM to dictate game play. Obviously, it’s a horrible look for anyone drafting players if Trent Freakin’ Sherfield is showing up three handpicked wide receivers. Which brings us to the two NFLs. There’s the sanitized version gleefully broadcast at podiums. Choose to consume poll-tested chum if you’d like. Then there’s the authentic version simmering behind the scenes that we’re always trying to figure out in these pages.
Granted, Sherfield was suspicious. After tearing up camp, after those preseason touchdowns, after entrenching himself as the Cardinals’ No. 2 — “There was no debate,” he maintains — he was asked to play in the final preseason game. Always a bad sign. And then ahead of Arizona’s 2019 regular-season opener, receivers coach David Raih told Sherfield the GM wanted to see Isabella, Butler, Johnson. Not him. The decision was out of his hands.
He was informed he’d primarily be a special-teams player.
Sherfield immediately entered a dark place.
“I think that I did have depression,” he says. “Just because the amount of work that I was putting in. And just the mental battle going back and forth with myself: ‘Can you do this? Is what God told you real? Is this going to hold true?’ And just continue to put in work knowing that you’re not going to play. I look back on it sometimes and I’m like, ‘How did you do that? How did you continue to, every summer, literally bust your butt knowing that nobody’s outworking you? You’re doing all the right stuff and you’re knowing that you’re not going to play?’”
Sherfield didn’t beg for snaps because, to him, there was no need. It was on the practice tape.
“I’m showing you that I’m better than them at this point in the time of the season. Play me! I couldn’t put the pieces to the puzzle together. Why is this happening? At times, I did have depression, man.
“That really had put me in a hole.”
Many nights when he came home, he barely spoke to his wife. He became a recluse.
Undrafted players disappear for good at this point. Doubt creeps in, they’re waived midseason, perhaps they make a 90-man camp roster the following summer but, soon, they’re forced to create a LinkedIn profile. Or return to that hometown warehouse. Sherfield hunted for any shred of optimism in the brighter corners of his mind. First, he embraced his role on special teams — the fact that he made the team. He could’ve been stashed on the practice squad. Could’ve been cut. He’s heard the “horror stories” of players getting elevated, cut, stashed, elevated, cut, stashed like a piece of meat. Never did he experience such a headache. Arizona’s special teams coordinator, Jeff Rodgers, made him feel valuable as a gunner.
Thank the heavens for Larry Fitzgerald. By then, the two had become extremely close. Back when Sherfield was first on the roster bubble, as a rookie, a few words from the all-time great saved his career. Sherfield had a bad practice. And inside the receiver room, knowing his new friend could get cut, Fitzgerald wrote on a sheet of paper: “Trent, I need you to continue to handle your business because I want you here.” Sherfield made the team and says their relationship “skyrocketed.” He adopted Fitz’s training regiment and philosophy on work itself. Despite cementing his Hall of Fame status eons ago, nobody tortured themselves on the practice field quite like the 35-, 36-, 37-year-old who’d finish with 1,432 receptions for 17,492 yards with 121 touchdowns.
Fitzgerald told Sherfield that nothing he does off the field — endorsement deals, etc. — is possible without sweating like this on it. Even in the offseason, Fitzgerald felt like he needed to earn his round of golf. He’d never hit the links without first sneaking away to the gym.
“He was working like he was undrafted,” Sherfield says. “That was monumental for a young guy coming into the league. You’re thinking NFL is flashy. No, no, no. This is how you’re supposed to do it.”
Fitzgerald also told Sherfield that younger receivers, for most of his 17 seasons, refused to take his advice. Draft picks acted as if they had wide receiver figured out. It blew Sherfield’s mind. He became a sponge.
“You’ll get guys in the league, top-tier guys at their position, and some of them will have the organization by the throat,” Sherfield says. “And they don’t have to necessarily do all the things they’re required to do. They don’t have to practice if they don't want to. As long as they’re performing. Fitz never did that. ‘I’m putting my work in, I don’t care what it looks like I’m putting my work in.’ … I've never seen him miss a game. Nothing like that. Especially for a young guy to be able to see that. As you grow and as you get more influence, as you get more money and contracts, you grow to appreciate the game. And I think that’s the biggest thing that I took away from him is how much he respected the game.”
So, if Fitz believed in him, if Fitz was saying he deserved to play, Sherfield didn’t care what the GM thought.
Most importantly, Sherfield never forgot that sermon in Chicago. This is exactly what the pastor predicted.
“I’m not playing. I’m not making any plays. I’m just on special teams. But God was still showing up because I hadn’t been cut. I made the team as an undrafted free agent. I wasn’t on practice squad. I was still living out my dream and living out exactly what was told to me: ‘Hey, you’re going to the NFL. I’m like, ‘OK, you know what? I’m still here.’”
He was getting a check. He could pay his bills.
He gradually calmed down… while making sure he still listened to that other voice in his head. The one screaming “F all that! I want to play!” He saw two options: 1) Let management win. Mope and wilt and vanish forever. Or, 2) Force Keim to keep him around Year 1 to 2 to 3. Embarrass Arizona by working like he had his entire life. Hearing all of the weapons on offense — Christian Kirk, Chase Edmonds, Fitzgerald — say he should be on the field only fed his confidence.
“Arizona wanted to get rid of me,” Sherfield says. “But I didn’t give ‘em the chance to. I didn't give ‘em that satisfaction.”
Quickly, it became clear the Cardinals should not have selected a 5-foot-9 wide receiver from the University of Massachusetts (Isabella) over an extraterrestrial from another planet (D.K. Metcalf). Bring up this Keim decision and Sherfield correctly notes, “That tells you everything you need to know right there.”
Not that he wants to bash those three rookies.
Bottom line? “Something,” he says, “was taken from me.”
All three picks flamed out. Keim traded for DeAndre Hopkins the next year. Sherfield finished with all of 28 receptions in three seasons and was naïve enough to think the team would tender him when he hit free agency in 2021. Keim told his agent he could return, but only on the league minimum. Per Sherfield, the GM said the team did not view him as a wide receiver. Even worse, he said Sherfield wasn’t capable of playing wide receiver. This comment pissed Sherfield off even more, though he admits he did wonder for a brief moment, “Damn. Is he right?”
The San Francisco 49ers signed him as a special-teams player.
He welcomed the chance to prove to a different staff that he could play wide receiver.
Surely, a new GM and a new coach would let the best man win.
‘Here we go again’
Into Year 4, Sherfield had Larry Fitzgerald’s trainer write up a program. He stayed in the Bay Area all offseason to train. With a fresh environment — Kyle Shanahan as his head coach, Wes Welker as his receivers coach — things were looking up.
“Body was in shape, mind was right. Going to camp, killing camp.”
“It’s the same thing again, bro!”
In Exhibition Game No. 1, Sherfield roasted Kansas City’s entire secondary for an 80-yard touchdown. He led the 49ers in receiving that preseason. This time, he even got a regular-season start and scored the team’s first touchdown of the season at Detroit.
“So I’m thinking in my head, ‘OK, this is it,’” Sherfield says. “Because I made it past preseason. Now, I’m starting. We get to Philly. And my receiver coach, he comes up to me and he tells me, ‘You’re not starting anymore because … They want to get the media off the team’s back because they want to know why an undrafted guy is playing over a first rounder.’ So, I’m like, ‘There’s no way that this is happening again.’”
Welker spoke in the same helpless tone as Raih. It had nothing to do with him. Still, Sherfield didn’t understand. What media? Who cares? He believed he was playing ahead of 2020 first-rounder Brandon Aiyuk because he had earned it.
Exasperation washes across Sherfield’s face as he relives the team instructing him to speak to reporters about the competition.
“Basically,” he adds, “copping the whole organization out. Almost downplaying what I’ve done to get everybody to back off. They were just basically kind of, ‘Hey, this is what the media's saying. Just say that’s not going on. I’m like, ‘OK, alright. Whatever. I have no idea what’s even going on here.’ And then after that game, I didn’t play. The third game, I didn’t play at all on offense. I played only special teams.
“After that happened, I kind of went back into that hole again. I’m like, ‘Here we go again.’”
Dig through the 49ers media archive and you’ll find a seven-minute session that sounds innocent enough. Sherfield joyfully pumps up his own special teams role while saying many nice things about Aiyuk. On the outside, he seemed fine. Inside, he was crushed. He tumbled down the depth chart and caught all of nine balls on 20 targets. When the ball did travel his direction, he admits he wasn’t himself. He allowed the demotion “to take me over mentally.” Mainly because he still had positive voices like Fitz and Edmonds and Kirk in Arizona.
Here? He felt alone. The 49ers experience was actually much tougher on his psyche.
Sherfield feared this cycle was destined to spin year… after year… after year... after year, until he’d finally be ejected from the NFL for good.
“I went into a shell,” he says. “Searching for answers.”
He wasn’t bitter toward Shanahan because it was the special teams coach who actively recruited him. He never viewed himself as “Shanahan’s guy” and cuts San Francisco slack for not realizing he could play wide receiver until he burnt defenders through OTAs and training camp. Nobody expected this. But they were determined to get Aiyuk on the field with Deebo Samuel and Mohamed Sanu, which relegated Sherfield to a blocking role in a run-first scheme.
Aiyuk turned a corner. Sherfield didn’t mind the dirty work, as the 49ers advanced to the conference title game.
Still, this was getting old. Like having his own livelihood snatched away.
“I had this sour taste in the back of my mouth,” Sherfield says. “Man, I won the job. What happened? I didn’t do anything to lose it. So why did it get taken?”
He replayed that pastor’s message. He followed another Fitz-like regiment into the next offseason. He decided to make sure he was prepared for another opportunity if another team even wanted him.
Long-overdue good luck finally came his way.
Only one team was interested in Sherfield that spring and that one team, the Raiders, decided to sign Mack Hollins. But losing Hollins created a vacancy in Miami where — Hallelujah! — resided a head coach who believed in Sherfield. As the 49ers’ offensive coordinator in 2021, McDaniel saw him tear up camp. So, when Sherfield signed his contract — one year, $1,187,500 — McDaniel looked the wideout (and his wife) directly in the eye and said he knew exactly what he had been through his entire career. He promised there would be zero politics in Miami. Words he had been dying to hear.“You’ll have a chance to compete for a job,” McDaniel told him.
The Dolphins traded for Tyreek Hill one week later, in addition to signing Cedrick Wilson to a three-year, $22 million contract. Jaylen Waddle, a sixth overall pick, was also returning. But this promise was all Sherfield needed. He decided to no longer attach emotions to results. Too often, raw emotions sent him on a nauseating “roller-coaster.”
He made a promise to himself to let go, and it paid off.
All pros want is honesty. Grown men can stomach harsh criticism because, let’s face it, they likely had a belligerent high school coach ripping through cigs between drills back in the day.
The disingenuous hard-ass head coach is what gets old in the NFL.
McDaniel may come across as a goofball. His press conference at the NFL Combine was part comedy routine. Players, in droves, cite him as one of the smartest coaches they’ve ever encountered. He genuinely cares. He got Tua Tagovailoa to believe in himself again. So when he says the best players play, he means it. Up and down the Miami roster, that’s how he operated in 2022. Sherfield points to wide receiver River Cracraft. He went undrafted in ‘17, bouncing from Denver to Philly to San Fran to Miami. From August 2020 to January 2022, with the 49ers alone, Cracraft was…. (deep breath)…. waived, signed to the practice squad, elevated to the 53, sent back to the P-squad in back-to-back weeks, promoted to the 53, re-signed, waived, re-stashed to the P-squad, promoted again, waived again. Cracraft told Sherfield that after the 49ers cut him one time, they called to sign him back when he was driving out of town on the highway.
He off-ramped onto the next exit, and turned around.
“You’ll get guys that come here,” Sherfield says, “and Mike really gives him a fair shot and River goes out and he has two touchdowns and critical games where we win. … Just do right by people, man. Nobody is owed anything or deserved anything. But when you lay the ball out there, and if a guy wins out, wins a job, you give it to him. If he loses a job, then that's on him. It's just all about the opportunity.”
The coach had no problem playing Sherfield over the more expensive Wilson.
Once he got his own opportunity, Sherfield delivered.
His full-extension, toe-tapping, 14-yard touchdown against the Cleveland Browns was exquisite. Sherfield rocked the football like a baby in celebration — a nod to Trent Jr. in his wife’s womb — and color commentator Adam Archuleta correctly proclaimed on the broadcast: “It doesn’t get any better than that.” Lordy. Miami lost in San Francisco, but Sherfield showed the 49ers what they never utilized on a 75-yard touchdown. The best defense in NFL appeared stuck in mud. Peace. Both safeties Tashaun Gipson Sr. and Talanoa Hufanga couldn’t catch Sherfield, who then held out both hands in Jordan-vs-Blazers fashion. (“That was dope,” he says.)
He finished with 30 receptions for 417 yards in all.
An appetizer, a beginning. Not scraps, not the end of a frustrating career.
For three months, the Dolphins were red hot and Tagovailoa an MVP candidate. Defenses adjusted. Tagovailoa suffered another concussion. Miami limped into the playoffs and nearly stunned the Buffalo Bills as 13.5-point underdogs with a third-string quarterback. Opposing defenses are bound to obsess over Hill and Waddle again. The duo combined for 3,066 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns. Sherfield believes he’s the No. 3 who can seize those open gaps in the defense. He talked to Tua, and the quarterback said he wants him back.
He also believes the hiring of Vic Fangio as defensive coordinator is the big move that elevates Miami into the NFL’s upper class.
“We’re building something really, really special,” Sherfield says. “Our window is wide open to win the Super Bowl now. Every team has a window. And I think this team has a wide-open window to go and compete for a Super Bowl. For years to come. … Nobody was talking about Miami years prior and I feel like now you’ve got to talk about the Dolphins. I feel like we’ve done a really good job of flipping the organization upside down.”
Through all stress, he regrets nothing. This all feels meant to be. His wife is from Orlando, which meant her mother was able to lend a hand through the pregnancy.
He believes that prophecy foretold in Chicago is finally coming to fruition.
“I’ve been able to grow and mature as a person,” Sherfield says, “to be able to handle my emotions and look at things in a different light. Look at the league. It has its negatives, but it also has its positives. Going through everything that I went through, I’m not salty about anything. I’m not bitter about what happened with San Fran. I’m not bitter about what happened in Arizona because going through those things made me who I am today.”
He politely points out that Keim is no longer the GM in Arizona. Same for head coach Kliff Kingsbury.
Part of Sherfield is bracing for impact. Another round of 25 to 30 wide receivers will get drafted to potentially steal his job. Younger players. Cheaper players. He has Trent Jr. to feed, too. He’d sure love to get his son’s circadian rhythms figured out. The prayer now is to stay in Miami, which means working even harder. One week prior to this chat, he was with Fitzgerald in West Palm.
There’s no fear of being forgotten again. No need to panic. Not when there’s game tape attached to his name for all 32 teams to see. That’s been his goal all along — for people to realize he’s a wide receiver.
“Now, you can’t say that I can’t play receiver,” he says. “You can’t say that now.”
The plan is to stay in an Airbnb for a couple months, wait out free agency, and buy a house in Miami if he re-signs.
What a moment that’d be after everything.
All the tears when the man who raised him died. All the times his wife served as quarterback in the backyard to sneak a few extra routes in. The surreal benchings. The opportunity that finally arrived.
“I’m honestly really just scratching the surface,” Sherfield says. “What I’ve shown this past season is not even close to what I’m going to do in this league. I’ll continue to work hard, to do the things that I’ve always stuck to. Stick true to who I am, stick true to my faith, continue to believe in myself. Now, it's about being the best Dad that I can possibly be for my son. I think that there’s way more out there for me to go get and I’m excited. I feel my work ethic going to another level.”
Free agency begins next week. He’s about to discover his worth to NFL teams once more.
At the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, McDaniel was even asked about the wide receiver position.
Was Miami in the market? First, he cited “known entities” in Hill and Waddle. Beyond this, he promised the best man would win.
“I try to refrain from penciling in any player in any sort of position as best I can only because honestly,” McDaniel said, “the way I approach the whole scenario is that if you want a job, you can win it. It’s going to be based on the merit on the field. There is opportunity there. There are some guys that aren't on the roster that will be on the roster. Who those guys are, that's the million-dollar question. The bottom line is, we’re going to have an atmosphere that's going to… you’re really going to have to thrive in a competitive atmosphere because there are talented players that you're going to have to compete with to win the job of the third-most targeted receiver.”
McDaniel didn’t mention Sherfield’s name.
He didn’t need to. An answer like this is music to his ears.
Miss our two-parter on Tua Tagovailoa last season?