Every fan of the San Francisco 49ers had a wish list at cornerback. Malcolm Butler of the New England Patriots and Kyle Fuller of the Chicago Bears were two of the most popular. Los Angeles Rams corner Trumaine Johnson was another name coveted by the Faithful.
But now it’s likely that those three names are off the table for John Lynch and Co. Not because the 49ers decided they didn’t need a corner, but because the team has signed… Richard Sherman? Sherman, the longtime cornerback of the Seattle Seahawks, the player that elicited a vitriol from 49ers fans usually reserved for members of the Dallas Cowboys, will now don red and gold?
Many are undoubtedly still processing the news. It’s not often that public enemy No. 1 flips the script and becomes the good guy. Derek Jeter never played for the Red Sox. Magic Johnson in Celtics green? Not a chance. And you can bet that Kevin Durant would never join the Warr… OK never mind on that last example. But you get the idea.
That makes the mindset of Lynch and Kyle Shanahan evident. They don't care about bad blood from past seasons. It’s all about assembling a roster that will get San Francisco back into the NFL postseason. When the Seahawks released Sherman last week, the 49ers brain trust wasted little time. Sherman told media via conference call that San Francisco reached out immediately.
As Peter King reported on Monday, Shanahan and Sherman met for dinner on Friday. The two sides then spent all day Saturday negotiating. San Francisco made the deal official on Sunday. So when we start breaking down what this move means for the 2018 49ers and beyond, let’s start with the fact that once Sherman arrived in the Bay Area, he never left.
Every indication was that Sherman wanted to join a contender. Let’s not be naïve, dollars and cents speak the loudest at the negotiation table, and the 49ers offered a sizeable incentives package. According to King, the Oakland Raiders, Detroit Lions and Seahawks all believed the contract to be too rich for their blood. However, it’s fair to suggest that Sherman would have continued his search and opted for patience had he not bought into what the 49ers were selling. A young core, a bevy of draft picks and the remaining cap space were likely talking points. So, too, was Jimmy Garoppolo and his long-term contract. Biannual meetings against the Seahawks added icing on the cake, per King.
Sherman received everything he wanted, and now the 49ers have filled a massive position of need before the start of free agency. Lynch called Sherman (6-foot-3, 195 pounds) “a prototype corner” in the 49ers scheme. He has familiarity with defensive coordinator Robert Saleh from their Seattle days (2011-13). As a “premier competitor” (Lynch’s words), Sherman also brings a veteran swagger to San Francisco’s locker room. Part of what 49ers fans hated about the brash corner is what they’ll love about him now that he’s on their side.
He’ll provide great mentorship for Ahkello Witherspoon and other young defensive backs on the roster. Most importantly, if he returns to form following his season-ending Achilles injury in 2017, Sherman will provide an All-Pro presence in the 49ers secondary.
While the signing likely alters how San Francisco approaches free agency, it doesn’t necessarily change the team’s draft strategy. If Ohio State’s Denzel Ward (or any other cornerback) is the top-graded prospect left on the board at pick No. 9, the 49ers will probably still pull the trigger.
It’s far too soon for a victory lap, and Sherman has plenty to prove. That's been a common theme in Sherman's career. The former receiver-turned-corner at Stanford had to endure the league-wide insult of being passed on until the fifth round of the 2011 NFL Draft. There have always been obstacles and slights that have fueled Sherman. The proverbial chip on the shoulder is permanently woven into Sherman’s DNA as a football player. So he’ll approach this latest question mark the same as always. He’ll bet on himself (as he did with his contract void of much guaranteed money) time and time again.
If and when Sherman returns to form, both sides will be winners. That includes the 49ers fans who will see their Lex Luther turn into Superman.