SANTA CLARA, Calif. — As crazy as it would have sounded three or four years ago, after Friday’s news that the Seattle Seahawks released cornerback Richard Sherman, it wasn’t that difficult to picture him playing for the San Francisco 49ers. Yes, the same team he once antagonized in one of the NFL’s most heated rivalries.
In fact, Sherman is scheduled to meet Saturday with 49ers’ officials, sources tell ESPN’s Adam Schefter, who reports that the 49ers want to make sure the veteran corner is healing from his injuries and if both sides are pleased with the meeting, they will try to get a contract done.
There are many reasons to believe Sherman would be a good fit for the Niners. Of course, there are arguments against it as well.
Soon after the news of Sherman’s release broke, I posted a poll on Twitter asking 49ers fans whether they’d want their team to sign their longtime rival. The results show a fan base mostly willing to forgive and forget any past Sherman incidents, though a large portion would do so only if the price is right.
Curious, #49ers fans, with team needs at CB and his obvious fit in the scheme, would you want them to sign former adversary Richard Sherman?
— Nick Wagoner (@nwagoner) March 9, 2018
With that in mind, here’s a look at reasons why the Niners should sign Sherman and some reasons why they shouldn’t:
The case for signing Sherman
Let’s start with this simple fact: The Niners have a serious need at cornerback, and Sherman, coming off an Achilles injury and set to turn 30 later this month, is a far more proven commodity than the vast majority of the available players at the position. Since entering the league in 2011, Sherman has the most interceptions (32) and passes defended (99) among all defenders, according to NFL research. He’s also first in completion percentage allowed (47.4) and passer rating allowed (50.9) in that time.
While a ruptured Achilles ended his season in November, Sherman still looked the part of a top corner in the nine games he played in 2017. Despite missing the final seven games and playing through injury before that, Sherman still ranked as the 33rd most productive corner in the league last season, according to Pro Football Focus.
Beyond that, Sherman is an obvious and easy fit in the 49ers’ defense. Coordinator Robert Saleh cut his teeth in Pete Carroll’s defense in Seattle, knows Sherman from his time there, and the Niners now run almost the exact same Cover 3 defense in which Sherman has spent his entire career. In fact, the 6-foot-3, 197-pound Sherman has become the prototype for what teams running that defense look for in a cornerback.
Sherman would easily be able to pick up the scheme and could serve as a veteran mentor for the team’s young corners, a role he embraced and was lauded for in Seattle. He also has longstanding ties to the Bay Area, having played his college ball at nearby Stanford. If he signed with the Niners, he’d be able to stay on the West Coast, which probably isn’t a make-or-break proposition but might serve as a tiebreaker if all else is equal.
And while Sherman’s outsized personality will draw questions about his locker room fit, there’s no NFL team or market that has been more welcoming to athletes speaking their mind on topics beyond the scope of football.
The case against signing Sherman
The evaluation of Sherman right now really begins and ends with his health. He is not only working his way back from the ruptured right Achilles that ended his season but also had a more minor cleanup surgery on his other Achilles earlier this year. Achilles injuries are tough to recover from, and though there are examples of players coming back successfully, it’s fair to wonder if Sherman can come close to returning to his once-dominant form. He’s remained optimistic that he can, but only time will reveal that. The Niners or any team pursuing Sherman would have to feel very comfortable about his medical status before signing him.
That uncertain health status also makes the financial side of this more difficult. Reports indicated that Seattle wanted Sherman to take a pay cut before releasing him. Although we don’t know how much of a cut was offered, it’s safe to assume it was far less than the $13.2 million he was scheduled to count against the cap in 2018. How much will Sherman seek on the open market? It’s hard to say, though it could complicate matters if he seeks a one-year “prove it” type of deal that would allow him to cash in next year if he has a good season.
The Niners, with more than $50 million in usable salary-cap space, can certainly afford whatever Sherman’s asking price might be, but they might not be a fit if Sherman doesn’t view them as a bona fide Super Bowl contender. He’s already indicated that will be a priority in finding his next team. Likewise, Sherman might be a better addition for a team that’s a piece or two away from such contention. Some would argue the Niners are close to postseason contention, but is that optimism enough to convince Sherman and the team that they’re right for each other?
And, as free agency begins next week, there are other intriguing options the Niners could pursue who don’t have the same question marks. If Sherman is half the price of a guy like Trumaine Johnson, he’d be worth the risk. But what if their prices are similar? Sherman is more proven, but players like Johnson, Malcolm Butler and others are a couple of years younger and not coming back from injury.
Finally, general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan have worked hard to build a tight-knit locker room. They would need to be sure that Sherman’s outspoken approach can blend into the current culture.
Verdict: Ultimately, I agree with the 49ers fans who voted on Twitter. If the price is right and Sherman is healthy (he told ESPN’s Josina Anderson that he expects to begin running on the treadmill next week and is aiming for a training camp return), the Niners and Sherman look like a match.