The 49ers landed one of the league’s most polarizing players and one of its undeniably best cornerbacks to a three-year contract on Saturday. Here are six thoughts on seeing Richard Sherman — Richard Sherman? — in red and gold this season:
1. Sherman’s addition filled a need. General manager John Lynch has said in the past that he never wants to go into a draft feeling as if he has to take a particular position. That would have been the case at cornerback if the team hadn’t found one in free agency. This year’s free-agent class had a lot of names, but few who truly fit the mold for San Francisco’s defense. The team wants big, long, press cornerbacks. Sherman is nearly 6-3 and since 2011 has been playing press coverage as well or better than anyone else in the NFL. Every team says it wants to add a Richard Sherman-type corner to its secondary. The 49ers added Richard Sherman.
2. Sherman is a tone setter. No, he didn’t exactly win sportsmanship awards on game days, but anyone who has covered him says he always practiced hard and brought a heightened level of intensity to practices. He also should serve as an excellent role model — in his play and also his intelligence — for up-and-coming Ahkello Witherspoon, who said last year that he models his game after Sherman’s. There’s no doubt Lynch and the 49ers coaches had that mentor-protégé relationship in mind during their courtship of Sherman.
3. Here’s the counter-argument for signing him: Seattle general manager John Schneider noted last week that when the Seahawks’ dominant defense was just forming, all of the players — like Sherman — who would become stars started right away and went through their growing pains together. That is, there were no high-profile veterans to guide them the way Sherman will do on defense for San Francisco. Seattle’s defense was organically grown. The 49ers defense seemed to be taking similar steps last year, and it was clear that by sweeping the roster of veterans like NaVorro Bowman, team officials wanted youngsters like DeForest Buckner and Solomon Thomas to begin to take over. Could that development be impeded by a big personality like Sherman’s?
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4. The spice factor in the NFC West has risen ten-fold in the last few days. The Los Angeles Rams seemed to make the biggest splash by trading for two high-profile cornerbacks, Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib. The 49ers matched by signing Sherman, who likely relishes the chance to play his former team twice a year. Remember, there were all sorts of reports in recent years about how the Seahawks defensive players resented the preferred-son treatment Russell Wilson receives in Seattle. That’s been denied by the Seahawks, but it’ll be interesting to watch — and listen to — Sherman now that he’s on another team. A cherry on top of the spicy sundae: The Raiders and Michael Crabtree will visit Levi’s Stadium at some point in the season.
5. Sherman has said that he’ll be full go by training camp and the 49ers obviously gave his still-healing left Achilles tear a green light. He knows the 49ers defense better than the 49ers know the defense, so there’s no impetus for him to take the field earlier. Still, it’s a medical risk. The 49ers took that into account by giving him a very incentive-laden contract. Per the NFL Network, he has $3 million in roster and play-time bonuses and another $3 million if he makes the Pro Bowl. Sherman — who has no agent; he represents himself — is betting on himself, not only that he makes a full recovery but that he returns to his pre-injury form.
6. Sherman plays defense, but don’t discount the Jimmy G factor. After his release from the Seahawks, Sherman said he wanted to play for a contender and a team that had a good quarterback. It’s a safe bet that he wouldn’t have picked San Francisco if Brian Hoyer were under center. Lynch was asked at the scouting combine whether he would use Jimmy Garoppolo as a recruiting tool. His response: “Wouldn’t you?”