The San Francisco 49ers wrapped up the 2018 season and they have begun their work to prepare for 2019 free agency and the NFL draft. The coaches and scouts will be in Mobile, Alabama for the Senior Bowl, but there is plenty more to be done as they get ready to build on a disappointing 2018 campaign. We’ll be breaking down plenty of what that means, but in the meantime, we wanted to take a look back at the season that was for the 49ers.
Jimmy Garoppolo’s injury sent things south, but there is plenty still to assess. We are going to take a look at every notable addition and provide a forum for grading how that signing, trade, or draft pick worked out.
How acquired: Released from Seattle Seahawks 3/9/2018, signed to the 49ers 3/10/2018 on a three-year deal worth up to $39 million if certain incentives were met.
Where to begin? Richard Sherman, once an enemy of the 49ers and a source of nightmares from the way the 2014 NFC Championship ended, joined the very same team just one day after getting released from the Seattle Seahawks.
The release made sense. Sherman tore his achilles in 2017 and was still rehabbing the injury in the offseason. He was turning 30 and the Seahawks were breaking up the Legion of Boom. Given the injury, his contract, and the Seahawks rebuilding phase, it was inevitable.
The very next day, he, acting as his own agent, negotiated a deal with the San Francisco 49ers. From a physical standpoint, it looked like a risk. Achilles ruptures are capable of ending careers, but Sherman wasn’t just coming to the team for productivity, he came to work with the young secondary and provide veteran leadership. He came to help solidify Robert Saleh’s defense (an offshoot of what Seattle runs) and for that, Sherman’s potential proved invaluable.
On the field, Sherman had what may be his worst season as a pro. In the 14 games Sherman dressed for, he totaled 0 interceptions, four passes defended, and one fumble recovery. In 2017, a season he played nine games due to his injury, Sherman managed two interceptions and seven passes defended.
This is one of those cases though where the stats lie, but the tape doesn’t. If you watch any games he appeared in, you’d notice quarterbacks would attempt keeping the ball away from his side of the field. There’s only so much a cornerback is going to do when they aren’t in on the action, and when the 49ers have players like Ahkello Witherspoon and Greg Mabin to pick on, opposing quarterbacks will go with a sure thing rather than chance it with someone with Sherman’s pedigree.
Regardless of performance, Sherman missed out on the 2019 Pro Bowl, which does affect his incentives and guarantees in his contract. Despite the dip in production, Sherman has made himself the best cornerback on the roster and proven he can still play after the injury.
Productivity aside, the reason Sherman has made himself so valuable isn’t just his presence on the field (which again, was nowhere near bad), but his presence off it. Sherman provided some much needed veteran leadership for the young secondary. “Uncle Sherm,” as some of his teammates affectionately called him, held the secondary accountable. The 49ers could not have found a better on-field coach to help take Saleh’s defense into its second year. When defensive performances were questioned, Sherman openly said the players needed to learn their assignments and that Saleh called good games. Sherman attempted to be a mentor to Reuben Foster, even going so far as showing up at Foster’s court date just days after signing with the team, and voiced his disappointment in the young linebacker being unable to deal with his personal issues. In a season where the defense came below expectations and could crumble, Sherman should deserve credit for being there for the younger players and keeping them glued together with their eye on the prize and above all, holding them accountable.
This type of professionalism is worth his contract in spades. And it’s not just the 49ers. Sherman also is someone capable of helping lobby for other veterans to join the 49ers. Well, ok, just one, but it’s a veteran the 49ers could use in Earl Thomas.
Sherman now has a full offseason to train rather than rehab his injury. This should get him into better football shape than 2018 has. The 49ers may spend some draft capitol on a young cornerback for Sherman to mentor, but it’d be rather surprising if he’s cut from the team. He’s too valuable as a player, a mentor, and a coach of sorts for the 49ers to show him the door.
Let’s see what Sherman can do with a veteran secondary and most importantly, an actual pass rush.
How would you grade the Richard Sherman signing?
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