The free agency season has been one of high impact. One of the most shocking of free agency decisions was Richard Sherman signing with the San Francisco 49ers. What makes this so shocking is for years, 49ers fans have loved to hate him. They have envied his talent but hated his mouth. Ever since the 2014 NFC Championship Game, where he made a mockery of the 49ers by verbally abusing them in an interview immediately after the game, the 49ers have tried and failed time and again to beat his Seahawks squad. Now he is with the enemy and is vowing vengeance against his former team. The question still remains: is he the right fit for the 49ers?
Sherman enrolled at Stanford University as a wide receiver and led the team in receptions in his first two seasons. After tearing his ACL, he switched to cornerback and quickly showed his receiving skills on the other side of the ball. He had six interceptions in his final two seasons of college. Despite his immense talent, he was not drafted until the fifth round of the 2011 NFL Draft. His best years in the NFL were in 2013 and 2014 when he had eight interceptions in each season. It was during that time that he was widely considered the best cornerback in the game. The defenses he played on during those seasons were smothering and were the reason why the Seahawks won the Super Bowl in 2013. Due to his big play capability, he has been to four Pro Bowls and has been named First-Team All-Pro three times.
While his talent is unquestionably impressive, it is his mouth which often gets the most attention. Over the years he has established himself as a vocal presence on the defense by constantly taunting his opponents. This is a form of mind game where an opponent can play poorly due to his constant talking. They may not be as sharp in their route running or they may try to pick a fight with him which results in penalties. Either way, this sort of psychological warfare has worked wonders for Sherman throughout his career.
For the most part, Richard Sherman has not had a lot of injuries but the few he has suffered have been significant. He suffered a torn ACL in 2008, his third year of college, and came back the following year after switching from wide receiver to cornerback. His next significant injury was a ruptured Achilles tendon he suffered in week 10 of this season and has not played since. It is hard to tell whether he will be the same player before the injury. The Achilles tendon is a major part of the body and it takes a long time to heal from an injury of this magnitude. Medically, he should be ready for the 2018 season but setbacks are always possible. The lone silver lining in all of this is that he recovered very well from the ACL tear in college. If he comes in to the recovery process with the same kind of mindset he had when he blew out his knee then the 49ers have gotten a great upgrade at corner back.
The best evaluation of his current skillset is to look at his production in 2016 since he only played half of 2017. The 2016 season saw the decline of his defensive backfield in Seattle, named the Legion of Boom. In the NFC Divisional Playoffs they were picked apart by league MVP Matt Ryan. One scoring drive saw Ryan go the length of the field, all 99 yards, without the Falcons running a single running play. Going that distance through the air was unthinkable in 2013 and 2014 when Seattle dominated the NFL in their passing defense. Through all of this drama, Sherman did not drop in productivity. He had four interceptions and was invited to his fourth Pro Bowl in 2016. While he was not quite the commanding presence he was in the championship years, he still set the tone for the passing game. Keep in mind that quarterbacks tend to shy away from throwing in the direction of an elite corner back. While four interceptions are not breaking any records, it is still productive and shows that teams still fear him. This is the kind of fear the 49ers need on their defense.
The 49ers have been adding talent to their defense over the past few years. While they have been slowly building their front seven, they still need talent in their secondary. By acquiring Richard Sherman they not only get a great talent, they also get one of the best trash talkers in the game. They have never had that kind of psychological warfare. They have always focused on brute force and top talent in the front seven. While this kind of defensive strategy can bring teams to the brink of a championship, having a trash-talking cornerback with elite talent is definitely an upgrade.
Sherman has to prove himself again. His production has slipped over the past couple of seasons and he has been released by the only team he has ever known. One of the reasons why he signed with the 49ers is because they play against the Seahawks twice a season. He wants to show the Seahawks that they made a huge mistake in cutting him. He has the fifth-rounder mentality where he had to fight every day to prove himself to his coaches. Only selections in the first couple of rounds are guaranteed roster spots. He brings leadership to a defensive backfield which needs a new voice. If the 49ers can add another top-tier cornerback and an elite pass rusher, the sky is the limit for how great this defense can become. Defense wins championships and the 49ers are going in the right direction.