San Francisco 49ers

Keep your enemies closer: 10 thoughts on the 49ers and Richard Sherman

The 49ers officially inked one of the NFL's most polarizing players and one of its undeniably best cornerbacks to a three-year contract Sunday. Here are 10 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 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 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 the 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. (Sherman vs. Pierre Garcon ought to be particularly wild). He also should serve as an excellent role model – in his play and also his intelligence – for up-and-coming cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, who said last year that he models his game after Sherman's. Lynch and the 49ers coaches had that mentor-protégé relationship in mind during their courtship of Sherman. "Richard has long been looked at as the prototypical corner in our scheme and the opportunity to have him mentor our players was one we needed to attack," Lynch said in a statement announcing the deal.

3. Here's the counter-argument for signing him: Seattle general manager John Schneider noted last week that when the Seahawks' dominant defense was beginning to form, the young players who soon would become stars got on the field right away and went through their growing pains together. That is, 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 soon take over. Could that development be impeded by a big personality like Sherman's?

4. The spice factor in the NFC West has risen tenfold 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?"

7. There still are plenty of cornerbacks available – Trumaine Johnson, Malcolm Butler, etc. – when free agency begins Wednesday, but it's hard to see the 49ers adding another high-end veteran. After all, the goal is to turn Witherspoon into the next Richard Sherman and to do that, Witherspoon needs to play. But the team still is likely to use a draft pick at cornerback. The draft is deep at the position and there are several big-bodied players who will go in the middle rounds.

8. Lynch has lamented how rare it is to find quality pass rushers in free agency. Another way to improve the pass rush, however, is to add a shut-down cornerback. It will be interesting to see how Sherman's addition boosts San Francisco's ho-hum 30-sack total from 2017. (And whether they now use the No. 9 pick on a pass rusher).

9. San Francisco received no compensatory draft picks this year because they were such prolific shoppers in free agency last year. Teams are awarded compensatory picks if the number and value of the free agents they lose exceeds that of the ones they bring in. The interesting thing about Sherman is that he doesn't count against the 49ers because the Seahawks released him while he was still under contract. Whether they land a comp pick or two in 2019 will depend on how ambitious they are in free agency this week and whether 49ers free agents like Carlos Hyde, Eric Reid and Tank Carradine get sizable deals elsewhere.

10. Sherman may not be the only 49ers defensive back to make some money. Safety Jimmie Ward wears the same number – 25 – Sherman wore in Seattle, which might be worth something to the newest 49ers cornerback.

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