New 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman – and say that 10 times without flinching – has been a busy man.
In the course of a long weekend, he reached agreement on an incentive-laden contract, attended the NFL Players Association meetings in Las Vegas, dined with 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, threw verbal darts at his former team and attempted to make peace with fans he has tormented for years.
Tweet away, 49ers faithful. He apparently wants you back.
Upon learning that many of the 49ers fans he blocked while playing for the NFC West rival Seattle Seahawks want to become fans and followers now that he’s on the home team, Sherman jokingly tweeted that he might “need a list.”
The 49ers? They might need a therapist before this is over.
They need answers that will not be forthcoming until next fall, at the earliest, and if the response to the most pertinent question is unfavorable – can Richard Sherman recover from the torn Achilles tendon he suffered in November and still perform at a high level? – then none of the fun stuff matters. The taunts, the challenges, the tweaks, the tweets – no one will care.
But let’s assume for the moment that the weekend was a hit for the 49ers, that modern medicine works another miracle, that he retains All-Pro stature and that the situation proves beneficial for all concerned. If all of the above happens, then this is an easy call. Sherman will rock the vote, whether he takes a knee, puts his hand over his heart, or places a hand on a teammates’ shoulder.
He is loquacious, articulate, provocative and a dual threat, someone who alters team dynamics with performances on and off the field. The show simply moved a few hundred miles south and when the curtain rises in the fall, the Bay Area will be re-introduced to one of the most fascinating figures in professional sports. Levi’s Stadium won’t seem so sterile once Sherman arrives with all his baggage, back near his college turf, and ready to team with highly regarded Jimmy Garoppolo.
“That (Garoppolo signing) had a huge part in it,” Sherman said during a teleconference Monday. “The way he played down the stretch was inspiring and incredible. Quarterbacks can get hot over a limited amount of time and the next year fall off the face of the earth. But what I saw from him was consistency. I saw poise. I saw leadership. I saw respect from his teammates, command of the offense. And I think that (Shanahan) is one of the most creative and innovative minds in football. He’s always coming up with two or three concepts that we’d never seen.”
For his part, Sherman, who is reuniting with defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, offers exactly what the former Seahawks assistant looks for in his cornerback: Length, athleticism, instincts, ferocious competitiveness. His leaping deflection of the pass Colin Kaepernick intended for Michael Crabtree in the closing seconds of the 2013-14 NFC championship game was masterful. His post-game rant directed at Crabtree, which began on the field and continued in the locker room for what seemed like an hour, admittedly was more than a little bizarre, and it thrust the one-time Stanford standout into the 49ers consciousness forevermore.
But now the cleats are on the other feet. Sherman will break bread and eat turkey legs with the 49ers. He will pressure and overwhelm and intercept passes against every team not based in Santa Clara.
This all sounds so bold and brash and terrific, even the part about the contract being laden with incentives, to the satisfaction of both parties. But back to that asterisk.
Though Sherman said the chance to play the Seahawks twice each season was a major factor in his decision to sign with the 49ers, it’s not like he had a wealth of options. He acknowledged during the teleconference that the Seahawks, Raiders and Detroit Lions were unwilling to match or eclipse an offer that includes numerous clauses protecting the 49ers in the event he is unable to perform or re-injures the Achilles.
The contract, which he himself negotiated, includes a $1 million bonus if he makes the Pro Bowl and $2 million if he is named to the Associated Press All-Pro team. A Pro Bowl selection also guarantees $8 million in 2019, plus incentives.
Given the medical data on recovery from Achilles’ tears, the cautious approach is a no-brainer. For those not involved in impact sports, the average recovery takes four to six months. For professional athletes, that figure is closer to 11 months with no guarantees. Many athletes are forced to retire because of the injury while others experience diminished skill sets and suffer additional ailments because they overcompensate.
Sherman, noting the cool market and doubts about his recovery, said the mood has only reignited “that gasoline fire that I’ve always had burning. It threw a lot more gas on it, and I appreciate that. I’m thankful and it’s motivation for me.”
If he can still play, he will be a blast. Beware, Bay Area, because here he comes.