What does it take to flip a franchise around?
That’s the question the 49ers have been confronted with since the new Shanahan and Lynch regime took over last season. …The 49ers signing of Richard Sherman calls into question whether the winning formula should include adding a player that is perhaps the most hated adversary the fan base has known in at least the last decade. Any 49ers fan, even the ones living under rocks for the past week, would know that the 49ers signed the former Seahawk cornerback to a highly incentivized deal in the hopes he can return to his Pro Bowl form, and solidify the 49ers secondary.
The terms of the deal, which Sherman negotiated with the 49ers himself, favor the 49ers significantly. If Sherman plays, and plays well… he gets paid well. If he doesn’t, or gets injured, he doesn’t. There’s virtually no downside financial risk to bringing in a shutdown corner, that at one point of his career, was considered the best in the game. Yet, the fan base is divided. Sherman after all, played for a hated arch rival, and was single handedly responsible for keeping the 49ers out of the Super Bowl…. Well ok… it was at his hands, but choosing to throw the ball from the 1-yard line had a thing or two to do with it too.
Coming off an injury, Sherman has not been himself, but his confidence in his ability to return to form is evidenced by the contract he negotiated. The real money comes from him playing well enough to get to the Pro Bowl, and if he does that, the 49ers and their fan base should be happy to pay him. But the scars have not healed over yet… and much like Sherman is looking forward to exacting vengeance on the Seahawks twice a season (a key reason he was interested in joining the 49ers), fans don’t let grudges fall by the way side so easily. Not ones with wounds this deep.
Shanahan and Lynch clearly felt it worth the risk and stress on the locker room to give Sherman a shot. They are building the turnaround story, and next to finding their quarterback, a top flight corner was clearly at the top of their priority list. For owner Jed York, the formula he previously used to build a contender with Jim Harbaugh was incomplete… it lead to an unhealthy management office, and his claim that the team was gunning for a Super Bowl claim supports taking on some reputational risk by bringing in a hated player. After all, it worked for his uncle. The Sherman signing is the closest move to bringing Deion Sanders to the team in 1994 that the 49er shave made in the last two and a half decades. Deion was at the height of his career, and the 49ers were well on their way to making another Super Bowl bid, so the moves were not identical, but not since then, has a player so hated been brought to the Niners with the hopes of putting them over the edge. Add to that, that they both play corner, and the similarities are glaringly obvious.
While the 49ers were not close to a Super Bowl last season, their end of season run, led by the arm of Jimmy Garoppolo is what the team is banking on as the foundation to be a contender this season. The team still needs key support pieces for Garoppolo both on the offensive line and at the skill positions. If Sherman can play like his former self, the team will have an equivalent leader on the defensive side of the ball – and that should excite the team and the fan base. Joe Staley, the longest tenured 49er seems to agree. He took to social media to cite his excitement to have Sherman on board immediately after the signing. Players want to win. Fans want the team to win. The bottom line is, if Sherman returns to form, he’ll help the team do that. He’ll stick it to the division rival Seahawks in the process. And if he doesn’t, the 49ers have an easy out with little financial consequence.