George Kittle's contract extension became a topic of conversation after NFL Network's Mike Silver reported the All-Pro tight end and the San Francisco 49ers were currently far apart in discussions. While that's not a concern at this point, it did organically drive the conversation to where the team will need to penny-pinch in the 2021 and 2022 seasons in order for Kittle to see the market-shattering dollars he's rightly earned.
The responses quickly piled up with the consensus being that cornerback Richard Sherman, a sure-fire Hall of Famer, and Pro Bowler last year for the 49ers, would not see a second contract with the team. He too is entering the last season of his current deal and is set to be a free agent in 2021.
Perhaps they're right, and he doesn't, but this led me to believe most people are stuck on the Sammy Watkins play from Super Bowl LIV and forgot what an outstanding 2019 season he had. And above all, the average person does not see nor is quick to appreciate the entire picture that is Sherman. He is far more than #25 out there on an island.
What I'm talking about is Sherman, the coach — the one not captured on the All-22 or often by Sunday's broadcast cameras:
Edited by Dylan DeSimone of Fourth and Nine
He is omnipresent, interacting with every player and position group, not just the defensive backs or his side of the ball. Sherman is an in-touch educator that proactively shares information and personal experiences with his teammates and coaches, and he has the communication skills and emotional intelligence to go with. Somehow, even in his early 30's, his energy is constantly cranked up and sets the tone for the team.
Hyping Jimmy Garoppolo before an offensive series or helping Emmanuel Moseley make a course correction are things he takes on game-to-game that go largely unnoticed. But with the way this defense gets off the field, it's where he spends a lot of his time. He is unwavering in his support of his teammates, which, despite how exhausting that can be in addition to preparing for his own job, he never misses a day.
What's rare for him as a player, especially a cornerback rather than a quarterback, is Sherman is on equal playing field with head coach Kyle Shanahan and defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, almost as a quality control coach or "extra set of eyes" for both. He amplifies their message, and players gravitate to him and absorb what he has to say. You even see position coaches listening and learning from Sherman.
He's more than just a defensive captain — he's a co-commander of the organization, one of its most influential members. What's not to be forgotten or ignored is Sherman's value outside of pure football snaps that contributed to the turnaround of the 49ers. So, when he's disregarded so easily by some, it's time to pump the brakes and appreciate what he's done, and what a rare breed he is.
That's the kind of talent teams want to retain if they can, especially if there's a plan that makes sense; say, perhaps this unique proposition from Sherman himself in 2018, via Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com:
"At some point, everybody makes the transition to safety and if you're smart enough to play that game and I'll probably do that in a couple of years or whenever the team needs. At corner, I've had games where I haven't got a look, thrown at, and at safety you can see exactly where the ball goes and you can make an impact. You can get in on every tackle just about because you're in the center of everything, kind of like the Mike [linebacker]. But it's something I'm definitely going to consider later in my career and hopefully I'll be just as good there."
While it's true, he'll be 33 years young when his next contract is due, and Kittle's contract will no doubt be massive, Sherman is open to transitioning and said in 2018 "I've got four or five more seasons in me" before retiring, with a cut-off at age 35. He could be an elite short-term option at safety to finish his career.
Agentless, Sherman negotiates his own deals and could be open to something incentive-based, especially as a confident guy who gambles on himself. The 49ers remaining a powerhouse and knowing it's for the ring and one last ride could also make him affordable. Again, these are just super early considerations as we discuss who may be unfortunate casualties of the inevitable Kittle deal.
But, on the surface, it seems Richard Sherman is already being undervalued. And if he's lost, it would leave an immeasurable void.
Media courtesy San Francisco 49ers, Inside the NFL