The 2021 NFL season is here. There is less than a week to go before the Dallas Cowboys and defending Super Bowl champs Tampa Bay Buccaneers face off on Thursday, September 9. Even though the first game is tantalizingly close, teams are still making last-minute roster tweaks to get ready for the new campaign. The San Francisco 49ers, for example, just made a notable move. The team signed a former All-Pro cornerback to replace another former All-Pro, Richard Sherman, who the team declined to re-sign in the offseason.
The San Francisco 49ers didn’t re-sign Richard Sherman
As a fifth-round pick out of Stanford, Richard Sherman became one of the elite cornerbacks in the NFL of the last decade.
Sherman is best-known as a charter member of the Seattle Seahawks “Legion of Boom” secondary. Along with defenders like Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, Brandon Browner, and Byron Maxwell, led the Seahawks to five straight playoff appearances, two consecutive Super Bowls (2013-14, and a Super Bowl victory in 2013.
In addition to being the outspoken face of the Legion of Boom, Sherman was one of the best boundary corners in the NFL. He was first-team All-Pro at the position in 2012, 2013, and 2014 and made four-straight Pro Bowls with Seattle (2013-16).
Pete Carroll and the Seahawks cut Sherman for salary cap reasons following the 2017 season. He promptly signed with Seattle’s division rival 49ers for three years, $39 million.
During the 2021 offseason, the now-free agent corner was arrested after and charged with “driving under the influence, reckless endangerment of roadway workers, criminal trespass in the second degree (domestic violence designation), resisting arrest and malicious mischief in the third degree (domestic violence designation),” per NFL.com.
The California native pled not guilty to all five charges, but the 49ers (or any other NFL organizations) have not signed the corner for 2021.
The 49ers are taking a chance on cornerback Josh Norman
To try and fill the void left by Sherman, Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers have turned to a cornerback in a similar mold to Sherman.
Josh Norman also became a fifth-round pick when the Carolina Panthers selected him out of Coastal Carolina in 2012. The big corner (Norman is 6-foot, 200-pounds, and Sherman in 6-foot-3, 195-pounds) also has a Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro nod on his resume, accomplishing both in 2015.
After four seasons in Carolina, Norman played another four in Washington before spending 2020 with his old Panthers defensive coordinator, now-Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott.
Just days before the new season, Norman signed a one-year, $1 million contract with the 49ers. Per PFT. The deal also reportedly has incentives that could dive the value up to $2.5 million.
Defense will be key to San Francisco’s 2021 season
There is a lot of talk about the San Francisco 49er offense ahead of the 2021 season. Will Jimmy Garoppolo start at QB? Will it be rookie first-rounder Trey Lance? How will Shanahan scheme it up against the powerhouse NFC West?
While the offense gets all the publicity, it will be the Niners’ defense that carries the team to the postseason if they can get there.
The 49ers lost defensive coordinator Robert Saleh to the New York Jets, and now, former NFL linebacker DeMeco Ryans will take the reins. The starting 11 is loaded for the Bay Area bunch. Nick Bosa leads the unit along with fellow defensive linemen Arik Armstead and Javon Kinlaw, linebacker Fred Warner, and corners Jason Verrett and Emmanuel Moseley.
The depth behind this star cast isn’t that proven, however. Currently, two rookie corners, Ambry Thomas and Deommodore Lenoir, will get time in the secondary. That’s why the Norman signing is so important.
If the San Fran D can return to 2019 levels, when it was one of the best units in the league, the Niners have a real chance of contending this season. If the soon-to-be 34-year-old Norman can help at all, it could go a long way to giving the team a chance in their brutal division and beyond.