SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Nearly two weeks ago at the NFL scouting combine, San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch was asked point-blank whether he intended to use newly minted franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo as a selling point in free agency.
Without missing a beat, Lynch replied in the affirmative.
“Would you?” Lynch said, smiling. “Yeah, I am. We are. Absolutely.”
Over the weekend, the 49ers got their first substantial chance to put Garoppolo-as-selling-point to the test with cornerback Richard Sherman. Fresh off his release from the Seattle Seahawks, the Niners moved quickly to try to land Sherman in hopes that he could fill an obvious hole at corner. In discussing what he was seeking in his next team, Sherman made it abundantly clear he wanted to go only to a team he felt could contend.
Most teams considered contenders can offer a strong answer at the quarterback position. So how did he view Garoppolo and his five starts with the Niners in determining whether they would be a fit?
“That had a huge part of it,” Sherman said of Garoppolo’s presence with the Niners. “The way he played down the stretch was inspiring, it was incredible. It was poised. Sometimes you can get hot, a quarterback can get hot and then the next year fall off the face of the earth and you never hear from them again. What I saw from him was consistency. I saw poise. I saw leadership. I saw respect of his teammates, I saw command of the offense and he’d only been there a few weeks.”
Over the final five weeks with Garoppolo as the starter, the Niners went 5-0 and improved in nearly every major statistical category. Even before that, he threw his first touchdown pass as a Niner in the waning moments of a loss to the Seahawks.
Make no mistake, Sherman had plenty of other reasons to sign with his former adversaries and he counted those off in a conference call with Bay Area media on Monday morning. As with any free agent, money played the biggest part in the deal, and Sherman said he got the best terms from the Niners after also talking to the Detroit Lions and Oakland Raiders and offering the Seahawks a chance to match what the Niners offered.
In addition, Sherman noted his desire to stay on the West Coast, where he has family (he’s slated to get married at the end of the month), his ties to the Bay Area from his time at nearby Stanford and, of course, his desire to play against the Seahawks a couple of times a year in the NFC West.
But in evaluating the Niners’ ability to become a contender, Sherman saw an ideal match between Garoppolo and coach Kyle Shanahan.
“I think that Kyle is one of the most innovative and creative offensive minds in football,” Sherman said. “He and [Rams coach] Sean McVay, and I told him such. That’s from playing against him and seeing his schemes, and that’s when he was in Washington, when he was in Atlanta and also in San Fran, he’s always coming up with two or three concepts that we’ve never seen and we really had no answer for outside of some real bastardizations of our defense. And that’s on the field, spur of the moment, having three or four All-Pro players who can adjust on the fly that way. But outside of that, some of the concepts were tough to stop. I think that he and Jimmy together will contribute a lot of wins for this football team. And I think defensively I can bring a presence and a leadership that will stabilize and help this defense rise to prominence as well.”
Indeed, Sherman will be asked to play a prominent role in helping the Niners’ defense improve and complement Garoppolo & Co. in 2018. For now, the Niners are hoping that Sherman won’t be the only free agent drawn to the organization in part because of Garoppolo over the next few days.
“Well, I think it’s huge,” Lynch told NFL Network on Monday. “That position, first of all. But then Jimmy, the way he played. Is it a short sample size? Sure, and we all know that. But I can just tell you from the response we got from Richard and from other people around the league, it’s a game-changer for us and so we’re going to make good upon that and we’re going to use it to our advantage, but we’re going to make sure that we’re just not doing splashy names. We’re getting guys that are really a great fit for the culture we’ve established here in the first year and for a roster that we’re going to continue to try to improve. The ultimate goal is to compete for championships on a year-in, year-out basis. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but we feel like we’re well on our way.”