49ers

Richard Sherman's Hall of Fame credentials key to 49ers' playoff run

Richard Sherman's Hall of Fame credentials key to 49ers' playoff run

SANTA CLARA -- It’s tough to get to a Super Bowl, much less win it, without multiple figures bringing Hall ofFame credentials. Not those with the potential to get to Canton, Ohio, but those for whom space already has been cleared for a bust.

The 21st-century New England Patriots, despite their high roster-turnover rate, have ushered nearly a dozen individuals into the Hall or to its doorstep. Cornerback Ty Law was a member of the last class. Mainstays Bill Belichick, quarterback Tom Brady, tight end Rob Gronkowski and defensive lineman Richard Seymour are sure to follow. Already in are short-termers Randy Moss, Curtis Martin and the late Junior Seau -- all of whom were Hall-worthy vets when they arrived in New England.

There are others sure to be nominated, but you get the picture.

Yet the 49ers, favored over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday, with the winner advancing to Super Bowl LIV, only have one Hall of Famer.

Richard Sherman.

For several of Sherman’s teammates, notably George Kittle and Nick Bosa, it’s too soon to project. And it’s ridiculously early to project coach Kyle Shanahan, who is six days removed from his first playoff game and victory.

Sherman, 31, would have a Hall-ready resume if he retired in the coming weeks.

The cornerback has been named first-team All-Pro three times, second-team All-Pro twice, has more interceptions (35) than any other active player the last decade and last month was named to the NFL’s All-Decade team.

Multiple Pro Bowl selections? Check. Sherman is up to five.

Super Bowl champion? Check.

Multiple Super Bowl appearances? Check.

Comes up with big plays at crucial moments? Routinely.

“People don’t really try him,” defensive lineman Arik Armstead told NBC Sports Bay Area on Thursday.

There is another factor Sherman adds. His intangibles are as strong as his tangibles. Unlike most great cornerbacks, he’s not a man on an island but at once a galvanizing and unifying force for the entire defense and also the team as a whole.

“Usually, they’re out there, they just want to cover people,” defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said of cornerbacks, adding that Sherman’s impact on his teammates is more like that which comes from great linebackers.

Sherman is in his second year with the 49ers in part because some considered him damaged goods after undergoing surgery to repair a ruptured right Achilles tendon in November 2017, and then enduring a less invasive surgery on his left Achilles’ tendon a few months later.

His recovery has been stunning. Because of it, he’s not an aging player-coach unable to summon his A-game, but is a hyperactive playmaker that has been so right, in so many ways, for a young team that doesn’t know what it doesn’t know.

“Sherm is amazing,” Armstead said. “He’s the leader of our team and our defense. Super smart. Extremely talented. It’s been great to have him. He means a lot to me; he’s a mentor and I have a lot of fun playing with him.”

When I asked Saleh the other day what, exactly, Sherman brings to the unit, he didn’t mention interceptions or passes defensed. Didn’t even point out Sherman’s knack for reading offenses.

“Pure gas,” Saleh said.

“Gas” translates to fuel. It’s an element essential to operating a vehicle at maximum capacity. Or, in this case, doing the same to a football team.

Sherman was a vocal leader of those Seattle Seahawks teams that were such fierce rivals of the 49ers. Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” defense was terrific partly because quarterbacks learned to avoid Sherman – and those that tried him generally came away empty.

[RELATED: 49ers' history brings inspiration no pressure to Jimmy G]

San Francisco’s defense lacks the catchy name, but it has the same intensity, most of which is supplied by Sherman.

When you add Sherman’s entire catalog -- statistics, physical presence, emotional influence and the psychological edge he provides -- his Hall of Fame worthiness is without question.

There may come a time when others wearing the scarlet and gold reach the doorstep of Canton. He’s the only member of this team we know will be waiting.

How Patriots trading Jimmy Garoppolo earlier would've affected 49ers

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USATSI

How Patriots trading Jimmy Garoppolo earlier would've affected 49ers

The New England Patriots' ideal Tom Brady successor is the franchise quarterback for Brady's childhood team.

The Patriots dealt Jimmy Garoppolo to the 49ers for a second-round draft pick in 2017, to coach Bill Belichick's reported chagrin. He envisioned Garoppolo leading the Patriots into another decade of dominance, but owner Robert Kraft ordered Belichick to trade Garoppolo and keep Brady, ESPN's Seth Wickersham reported in 2018.

Neither Brady nor Garoppolo will be in New England when the 2020 season starts, as the former signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (that's still weird to type and say out loud) as a free agent last month. The Patriots' QB depth chart currently consists of Jarrett Stidham and former 49er Brian Hoyer, which doesn't exactly inspire dynasty-building confidence.

That left NBC Sports Boston's Phil Perry to wonder if the Patriots would've been better off trading Garoppolo sooner, when then-Cleveland Browns coach Hue Jackson stopped just shy of holding a neon sign over his head indicating he would trade the No. 12 pick before that year's draft for Garoppolo.

"On its face, making that move made sense for both sides," Perry wrote Friday. "The Browns were desperate for a competent quarterback. They were flush with picks. The Patriots, meanwhile, didn't have a first or a second-rounder that spring. For them, trading Garoppolo with a year left on his contract represented an opportunity to bolster their 2017 rookie haul with a top-15 talent."

The ripple effects, as Perry noted would've been far-reaching.

Jackson would've had his quarterback of the future, and thus the Browns might not have drafted Baker Mayfield No. 1 overall -- or even had the pick -- in 2018. The 49ers, who Kyle Shanahan admitted were focused enough on acquiring Kirk Cousins as a free agent in 2018 that they passed on Patrick Mahomes in the 2017 draft, then likely would've gone all-in on Cousins. The Patriots, then, could've drafted Deshaun Watson at No. 12 overall -- the same pick the Houston Texans used after acquiring it from the Browns -- as Brady's successor.

Thankfully for fans sick of New England winning titles, that didn't happen. It's also fair to wonder if any of the teams involved other than the Patriots actually were better off.

Acquiring Garoppolo could've saved Jackson's job in the short-term, but the Browns didn't become a team who failed to meet lofty expectations until after Jackson's firing. The 49ers, had they signed Cousins to the same contract he signed with the Vikings in 2018, would've had more flexibility in the first season but less in the second when compared to Garoppolo's extension. Neither Cousins nor Garoppolo is a clear upgrade over the other, and it's not like you can guarantee Cousins wouldn't have torn his ACL in 2018, either.

[RELATED: Kittle's 49ers rise didn't shock fellow Iowa star Hanks at all]

The Patriots can (and surely will) kick themselves all they want for not maximizing Garoppolo's trade return, but the Browns might not view a hypothetical Garoppolo deal with the same regret since that still would've meant not picking Watson.

The 49ers, assuming they still signed Cousins, surely would've been happy either way.

George Kittle's 49ers rise didn't shock fellow Iowa star Merton Hanks

George Kittle's 49ers rise didn't shock fellow Iowa star Merton Hanks

Tight end George Kittle already is the 49ers’ best fifth-round draft pick since 1991.

Kittle has picked up two Pro Bowl selections and a First-Team All-Pro award in his first three NFL seasons. The 49ers have not experienced that kind of success from a player in the fifth round since the selection of defensive back Merton Hanks, a four-time Pro Bowl player and starter on the 49ers’ Super Bowl champion team in the 1994 season.

Kittle, like Hanks, played college ball at Iowa.

“I think that’s a great symmetry,” Hanks said this week on The 49ers Insider Podcast.

“The 49ers do pretty well with fifth-round draft picks from the University of Iowa. We tend to knock it out of the park a little bit there.”

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Hanks, who now works as senior associate commissioner of Conference USA, described himself as a first-round talent who fell in the draft due to a bad performance at the NFL Scouting Combine. He apparently scared teams with his reported time of 4.77 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

Kittle had an impressive combine. He had all the measurables, but he did not post great numbers as a pass-catcher during his four-year college career. In 25 games over four seasons, Kittle caught just 48 passes for 737 yards and 10 touchdowns.

In his first 45 regular-season games with the 49ers, Kittle has 216 catches for 2,945 yards and 12 touchdowns.

“I can’t say I’m surprised at all,” said Hanks, who referred to Iowa as “Tight Ends U."

[RELATED: How ex-49er Merton Hanks channeled 'Sesame Street' in iconic dance]

Iowa produced two tight ends in the first round of the 2019 draft: T.J. Hockenson, chosen No. 8 overall by the Detroit Lions, and Noah Fant, whom the Denver Broncos picked at No. 20.

“Coach (Kirk) Ferentz had NFL ties," Hanks added. "He understands the NFL game and what tight ends have to do to be successful, not only on the collegiate level, but the NFL level.”