Richard Sherman's toughest test came after 49ers' win, and he aced it

Richard Sherman's toughest test came after 49ers' win, and he aced it

SANTA CLARA -- Sometimes all it takes is a split-second, a freaky instant, to deny a dream. Such a moment flashed before the 49ers on Saturday, and the only thing that allowed them to avert disaster was Richard Sherman’s athleticism and balance.

The cornerback was a few moments removed from standing in front of his cubicle, basking in the glory he has earned over the course of a brilliant nine-year NFL career. Basking, in this instance, might be an understatement.

“People think I’m a zone [cornerback],” he said with customary conviction. “[It’s] man! Playoffs! Pick! Gotta have those. You know what I mean?

“But you know what [media] is going to do? They’re going to do what they always do to me. They’re going to make an excuse for why I’m great. They’re going to have an excuse. ‘Oh, it was Kirk Cousins!’ It’s always an excuse. But when somebody does it, it’s like, ‘He’s the best corner.’

“Look, Jalen [Ramsey] was [considered] the greatest corner. But I’m a system corner. We play in the same system! But I’m a system corner. You start to listen and it’s like, ‘Bro, they run the same scheme.’ Like, what are we talking about?”

I then interrupted Sherman -- whose third-quarter interception was the most impactful play of the game -- to ask why he believes his excellence, which is inarguable, is somehow neglected.

“Because haters,” he replied. “People want to hate me. Because people want to treat me like a villain. They want me to fail. So, they don’t ever want to let me get what I’m supposed to get. It’s frustrating, but I’m about to talk about it in this press conference.”

His impassioned sermon over, Sherman began making his way out of the locker room and toward the auditorium to take questions about San Francisco’s 27-10 victory over Minnesota in the NFC Divisional Playoff.

A few steps onto the concrete hallway beneath Levi’s Stadium, Sherman slipped on a small wet spot, witnesses gasping in unison. This is where his athleticism and balance were as crucial as they are on the field.

He briefly skidded, managed a partial pirouette, and regained full equilibrium.

“Sherm” had survived his most perilous moment of the day. That puddle struck more fear than any of the receivers the Vikings sent his way -- mostly because Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins rarely considered that option. His questionable decision to test Sherman with a pass intended for Adam Thielen was picked off, giving the 49ers possession at the Minnesota 34-yard line.

Less than five minutes later, San Francisco was in the end zone, taking a 24-10 lead that signified full command.

That’s what Sherman does. He makes big plays in big moments. He talks big before and after those games. He gives this ferocious defense the lightning rod it needs to be at its best.

His 10 comrades on the defensive unit play with such remarkable speed because, in part, they let him do the thinking.

“Sherm has really gotten us to not even worry about what the [opposing] offense is doing,” rookie star Nick Bosa said. “Just worry about our assignments and our job. Just keep playing.”

The 49ers didn’t so much conquer the Vikings as bludgeoned them. Coach Kyle Shanahan scripted a diabolical game plan, opening the game by dazzling Minnesota with Jimmy Garoppolo’s passing and then, with the Vikings on their heels, turning the page and bludgeoning them into submission with a relentless (47 carries, 196 yards) running game.

The immediate future of this team, though, is in the hands of its defense. The 49ers limited the Vikings to 90 net yards of offense through the first three quarters and 147 for the game. They locked the run game in a closet and sacked Cousins six times for 46 yards lost.

“It looked like they just got off blocks well and had extra guys at the point of attack,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, a respected defensive strategist, conceded.

There were no extras on the field for the 49ers. Just 11 men swinging hammers and delighting rollicking sellout crowd. There is plenty of talent, to be sure, under the guidance of firebrand coordinator Robert Saleh, whose résumé continues to shine.

[RELATED: Why Jimmy G, Kittle were thrilled with low-stat games]

But Sherman, an unofficial assistant under Saleh, is the personality behind this bunch. His healthy presence is essential to any chance of reaching, much less winning, a Super Bowl.

Which is why that puddle, which could have been the cause for Sherman limping into the trainer’s room, can exhale. And, if it knows what’s good for it, vanish long before the NFC Championship Game next weekend.

Why Cam Newton is unlikely to join 49ers as Jimmy Garoppolo's backup

Why Cam Newton is unlikely to join 49ers as Jimmy Garoppolo's backup

It doesn't seem to make a difference who the free-agent quarterback is. There simply is no end to the rumors or suggestions that Jimmy Garoppolo could be replaced.

For years, pundits have argued that 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan would prefer Kirk Cousins over the incumbent, but that is all moot now that Cousins has signed a two-year contract extension with the Minnesota Vikings. Recently, there was no shortage of rumors that San Francisco was considering swapping Garoppolo out for Tom Brady, who has since signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Teddy Bridgewater was never suggested as a potential Garoppolo replacement, but he is now the starter for the Carolina Panthers after signing with them in free agency. The man -- and former MVP -- he is replacing, however, is currently without a team.

And thus begin the Cam Newton-to-49ers rumors.

Though numerous current and former 49ers have come out in support of Garoppolo, NFL Media's Bucky Brooks feels as though Newton would be a fit in San Francisco -- not necessarily as a Jimmy G replacement, or at least not right away.

"If I'm Cam Newton, and I can't go to the L.A. Chargers because they love Tyrod [Taylor], I go to San Francisco," Brooks said on KNBR's "The Mark Willard Show" on Thursday. "And the reason why Cam Newton in San Francisco would work is because I just believe that there may not be this great sense that Jimmy Garoppolo is the guy there.

"And let's just say that he may not be the guy, so you put Cam back there behind him, and Cam gets to learn from one of the best quarterback gurus that we've seen in the league. And maybe, just maybe, Kyle Shanahan is intrigued on having an explosive athlete running the stretch bootleg concept, putting the ball in the perimeter, throwing it out there."

Alright, where to begin?

First and foremost, none of the QBs rumored to be potential replacements for Garoppolo are verifiably superior. In fact, between Garoppolo, Cousins, Brady and Newton, Jimmy G threw for the most touchdowns, averaged the most yards per attempt and posted the best adjusted quarterback rating last season. He's also the youngest by at least a year-and-a-half, with Newton -- who turns 31 in May -- the next closest in age. Garoppolo turns 29 in November.

Then there's the financial aspect. Brooks seems to think the 49ers would be able to fit Newton into their salary-cap space.

"I'm just saying, from the Niners' standpoint, you would be able to get Cam at his cheapest," Brooks continued. "So if you think about a value proposition, just to bring him in, in case Jimmy Garoppolo gets hurt or falters, it would just be an interesting thing to think about if I'm the San Francisco 49ers, and I'm looking to add value and pop to my offense."

What Brooks is forgetting, however, is that a large portion of San Francisco's cap space has already been set aside in order to sign standout tight end George Kittle to a record-breaking contract extension, not to mention approximately $7 million that will be needed to sign the 49ers' 2020 draft class. 

[RELATED: Lynch promises 49ers will be ready for April's NFL draft]

Yes, Newton isn't exactly in a great negotiating position, but it's extremely hard to envision him signing somewhere on the cheap. He is unquestionably superior to Taylor, for instance, and the Chargers would seem like the likeliest destination for him. But even if Newton goes somewhere else, it's highly unlikely it will be for a salary that San Francisco could absorb without throwing a huge wrench into the construction of the rest of the roster.

From a talent standpoint, there's no doubt that Shanahan would love to have Newton on the 49ers, and while the team has confidence in Nick Mullens as Garoppolo's backup, he has never won a league MVP award. That said, Mullens comes significantly cheaper than Newton, and also won't create a circus through his presence at training camp. Newton surely would if he was there -- and rightfully so -- but unless he feels like taking the bare minimum, don't count on him coming to San Francisco.

GM John Lynch promises 49ers will be ready for April's 2020 NFL Draft

GM John Lynch promises 49ers will be ready for April's 2020 NFL Draft

The NFL draft will proceed as scheduled in a month, and 49ers general manager John Lynch promised on Friday the club will be ready.

Lynch posted a video on social media from his home office, as the team’s draft preparation continues with members of the organization working separately due to NFL guidelines to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The scouting department and coaches have been taking part in regular video conference meetings, Lynch said.

“This draft is absolutely huge for us, so there’s no excuses, no explanations,” Lynch said on the video. “We got to get our work done, albeit from home.”

Lynch said he is thankful for the hard work of the personnel department, scouts, coaching staff, and IT and video staffs. Lynch singled out vice presidents of player personnel Adam Peters and Martin Mayhew, and director of college scouting Ethan Waugh.

“We will be ready for that draft,” Lynch said.

The 49ers own the Nos. 13 and 31 picks in the first round of the draft on Thursday, April 23.

Lynch said he always looks for the blessings in any situation. Lynch and his wife, Linda, have four children, including two in college. The whole family is spending time a lot of quality time together as a result of the shelter-in-place guidelines.

[RELATED: Goodell tells NFL teams to prepare for 2020 draft off-site]

Then, Lynch offered some words of encouragement to the 49ers’ fan base.

“Make the best of the situation,” he said. “We appreciate your support always, faithful. Go Niners. Stay at home. Stay safe, and I’ve got your back.”

The 49ers also started a resource page at 49ers.com/IGYB and are asking people to take photos of their home offices and show their Niners spirit and tag their posts #IGYB (I Got Your Back).