SANTA CLARA -- The Arizona Cardinals could have retained Trent Sherfield this offseason without much effort.
Instead, the organization declined to present him with a qualifying offer as a restricted free agent this offseason.
“I was a little bit heartbroken,” Sherfield said. "I honestly thought I was going to be back. Once I got over the fact I wasn’t going to be there, it was like, ‘OK, what’s next?’ I know that I can play.”
Despite the initial devastation from learning he would not return to the club that signed him as an undrafted rookie in 2018 out of Vanderbilt, it could be the Cardinals did him an enormous favor.
Sherfield remained in the NFC West. He immediately hooked on with the 49ers, signing a one-year, $920,000 contract with $200,000 guaranteed.
And the door is wide open for him to make a big impact with his new team at the unsettled wide receiver position.
He was viewed as a top special-teams player during his three seasons with the Cardinals. He also had the rare opportunity to learn from one of the all-time great wide receivers in Larry Fitzgerald.
The 49ers expect Sherfield to continue being a big part of the team’s kicking game while also giving him a great opportunity to earn a role as a backup behind receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk.
“He had such a good reputation for how he plays on special teams,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “So that's a little where it started. But it's very hard to make our team on special teams if you can't contribute as a receiver.
“He’s a guy who we think can play and has a chance to make this seem just as a receiver. And when you throw in how good of a special teams player he is, it makes him very hard for guys to beat out.”
Sherfield appeared in 44 games with the Cardinals and saw limited action on offense. Of the 28 passes he caught with Arizona, 19 came during his rookie season. Last year, he played 79 snaps of offense and 222 on special teams.
Sherfield was someone who caught the eye of RJ Gillen, the 49ers’ director of pro personnel. Richard Hightower, the 49ers' special-teams coordinator, was on board with bringing in Sherfield.
“And really what's crazy about that is you always respect the player from afar, but he's a guy that's in here at 5:30 every morning, that's in the steam room, taking care of his body,” Hightower said. “He's in the sauna. He does extra. He's a pro's pro. He's bringing guys along. There is no secret.
"Now being around the guy, he fits right into our culture and we're really happy to have him.”
Sherfield sticks to his routine to the point that those inside the organization know where he’s going to be at any minute of the day. It is not uncommon for him to put in a 15-hour workday, leaving the team headquarters at 8:30 p.m. to make sure he is physically at his best for the next day at work.
“Being part of Shanahan’s offense, you got to block, you’ve got to run,” he said. “I’ve never been part of an offense like this, so taking care of my body is very, very essential.”
Sherfield clearly established himself as one of the team’s top four wide receivers during the first week of training camp. After Samuel and Aiyuk, Sherfield and Mohamed Sanu have stood out.
All 13 passes directed Sherfield's way during 11-on-11 drills were completed — including five apiece from Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance.
“He's been out there sharp every day. He's on his stuff,” Garoppolo said. “And as a quarterback, that's the main thing you could ask for from a receiver. You’ve got to be on his stuff and in the spot you expect him to be.”
Sherfield got in the door with the 49ers because of his special-teams play. Just as such players as Raheem Mostert and Dre Greenlaw, he is looking to earn more responsibility.
“Those guys paid their dues on special teams and worked their way up to be key contributors for this team on both sides of the ball, so that’s definitely something I envision myself doing,” he said.
“Coming here, I’m looking to spread my wings, to help this team out the best way I can. Whether that’s special teams or catching the balls, making plays, however I can help this team.”