The upcoming Seahawks-49ers game has been a highly anticipated one for one reason: Richard Sherman returns to Centurylink Field this Sunday for the first time since he was released by the Seahawks.
Career endings are rarely storybook in the world of professional sports, where the harsh realities of the business often lead to decisions tough on the emotions of everyone involved.
So it was with the Seahawks and one of the most iconic players of the Pete Carroll era, cornerback Richard Sherman. Sherman will come face-to-face with his old team for the first time since his departure when he returns with his new team on Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers.
The way Sherman’s Seattle career ended — a 2016 season pockmarked with sideline, locker room and press conference outbursts, a season-ending Achilles tendon injury in 2017 and then his release last March followed by several interviews questioning the direction of the team — was way messier than anyone could have envisioned a few years ago. But Carroll on Wednesday insisted that the good always outweighed the bad.
“Every bit of it was worth it,’’ Carroll said at the end of an answer to one of about a dozen questions he fielded about Sherman during his regular weekly press conference Wednesday, a phrase he then repeated for emphasis. “Every bit of it was worth it.’’
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Carroll, middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, and others all said that fans should feel the same way about Sherman: Remember the good times and realize that the rest is mostly just the way of the world in the NFL.
Wagner joined the Seahawks a year after Sherman in 2012 and said he hoped to play the rest of his career with him. Instead, on Sunday the 49ers could start more players who were part of the Seahawks’ defense that won the Super Bowl following the 2013 season — Sherman and linebacker Malcolm Smith — than the Seahawks. With K.J. Wright again ruled out, Wagner will be the only player on defense who was part of that team.
Wagner noted Sherman still has his house in Seattle and the two see each other often.
“You understand it’s a business and the team is going to make the best decisions for themselves and he’s going to make the best decision for him and sometimes it means parting ways,’’ Wagner said. “So I don’t really have any regret or anything like that. For me as a friend, it’s just being supportive and making sure at the end of the day that he’s happy.’’
The Seahawks released Sherman in March with one year remaining on his contract, a move that saved them $11 million against the salary cap. The team did so in large part over concerns about whether Sherman would be able to recover from the Achilles tendon injury suffered during a game against Arizona.
Sherman insisted he’d be fine and told a group of reporters a few weeks prior to his release that he hoped to sign a long-term deal with the Seahawks — he also decided to represent himself in contract negotiations.
Per Carroll, the Seahawks were open to re-signing Sherman at a lower salary. But within hours of his release, Sherman had worked out a heavily-incentive-laden deal with the 49ers for three years that’s worth up to $39 million but also is easy for San Francisco to get out of if it wants. (Sherman’s $7 million base salary for 2019 becomes guaranteed on April 1 if he makes the Pro Bowl, for instance).
“We had tremendous conversations about it all the way through the stages,’’ Carroll said Wednesday. “(We) were sitting in my office eye-to-eye talking through everything and it was really straightforward and clear.’’
But what about the comments Sherman made after his release, when he signed the 49ers? You know, such as saying the Seahawks had “lost their way a little bit”?
Carroll repeated what he’s said earlier, that he thinks those statements were part of how Sherman needed to process moving on.
“Sherm had to do what he had to do,’’ Carroll said. “He had to change allegiance and get tuned into his new team and whatever took place was OK. I didn’t care. I knew who Sherm is. I knew him way differently than you guys probably think I do. I think the world of him and there were times along the time when he was here that he said things I might not have agreed with and had to work through and all of that. … I don’t care (what he said after leaving). I could care less about that.’’
Sherman also appears to be taking the relatively high road this week. He is scheduled to hold his regular press conference with local reporters Thursday in San Francisco. In an interview with John Clayton of 710 ESPN Seattle on Wednesday, Sherman said: “I look back at the memories fondly. I think it’s unfortunate that it had to end the way that it did. I think that a lot of people would have assumed that they wouldn’t cut me, especially while a guy’s injured and rehabbing, trying to get back. But unfortunately they did, and it’s one of those things you just gotta kinda roll with the punches and continue to push forward. Thankfully I got a chance to sign with the San Francisco 49ers and get the chance to continue my football career.”
As he’d said he would, Sherman was healthy enough to play when the season began for the 49ers.
But he suffered a calf strain early in the season and has missed two of San Francisco’s nine games.
He also struggled mightily in the 49ers’ defeat to Tampa Bay last week. According to Pro Football Focus, Sherman allowed five receptions on five targets for 113 yards, a career high.
Until then, per PFF statistics, Sherman had allowed more than 100 yards receiving only twice in his career, and it had not happened since the fourth game of the 2012 season, his second with Seattle, a 19-13 loss at St. Louis.
“He’s battled through it this year,’’ 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said on a conference call with Seattle reporters. “I think he’s had some games where he’s been more healthier than others. But he’s found a way to come out and have a real good year for us and help us a ton and I love how he’s handled himself in our building.’’
Asked if he anticipates Sherman — who will turn 31 next March — staying with the 49ers beyond this season, Shanahan said, “That’s what we brought him here for. We are going to evaluate the rest of this year. But yeah, we expect him to be here.’’
As for how Sherman will approach his return to Seattle, Shanahan admitted he figures the game will mean just a little bit more for him.
“I know it’s got to be a big deal to him and real important,’’ Shanahan said.
Wagner said he’s looking forward to simply stepping onto the same field with Sherman again, even if as an opponent.
Wagner has often talked of how he and Sherman would “trash talk’’ during games as Seahawks, each goading the other to play at his best. But he also said his favorite memories of Sherman aren’t of any specific plays but the smaller moments when they would talk on the sidelines, often about topics not related to football.
“It’s just going to be fun,’’ Wagner said. “It’s going to be cool to see him. He’s a guy we’ve been fighting with for a long time so it’s going to be cool to kind of be back on the same field.’’