SANTA CLARA — For all the accolades, victories and the Super Bowl title he won during his seven seasons in Seattle, Richard Sherman still feels some bitterness about his time with the Seahawks.
He believes the team should have won more than one championship, was broken up too soon and that he shouldn’t have been released last March following a season-ending Achilles injury in 2017.
“You expect after you’ve done so much for a franchise, they wouldn’t cut you while you’re hurt,” Sherman said Thursday as he prepares to return to Seattle for the first time Sunday as a member of the San Francisco 49ers. “It’s kind of more a respect thing than anything. But they did, so you have to roll with the business.”
Sherman downplayed the significance of his return to his old stomping grounds, where he helped establish the famed Legion of Boom secondary that carried the Seahawks to great success, calling it just another game on the schedule.
He said he looks forward to seeing some old friends and familiar faces, although quarterback Russell Wilson apparently isn’t one of them.
“I don’t really have a relationship with Russell,” Sherman said. “We were teammates. We played during a very special time for the franchise.”
Sherman has played at a high level this season with the struggling 49ers (2-9), rarely even getting tested most games. That changed a bit last week at Tampa Bay, when Sherman allowed at least 100 yards receiving for just the sixth time in his career, according to SportRadar.
One of the big gains, a 34-yard catch by Mike Evans, came on a broken play that Jameis Winston extended by scrambling. That’s something Wilson excels at but Sherman didn’t seem too worried about dealing with that this week.
“I’ve seen him throw five picks in a game,” Sherman said. “You see what he’s capable of on both sides. You understand he can be defended and you go out there and give it your best shot.”
Sherman joined the Seahawks in 2011 as a fifth-round pick out of Stanford and almost immediately established himself as one of the game’s premier shut-down cornerbacks.
Wilson came the following year and they made five straight postseasons, winning the Super Bowl following the 2013 season — thanks in part to Sherman’s tipped ball that led to a game-sealing interception to beat the 49ers in the NFC title game.
The Seahawks then fell just short of a repeat when Wilson threw an interception from the 1-yard line in the closing seconds of a 28-24 loss to New England that still haunts the franchise.
Seattle never made it back to the championship game and now only a handful of players remain from those dominant teams.
“Once it’s all said and done and everybody who is playing is done playing, people will be more disappointed of what could have been with such a talented group of players,” Sherman said.
One of the players still in Seattle is Sherman’s old friend Doug Baldwin. The two were teammates in college at Stanford, both joined the Seahawks in 2011 and spent many practices matched up against each other on the field.
Baldwin said it was horrible how Sherman’s tenure ended in Seattle and said it will be hard for his friend to distinguish those bad feelings from the good times he had with the team.
“From a humanistic standpoint it’s very difficult to separate those emotions,” Baldwin said. “He gave so much blood, sweat and tears while he was here. I think him coming back there will be some emotions there coming and playing in this stadium, albeit in a different jersey. I think that will definitely have some emotional baggage with him.”
Sherman has quickly ingratiated himself in San Francisco after being despised for so long by the 49ers. Left tackle Joe Staley, one of two remaining 49ers from the 2013 NFC championship game, has said he never liked Sherman in the past but now has only praise, comparing his work ethic to that of former teammate Frank Gore.
“The way he works, you’d think he’s just trying to make the team,” Staley said. “But he’s been one of the top corners for a long time in this league.”
The decision to part with Sherman — along with several other impact veterans — was supposed to be part of the cumulative reason the Seattle Seahawks would finally take a step back. This was going to be the rebuild season, even if no one with the Seahawks ever wanted to use that word.
But the Seahawks (6-5) are not backsliding. They have won two straight and have a direct path to an NFC playoff berth, when few expected them to be in the conversation at the beginning of December.
The players who stepped in for the likes of Sherman and other veterans who departed after last season have brought a youthful exuberance. That has created a fun environment in Seattle only amplified by the Seahawks’ success.
“This game is too crazy to not have fun and it’s definitely a point of emphasis for me, just for the guys that came in and were stepping into a lot of key positions, to not worry about who they were replacing or who you were coming behind, “ Seattle star linebacker Bobby Wagner said, “but just to have the fun you’ve been having all your life and everything else will figure out itself.”
Fun has come around sparingly in San Francisco this season. The 49ers were supposed to be in Seattle’s position of competing for a playoff spot. But injuries — namely the loss of QB Jimmy Garoppolo — derailed those hopes early in the season. They looked great in thumping Oakland on Nov. 1, only to turn around and drop their next two against the weak Giants and Buccaneers.
“I do think we’re going through this for a reason. I do think it can make us better,” 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said. “A lot of guys have gotten to play a lot that normally wouldn’t be able to play, and I hope that helps us find some things out about people this year and helps us build this team better next year.”
Welcoming Sherman back to Seattle starts a stretch of four of the final five games at home for the Seahawks. They’ve been a notoriously good team in the final month of the calendar, and getting to play at home is adding to the belief this season could end in an unexpected playoff berth.
Here’s what else to watch as the Seahawks and 49ers meet for the first of two games in 14 days:
Wilson is coming off his best performance of the season against Carolina. With Seattle’s running game shut down by the Panthers, Wilson threw for a season-high 339 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the 30-27 win, showing that Seattle’s offense can function just fine when its ground game is stymied. The Seahawks have been the best run team in the NFL for most of the season, but Wilson’s performance was a reminder he can be an elite passer when needed.
MAN IN THE MIDDLE
The 49ers handed Fred Warner big responsibility when they inserted him at middle linebacker and made him the defensive play caller as a rookie. Warner’s role will only get bigger after San Francisco released second-year linebacker Reuben Foster following his arrest last weekend on domestic violence charges. Warner has been one of the bright spots with his ability to get the defense in the right calls and thrive against both the run and pass. He will have a tough test this week against Wilson.
“He’s a mobile quarterback, so being able to escape the pocket and make big plays with his legs, that’s what he’s known for,” Warner said. “We have to be aware of that.”
Seattle got its first turnover in three-plus games last week when Bradley McDougald made an acrobatic end zone interception of Cam Newton. The Seahawks also forced five fumbles against the Panthers, but failed to recover any. It was a long drought that saw Seattle drop to 11th in the league with 17 turnovers forced. That’s nothing compared to the 49ers. San Francisco is last in the NFL with just five takeaways. The 49ers have just two interceptions and haven’t forced a turnover in the last three games.
HOUSE OF HORRORS
Playing in Seattle has led only to disappointment for the 49ers in recent years. The 49ers have lost their last seven trips, including the 2013 NFC title game, getting outscored by more than 15 points per game. San Francisco’s last win here came in 2011 with Alex Smith at quarterback. Since then, Colin Kaepernick, Blaine Gabbert and Brian Hoyer have combined for 10 turnovers, 16 sacks, three TD passes and a 61.4 passer rating in Seattle.
First-year quarterback Nick Mullens will try to reverse that trend and bounce back from two rough starts following a sterling debut. Mullens has thrown four interceptions the past two games in losses to the Giants and Tampa Bay, and faces a much tougher defense this week.