49ers cornerback Richard Sherman to move to safety in 2021?

Richard Sherman #25 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Richard Sherman #25 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

If the 49ers retain Richard Sherman after 2020, how likely is it he shifts to safety?

San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman is one of the greatest defensive backs of all time. And that’s not hyperbole. Sherman made the NFL’s list of all-time greats for the past decade, and there’s little reason to assume the five-time Pro Bowler and three-time first-team All-Pro winds up enjoying yet another exemplary season in 2020.

After this upcoming year, however, things get awfully interesting.

For starters, there’s the unavoidable: Sherman is aging and already turned 32 years old last March. While he’s still playing at an exceptionally high level, Father Time remains undefeated. And the drop off from a top-performing player can be awfully steep and quick.

There’s also the uncertainty of Sherman’s future beyond this season. He’s entering the final year of the three-year deal he signed with San Francisco back in 2018. Contract years can be beneficial. But with a slew of other free-agent challenges the Niners will face in March of 2021, there’s no guarantee general manager John Lynch and Co. will want to bring the veteran back.

If Sherman does come back, however, how would he fit in on the secondary’s depth chart? The 49ers haven’t exactly groomed Sherman’s successor, so that’s something to consider. But even if they do between now and 2021, is there another potential change coming Sherman’s way?

Possibly. And it has to do with a would-be position change.

49ers could move Richard Sherman to strong safety

This isn’t the proverbial “throwing stuff at the wall to see if it sticks” argument.

Late in 2018, Sherman spoke with ESPN’s Nick Wagoner and stated he’d probably call it a career around 35 years old. That would likely entail another three-year contract, or so, and perhaps it’s negotiated similarly to the self-bargained deal Sherman engineered already.

Yet Sherman also suggested he’d be looking at a transitional move to safety:

"At corner, I’ve had games where I haven’t got a look, thrown at, and at safety you can see exactly where the ball goes and you can make an impact. You can get in on every tackle just about because you’re in the center of everything, kind of like the Mike [linebacker]. But it’s something I’m definitely going to consider later in my career and hopefully I’ll be just as good there."

OK, a few things to consider here. Sherman has never been known as a speedy defensive back, instead using his intelligence and physicality to contain wide receivers rather than trying to match them step for step.

So that would likely rule out Sherman playing a single-high free safety, where good-to-elite sideline-to-sideline skills are required.

That said, Sherman wouldn’t be the first cornerback convert to safety late in his career. Defensive backs Rod Woodson, Charles Woodson and Ronde Barber all made the change late in their respective careers, too.

If San Francisco elects to retain Sherman and put him at strong safety, where his physicality could be used closer to the line of scrimmage, there would be a potential spot for him.

That’s due to the fact current strong safety Jaquiski Tartt is also entering a contract year this season. At 28 years old, he’ll be looking at a potential career-best new deal a little less than a year from now. And if he performs well enough in a contract year, the 49ers will be hard pressed to retain one of their better defensive backs from 2019.

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As such, it’s feasible the Niners consider letting Tartt walk in free agency in 2021, re-signing Sherman and having him play strong safety to round out the latter days of his noteworthy career.

Meanwhile, there’s a 2020 season in the way to determine whether or not that’s even a worthy course of action.