The 49ers just got their Draymond Green. It was an underrated “need” going into this offseason, and they checked the box when they agreed to a deal with cornerback Richard Sherman on Saturday.
Every contending sports team needs a Draymond — a player who is willing to get three inches from a teammate’s face and yell unkind critiques when he feels it’s warranted, the message perhaps attended by a few droplets of spittle.
The 49ers didn’t need a Draymond last year, because they never had a realistic chance of playing past the regular season. When a team is young and not very good, a forceful presence can hurt the locker-room chemistry more than help. Losing repeatedly, and being yelled at for it, isn’t a model that works for a lot of developing athletes.
But the 49ers are beyond that now. They won their six their last seven games in 2017. They have tons of cap room and a quarterback the entire NFL is in love with. We can have every right to expect them to compete for a playoff spot in 2018. And they may need a Draymond or two to get there.
Before last weekend, who fit this role in Santa Clara? Safety Eric Reid was frequently the guy whom the 49ers gathered around for pregame revival meetings. Reid is inspirational, but I don’t know if he has enough edge to call out underachieving or uncaring teammates. Also, he’s a free agent with no guarantee of returning. Linebacker Reuben Foster, a rookie last year, has the passion, and the talent to back it up. But legal missteps have undermined his moral authority.
The most likely candidate was left tackle Joe Staley, who has played 11 seasons with the 49ers. Staley is tough as copper cable, one of the best players on the team and still plays with great emotion, even at 33. If the 49ers had a come-to-Jesus moment, Staley could do the thumping. But it isn’t necessarily his true personality. Staley is too pleasant to slide into the taskmaster role naturally. Anyway, it’s good to have an enforcer on both offense and defense.
So here comes Sherman, the former Stanford and Seattle Seahawks cornerback who signed a three-year contract with his former nemeses.
Sherman arrived in the NFL talking at high volume, and he has yet to dial it down. He plays with an anger more suited to middle linebacker, or marauding Hun, and that ire has occasionally been directed at guys in the same uniforms. In October of 2016, he was restrained by several defensive teammates after shouting at Seattle defensive back DeShawn Shead on the sideline. Two months after that, Sherman had angry words for head coach Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell when he didn’t like the play calling.
I’m not saying it’s great to lash out at your own team. In fact, it is usually a sign of dysfunction. But sometimes it’s a necessary corrective. It lets everyone know they are accountable and subject to a public whipping if they fail to execute their assignments. A sports team needs a certain degree of creative tension — not too much, and not too little.
Draymond Green, the Warriors’ stormy power forward, keeps this tension properly tuned on the Warriors. And Sherman will do so in Santa Clara.