At the height of the San Francisco 49ers' rivalry with the Seattle Seahawks, defensive dominance drove each team and usually dictated who won their games. Now that Seattle's Legion of Boom has aged and is being systematically dismantled, the 49ers should take advantage of the decline of the Seahawks' vaunted defensive squad by bolstering their own defense in hopes of shifting the balance of the NFC West.

Michael Silver of NFL.com first portended that "Winter is Coming" for the Legion of Boom, predicting that the Seahawks were likely to move on from Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas, were possibly ambivalent about Kam Chancellor, and considering Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett as expendable. Three months after Sliver wrote that article, Michael Bennett has been traded to the Eagles, and Kam Chancellor's, Cliff Avril's and Earl Thomas' future with the Seahawks remain in doubt. But the move that might best symbolize a changing of the guard between these two franchises was the 49ers signing of Richard Sherman.

49ers and their fans will never forget Richard Sherman tipping Colin Kaepernick's end zone pass in the 2013 NFC Championship game. That tip led to the interception that propelled Seattle to their first Super Bowl win and was the beginning of the end for Jim Harbaugh's and Colin Kaepernick's careers with the 49ers. Similarly, the 49ers remember Sherman eating Turkey on the 50-yard line of Levi's Stadium after a Thanksgiving victory. Despite this history, the 49ers signing of Richard Sherman demonstrates a shrewd maneuver that could end up significantly helping themselves while hurting the rival Seahawks.

Much has been written about the risks involved with an NFL player attempting to come back from a ruptured Achilles, and these risks are certainly in play with Sherman, but the 49ers constructed a wise contract with the veteran cornerback that minimizes their risk if he does not meet expectations. It could also pay off handily if he does. While some players have never been the same following an Achilles tear, Brent Grimes, Demaryius Thomas, Terrell Suggs (twice) and Sherman's old friend Michael Crabtree were all able to perform competitively after an Achilles rupture. If Sherman can come back in a similar manner, the 49ers will improve their defense at a position of need, gain locker room leadership, and insider knowledge to the tendencies and strategies of a division rival, not to mention Sherman's added motivation when he plays the Seahawks twice a season.

Under defensive coordinator Robert Saleh in 2017, the 49ers improved from 28th at 12.1 percent DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) in 2016 to 26th at 8.3 percent DVOA in 2017. The 49ers ranked 28th and 31st in passing and rushing defense in 2016, respectively. While the 49ers improved to 17th in rushing defense in 2017, they remained ranked 28th in passing defense last season, underscoring the importance of improving their secondary and pass rush. Adding Richard Sherman could end up providing much-needed help at cornerback and allow the 49ers to focus on edge rusher and linebacker in free agency and the draft.

Kyle Shanahan is an offensive innovator, and his potential became more evident once Jimmy Garoppolo took control of the offense, helping the 49ers finish 19th in offensive DVOA, 16th in passing offense and 13th in rushing offense by the end of 2017. While it seemed that the 49ers defense outperformed their offense for the first half of the 2017 season, the season-ending statistics suggest that the 49ers currently need more help with their defense. Now that the 49ers have Garoppolo signed to a long-term deal, the 49ers offense appears poised to be competitive immediately. If the 49ers are to make any significant move in the standings in 2018, they will need to emphasize defensive improvement in free agency and the draft.

The 49ers have indeed prioritized the cornerback position this offseason, exemplified by their pursuit of Aqib Talib, which fell through due to Talib's alleged refusal to report to Santa Clara. But this did not deter the Niners from their mission to improve their secondary, leading to their signing of Sherman.


They say that defense wins championships and it appears that the Los Angeles Rams have taken that adage to heart, adding Pro Bowl cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters to their already strong defense, strengthening their position as the favorite for the NFC West in 2018. With the end of the Legion of Boom, the 49ers now have better odds of winning the NFC and Super Bowl than the Seattle Seahawks, implicating that San Francisco is expected to finish better than Seattle in their division. By adding Richard Sherman and focusing on edge rushers and linebackers, 2018 could be another turning point for 49ers and Seattle. This time, Sherman's move could help catalyze the 49ers ascent while the Seahawks fall.