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49ers could make Jerick McKinnon one of the highest paid running backs in NFL

The 49ers needed a running back, and it appears they’re paying big for one.

The San Francisco 49ers have found their replacement for Carlos Hyde, and they are paying out in a big way. When free agency gets going Wednesday afternoon, the team is expected to sign Jerick McKinnon to a four-year contract worth as much as $30 million.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan and running backs coach Bobby Turner have earned trust for their work with running backs. Additionally, we don’t know the structure yet for guarantees and incentives. That being said, the initial number is eye-popping. The total value is third in the NFL, behind only Devonta Freeman and LeSean McCoy. The $7.5 million per year is fourth in the NFL, behind Le’Veon Bell, Freeman, and McCoy.

We’ll find out details on this contract sooner rather than later, so hopefully people don’t hyperventilate too much right out of the gate. That being said, clearly the 49ers are valuing what he can bring to the passing game. McKinnon has always been a better pass catcher than rusher. The team might see a guy they can help excel in their ground game, but if these numbers hold up to any degree, it seems like a bigger bet on what he will bring to Jimmy Garoppolo through the air.

McKinnon is one of the more explosive running backs out there, based on raw physical skills. He has been unable to break through, but he is getting a huge opportunity with the 49ers.

This does not preclude the 49ers from adding another young running back in the draft, but it seems unlikely it would happen before day three. McKinnon joins a group that includes Matt Breida and Joe Williams. Breida was a solid complementary option to Carlos Hyde last year, but the team cannot assume anything with regard to Williams. Jeremy McNichols is an interesting depth option heading into camp, but I expect more competition for the back end of the depth chart.