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ESPN still hates Kyle Juszczyk’s contract


San Francisco 49ers v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

There are certain absolutes in life; death, taxes, and ESPN hating Kyle Juszczyk’s contract. Still.

Three years in and this thing is still hated. Last year around this time Bill Barnwell listed Juszczyk No. 1 on the 20 most bloated contracts. Nothing much has changed in a year. Barnwell wrote another rundown, putting Juszczyk at No. 1 in front of Aaron Donald. By Barnwell’s math, the contract is 174.3 percent above league average for fullbacks, which does raise some eyebrows. The most effective point is the stats that Barnwell provides on Juszczyk’s production:

If the argument is that Juszczyk helps as a blocker, that’s also tough to trust, as 36.8 percent of San Francisco’s running plays with Juszczyk on the field result in a successful run by expected points added (EPA). Without Juszczyk on the field, though, that figure rises to 42.8 percent.

In the bigger picture, there just isn’t much evidence of Juszczyk making a consistent difference. The 49ers are successful on offense by EPA for 41.9 percent of their snaps with Juszczyk on the field. Without him, they’ve been successful on ... 41.8 percent of their snaps. I don’t think those on/off stats are enough to totally discount Juszczyk, but it’s also fair to say that there isn’t a clear case he’s making a difference.

The 49ers can get out of this deal now that the first two years are up with minimal damage to the salary cap/dead money as a consequence. It’s a huge contract, but the question to be asked is, what is the alternative? When Juszczyk is schemed open, he gets enormous gains. Barnwell argues that the 49ers could do it to a regular running back, but the fact Juszczyk is the one running around takes teams by surprise.

When he did this last year, Fooch noted something that is much more articulate than I could say, so I’ll list it here:

Juszczyk agreed to terms on his four-year, $21 million deal ($7 million guaranteed) the same day Patrick DiMarco agreed to terms on his four-year, $8.4 million ($4.8 million guaranteed). The guaranteed numbers are quite close together, so one could argue in that regard it’s not really that overpriced. It only becomes “overpriced” if he ends up playing all four years on this contract. Maybe the 49ers felt comfortable enough with their future cap space that they were willing to do it, knowing they could easily cut him after the first two years of the deal.

Is the contract bloated? Yes. Is it a No. 1 bloated deal? I doubt that. The 49ers had to get their players here the first year John Lynch/Kyle Shanahan took over and bringing a player to a development squad is going to cost some coin. If the 49ers were to keep Juszczyk the life of the deal without restructuring, I would change my tune, but right now they have a way out of it. The guarantees aren’t that huge of a gap when you compare them to DiMarco either.

Barnwell noted some other contracts that haven’t aged well, notably Malcolm Smith who hasn’t seen near enough of the field to merit the price tag of his deal. Jerick McKinnon also got paid like a dependable back, but much like Juszczyk, the 49ers can get out of the deal with little long-term scars thanks to the structure of the contract.

It will be interesting to see what happens to Juszczyk’s deal after this year. The 49ers could look to restructure it, giving him a few more years, some guarantees, and less yearly salary, cut him or pay out that monster amount. Things are different than they were in 2017, if the 49ers can advance to the playoffs and have their draft classes take the next step, they won’t need to be seeking out monster deals as they have been in the past.

Well, let’s hope not.