The San Francisco 49ers offseason should be entertaining from our point of view as they have several critical decisions to make that will affect the future of the roster. One of those is the running back position. Raheem Mostert cemented himself as “the guy,” but Kyle Shanahan has never relied on one running back all season. Matt Breida is a restricted free agent, so unless a team matches the 49ers offer, Breida will be on the roster in 2020. Jeff Wilson is an exclusive-rights free agent, which is a player with two or fewer seasons of service time whose contract has expired. Teams only need to offer ERFA’s a minimum contract to be under contract with the team.
The same cannot be said for Tevin Coleman and Jerrick McKinnon, who are both unrestricted free agents. McKinnon hasn’t played a regular-season snap for the 49ers since he signed a couple of seasons ago. Coleman missed two games this season, and has had injury issues in the past, but nowhere near the level of McKinnon. McKinnon has an $8.55 million cap hit in 2020. If he’s going to be back, you can guarantee it won’t be at that number. McKinnon made it no secret that he wants to be back with the 49ers next season:
“I’m willing to do whatever. This team and my teammates know I want to be part of this team, this organization. When that time comes, there will be talk between both parties.”
That could work in favor of the Niners, as they could bring McKinnon back for pennies and have their third-down back. Shanahan made it no secret that he was a fan of McKinnon, and was ready to make him the focal point of the offense in ‘18. Shanahan’s offenses are “fully unlocked” when there is a receiving threat out of the backfield. We didn’t see Coleman in that role this past season. You run the risk of having Breida and McKinnon, two runners that have been consistently banged up, being injured and having to call up Wilson. Shanahan and running backs coach Bobby Turner value what Wilson brings to the table as a pass blocker and pass catcher. The first pass in the Super Bowl went to Wilson, and Wilson was the running back that picked up the blitz on the offensive pass interference call toward the end of the half. Wilson can play.
It’s a good problem to have. If it were me, I’d cut both Coleman and McKinnon, and use that $9,450,000 million in cap savings to bring back a position of more value. Running back is a position that holds value, but you shouldn’t be allocating the amount of money that San Francisco is. In this offense, the 49ers can find an undrafted free agent to come in and backup Mostert next season. For this exercise, if you could bring one player back for 2020, assuming both will be healthy and at the same salary, which running back would you rather have on the team?