From Week 12 through the entirety of the playoffs, Raheem Mostert's 760 rushing yards trailed only Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry's 1,154 for the most in the NFL over that span.
Henry was rewarded with a four-year, $50 million contract Wednesday that reportedly includes $25.5 million guaranteed and makes him the fifth-highest paid running back in the league in terms of annual average salary. Naturally, Mostert -- who also is seeking a salary bump to the degree that he has demanded a trade -- will be rewarded, too. Right?
Aside from the obvious facts that Henry is nearly two years younger than Mostert and has a far larger sample size of success, the Titans simply couldn't afford to not lock up their lead back for the long term. You can be a believer in Ryan Tannehill's resurgence if you'd like, but you cannot view it in a vacuum. Henry is the straw that stirs the drink in that offense, and it's not a coincidence that Tannehill had his best season yet behind the NFL's leading rusher.
Mostert did lead the 49ers in rushing yards last season, but he is nowhere near as personally essential to San Francisco's offense as Henry is to Tennessee's. For one, coach Kyle Shanahan favors a running back-by-committee approach, which is why you'll likely never see the 49ers offer a running back a salary similar to the one Henry got. There's also the argument that Mostert's breakthrough was the product of Shanahan's system, and that he might, therefore, be replaceable.
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It's not that Mostert doesn't deserve a raise. It's just that he's highly unlikely to get exactly what he wants because San Francisco holds all of the leverage. Assuming he isn't traded, he can either play for the 49ers or potentially risk losing an accrued season. And that leverage disparity doesn't even include the bevy of external options San Francisco could fill Mostert's spot with, whether in the immediate or the near future.
Let's go in chronological order, shall we?
If we're operating under the assumption that Mostert will not play under his current contract, nor will he receive what he deems an acceptable raise, there are a few potentially intriguing options on the free-agent market. Shanahan deploys an outside-zone running scheme, so any free-agent back the 49ers brought in likely would already have to be familiar with those concepts.
All of the backs currently on the free-agent market are there for a reason, mind you. They all have certain knocks against them, but it could also be the result of an oversupply and lack of demand.
Devonta Freeman's best seasons certainly would appear to be behind him, but it's worth noting that the two best seasons of his career -- in which he made the Pro Bowl both times -- came with Shanahan as his offensive coordinator with the Atlanta Falcons. And who did he share the backfield with during those two seasons? None other than current San Francisco running back Tevin Coleman.
There's Chris Thompson, who Shanahan surely had a say in drafting in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL Draft when he was Washington's offensive coordinator. There's Isaiah Crowell, who spent his rookie season with Shanahan as his offensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns. Then there are veteran backs Lamar Miller, LeSean McCoy, Bilal Powell and others who might have varying degrees of experience in an outside-zone system, but might be better equipped to learn on the fly.
Again, each of those backs has some negative marks against him. But, as we've seen throughout Shanahan's coaching career, he can make magic with previously overlooked players.
That's just the current free-agent market. Looking a bit further down the line, next year's free-agent class could be absolutely stacked.
The potential free-agent RB class of 2021 is 🔥.... pic.twitter.com/RgEDpEPkVY— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) July 14, 2020
Obviously, you can remove Henry from that list now, but it's still quite a collection of big-name rushers. Many of them surely will be re-signed by their incumbent teams or be franchise-tagged, but some will sneak through the cracks. Again, the 49ers are unlikely to cough up a ton of money for a running back, but that abundance just further exasperates the current supply-demand dynamic that is working against Mostert.
Although the cost of those 2021 free-agent running backs might prove prohibitive for San Francisco, the same cannot be said for what is likely to be a loaded 2021 draft class at the position. Clemson's Travis Etienne, Alabama's Najee Harris (a Bay Area native), Oklahoma State's Chuba Hubbard and Ohio State's Trey Sermon headline the class. But there's tremendous depth within it, and the 49ers surely could add a talented back in the middle or later rounds at relatively little cost.
Will Mostert get exactly what he is demanding? It's difficult to envision it playing out that way. The odds remain in favor of some sort of compromise, perhaps in which more of Mostert's salary is guaranteed.
In any case, there are a number of factors working against Mostert, both currently and down the line. He's not in the wrong for wanting his salary to be adjusted to meet his value. But that value is as much dependent on how he performs as it is how easily he could be replaced.