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49ers have hard decisions to make with running backs in 2020 offseason

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49ers have hard decisions to make with running backs in 2020 offseason

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- During the 2019 offseason, the 49ers arguably had the most stacked room of running backs in the league. 

Many football pundits speculated how coach Kyle Shanahan was going to spread out carries and still keep everyone happy. Before the regular season even began, however, that changed drastically as setbacks from an ACL injury forced Jerick McKinnon to sit out a second consecutive season. 

As the season unfolded, both Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida missed multiple games with ankle injuries, forcing the 49ers to promote Jeff Wilson Jr. from the practice squad. 

Raheem Mostert, who has been a standout on special teams throughout his five-year career, finished the season leading the team in rushing yards (772) and touchdowns (10). 

“It’s two years in a row that we’ve gone in with four backs and we’ve needed all four,” Shanahan said Tuesday at the NFL Scouting Combine. “It’s something that I used to look at as a luxury, and now I’m almost feeling like it’s a necessity.”

Shanahan and general manager John Lynch now face tough decisions as they look to solidify the backfield for the 2020 season. While they would prefer to keep the group they have together, they know that will nearly be impossible. 

“I would love to keep it going forward,” Shanahan said. “I think the group that we had last year showed where we could get with them, but it’s always hard to do that. I hope that we can. It’s not as simple as just tying all the running backs together, it’s how you compare them to the other positions and everything.”  

Breida has reached the end of his three-year undrafted rookie contract, and is set to become an unrestricted free agent. A higher price tag could make re-signing him a challenge. McKinnon is set to make $6.5 million with a cap hit of over $8.5 million. Lynch is keeping the lines of communication open with both parties, but is realistic about the challenges ahead.

Restructuring McKinnon's contract could help the 49ers cap situation and potentially keep him on the roster for 2020. 

[RELATED: 49ers have solid running backs, but group lacks something]

“I think this week will be important in talking with his representative in trying to find something that works for both sides to try to come back and see Jerick on the field,” Lynch said on Tuesday. “He’s doing well.

“He was cleared at the end of the season, so his hard work has served him well. I think as we’ve learned before, the nature of that position, not an easy position. There’s being cleared and then there’s actually playing football. So we have to kind of hold our breath on that, but we are encouraged with the way it’s gone.” 

Coleman is signed through 2020 and Mostert’s contract runs through 2021. Jeff Wilson is an exclusive rights free agent, which means if the 49ers offer him a one-year contract and the league minimum, he cannot negotiate with other teams. 

2020 NFL Draft: How DeForest Buckner could influence 49ers to trade down

2020 NFL Draft: How DeForest Buckner could influence 49ers to trade down

Whomever the 49ers select with the No. 13 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft will always be compared head-to-head against defensive tackle DeForest Buckner.

Little attention will be paid to the contract sizes. Buckner is scheduled to make $21 million annually over the next four seasons, while the choice at No. 13 will check in at approximately $4 million per year over the length of his four-year deal.

This will always go down as a one-for-one trade, however misleading that might be. The 49ers sent Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts for their first-round pick in the 2020 draft.

Generally, when teams trade a high-caliber, proven player with many years ahead of him, such as Buckner, they understandably want to parlay that move into acquiring multiple players.

Maybe it’s because of the value of adding two or more players while trading away one player. Maybe it’s because teams want to sidestep those head-to-head comparisons. Maybe they want to avoid placing undo pressure and expectations onto a rookie who has enough to worry about upon entering the NFL.

Most recently, the New England Patriots did this after receiving the 49ers’ pick at No. 43 overall in the 2018 NFL Draft in exchange for Jimmy Garoppolo.

Bill Belichick traded out of No. 43. The Patriots picked up a later selection in the second round in addition to a fourth-rounder. When the draft was over, the Patriots had made four trades involving the original pick and the picks acquired in trades. Good luck trying to figure out, exactly, which players the Patriots acquired in connection with the Garoppolo trade.

The 49ers did the same thing four years earlier after they traded Alex Smith to the Kansas City Chiefs for second-round picks in the 2013 and 2014 drafts.

Then-49ers general manager Trent Baalke flipped those two draft selections in five players -- Tank Carradine, Corey Lemonier, Carlos Hyde and Chris Borland -- along with another trade that enabled them to acquire veteran wide receiver Stevie Johnson.

The 49ers will have plenty of options at different positions with the No. 13 overall pick. If they love a player in that spot, they will undoubtedly make their selection.

Nobody would be surprised if the 49ers address wide receiver, offensive tackle, cornerback and defensive line with any of their top selections.

[RELATED49ers, Raiders go offense/defense in latest mock NFL draft]

But if one or two targeted players are not there when it’s the 49ers’ turn to select in three weeks, they will almost assuredly look to bail out of No. 13. That would allow the 49ers to pick up more selections to take advantage of what is expected to be a deep draft at a number of different positions of need.

And it would also give the 49ers the opportunity to select more than one front-line starter to soften the blow of trading Buckner.

How ex-49er Merton Hanks channeled 'Sesame Street' in iconic dance

How ex-49er Merton Hanks channeled 'Sesame Street' in iconic dance

Merton Hanks owes his iconic celebration to a place where the air is sweet.

The former 49ers safety revealed to NBC Sports Bay Area's Matt Maiocco in the latest "49ers Insider Podcast" that Hanks' legendary "chicken dance" was not the inspiration for the Bluth family, but an ode to a famous felt figure (not Franklin).

Hanks sat down with his daughter to watch "Sesame Street" during the 1995 season when he saw Bert "Doin' The Pigeon."

"I thought, 'OK, well, let me play around with that," Hanks told Maiocco. "[After messing] around with it in practice, it popped up ... in the Dallas Cowboys game when Elvis Grbac [made] his first start and Jerry Rice had, like, an [81-yard touchdown] to kick things off. It kind of came out in that game."

Hanks picked up a fumble and returned it 38 yards to score within the first two minutes of the 49ers' 38-20 road win over the rival Cowboys on Nov. 12, 1995. San Francisco, then 11 weeks into its Super Bowl title defense after lifting the monkey off Steve Young's back the previous season, needed some swagger.

The "pigeon dance" provided it."Deion Sanders had left (for the Cowboys)," Hanks recalled. "Ricky Watters had left (for the Philadelphia Eagles). My contract was coming up, and we felt like our on-the-field product was pretty solid as far as play, but we needed something to differentiate ourselves."

Hanks spent eight seasons with the 49ers, becoming synonymous with the dance over his final four.

His 31 interceptions are the fourth most in 49ers history, but the dance is what most fans remember. Hanks' jig even transcended football, when eventual Basketball Hall of Famer Shaquille O'Neal incorporated the celebration into his repertoire early in his eight-season stint with the Los Angeles Lakers.

[RELATED: 49ers go offense/defense in latest NFL mock draft]

The 49ers embraced Hanks' era last season by wearing 1994-inspired throwback jerseys. Someone in San Francisco's secondary surely could do Hanks' dance this year, but we'll be left wondering one thing.

Can they also tell us how to get to "Sesame Street?"

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