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.
“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.