49ers

49ers roster analysis: Running backs combine to make formidable group

49ers roster analysis: Running backs combine to make formidable group

This is the second installment of a nine-part series that examines the 49ers’ roster coming out of the 2019 season, looks ahead to 2020, and outlines the offseason challenges facing general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan on a position-by-position basis.

Tuesday, a look at the 49ers’ running backs.

Under contract (signed through)

-FB Kyle Juszczyk (2020)
-Tevin Coleman (2020)
-Raheem Mostert (2021)
-Jerick McKinnon (2021)

Juszczyk’s contract includes a club option for $5.55 million, which does not seem to be in question at all for what he gives the team.

Coleman is scheduled to earn $4.9 million in salary and bonuses.

McKinnon, who did not appear in a game in his first two seasons with the 49ers due to a knee injury, will certainly not be back on his scheduled pay of $6.8 million. But the 49ers might be inclined to see if they can work out a low-level one-year deal to keep him around.

Expiring contracts

-Matt Breida (RFA)
-Jeff Wilson (ERFA)

Breida’s salary is scheduled to jump from $645,000 to $2.144 million if the 49ers give him the lowest free-agent tender. That is a decision that could go either way.

Breida can negotiate with other teams beginning March 16. If the 49ers give him the low-level tender, the club would not receive any compensation if another team signs him to an offer sheet and the 49ers decline to match.

As an exclusive-rights free agent, Wilson has no outside negotiating power. The 49ers would retain his rights with a qualifying offer.

What needs to happen

First things first, the 49ers have to figure out what they want to do with the running backs who finished last season with the club.

Juszczyk is a no-brainer. The 49ers could also look to extend him this offseason to lower his cap number for 2020 while also making sure they keep him under club control for a couple more seasons.

Coleman is scheduled to make $4.9 million, which seems reasonable for a player who was the primary starter and came through big in the playoff opener. Breida’s jump in salary never seemed to be much in question until the end of the season when he rarely got on the field.

McKinnon simply cannot come back on his scheduled salary. But he said he wants to return and he’s fully aware the only way that happens if he agrees to a dramatic pay reduction. If McKinnon returns to his pre-injury form, he would give the 49ers the kind of route-runner out of the backfield that they do not currently have on their roster.

Wilson is the best route-runner out of the backfield, so he could get an opportunity to see more action as a third-down back. Or the 49ers could keep their eye on happenings around the league to see if Atlanta parts ways with Devonte Freeman in a cost-cutting move.

[RELATED: 49ers roster analysis: QBs in good shape entering 2020 season]

Expectations

The 49ers found something that worked with Mostert and Coleman. They also learned over the past three seasons that it makes sense to have three or four running backs who are capable of sharing the load.

A year ago, Mostert had his spot on the 49ers’ roster wrapped up because of his ability on special teams. Now, he enters the offseason as a dynamic presence in the backfield. Regardless of the rest of the depth chart at running back, Mostert should get plenty of carries in 2020.

The 49ers had to be pleased with the production from the running backs. Mostert, Breida and Coleman each rushed for 500-plus yards. Wilson was very good when he was given an opportunity, too.

The area where the running backs must improve is in the passing game. Coach Kyle Shanahan wants more options on third downs to take advantage of areas of the defense he feels he can exploit.

Whether it’s bringing back McKinnon, developing one of the other backs or going outside to bring in a proven pass-catcher, the 49ers might not take that next step on offense until they put a great route-runner in their backfield on third downs.

George Kittle jokingly offers up Richard Sherman's phone number online

George Kittle jokingly offers up Richard Sherman's phone number online

Professional athletes notoriously keep an extremely safe guard over their personal cell phone numbers.

With good reason, as their devices likely never would stop ringing if the number was publicly available.

49ers cornerback Richard Sherman turned 32 years old on Monday, and his fellow all-pro and teammate George Kittle offered him an interesting present via social media.

Obviously this is all in good fun, as Kittle always has been known for ribbing his teammates.

[RELATED: Why Lynch likely was scouting Louisville's Becton from home]

Sherman has 114 career passes defenses, but he’d have to swat away a lot more phone calls if Kittle were to blast out his digits.

Celebrate Richard Sherman's 32nd birthday by remembering 2019 rants

Celebrate Richard Sherman's 32nd birthday by remembering 2019 rants

Richard Sherman is one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, but he might be most in his element at a podium.

The 49ers cornerback is one of the league's best speakers, captivating reporters looking to fill notebooks and fans starved to hear something interesting from the players they follow whenever he addresses the media.

Our colleagues in content at NBC Sports Northwest celebrated Sherman's 32nd birthday on Monday by remembering his epic dismissal of then-49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree after the 2013 NFC Championship Game, but the veteran added to his canon of memorable interviews and social-media rants during his second season with the 49ers during the 2019 season. Here are his best in honor of the All-Pro taking another trip around the sun.

The handshake heard -- but not seen -- around the world

Sherman's 49ers stomped on the Cleveland Browns, the darlings of the NFL offseason, in Week 5 on "Monday Night Football." The win established San Francisco as For Real, but Sherman managed to grab the most headlines when he told NFL Media's Mike Silver that Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield didn't shake his hand before the game.

"What's amazing, and annoying, was him not shaking hands at the beginning," Sherman told Silver. "That's some college s--t. It's ridiculous. We're all trying to get psyched up, but shaking hands with your opponent -- that's NFL etiquette. And when you pull bush league stuff, that's disrespectful to the game. And believe me, that's gonna get us fired up."

That's not really what happened, either.

Video revealed that Mayfield did, in fact, shake hands with Sherman before the game, just not a second time. Sherman said he would apologize to Mayfield after the cornerback was caught in a lie, but still managed to turn the fiasco into ... an observation on sports-media priorities in 2019?

"I've said my piece about it," Sherman said in October. "I'm going to have a conversation with him, and then I'm kind of going to be done with it. It’s just funny it got so big. I thought the football game is what they watched for, but I guess it’s the soap opera."

Sherman becomes @OldTakesExposed

Sherman remembered everyone who criticized him signing an incentive-heavy contract with the 49ers as a free agent in 2018.

And I mean everyone.

There's much more nuance to Sherman's contract, as ESPN's Bill Barnwell expertly noted soon after Sherman's dunk session. Yet Sherman showed once again how unsparing he is when vindicated, and it wouldn't be the last time he relished proving people wrong during the 49ers' Super Bowl run.

In his zone

Sherman has long been knocked by critics for being a "zone" cornerback, who have argued that he can't guard the NFL's best receivers 1-on-1. The cornerback lit into those doubters after the 49ers' win over the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Divisional Round, when Sherman intercepted Vikes QB Kirk Cousins to set up a San Francisco touchdown.

“People think I’m a zone [cornerback],” he said in January. “[It’s] man! Playoffs! Pick! Gotta have those. You know what I mean?

“But you know what [media] is going to do? They’re going to do what they always do to me. They’re going to make an excuse for why I’m great. They’re going to have an excuse. ‘Oh, it was Kirk Cousins!’ It’s always an excuse. But when somebody does it, it’s like, ‘He’s the best corner.’

“Look, Jalen [Ramsey] was [considered] the greatest corner. But I’m a system corner. We play in the same system! But I’m a system corner. You start to listen and it’s like, ‘Bro, they run the same scheme.’ Like, what are we talking about?”

You will be shocked to learn victory lap continued on Twitter.

[RELATED: 49ers interview Washington prospects for draft]

Corner vs. Corner

There are no two questions more boring than "Is Player X Elite?" and "Is Player Y Better Than Player Z?" Well, unless you happen to be one of Players X, Y or Z.

Longtime NFL cornerback Darrelle Revis sustained hours of sports-talk radio and debate television when he blasted Sherman on Twitter in the aftermath of the 49ers' NFC Championship Game win over the Green Bay Packers, drudging up the old criticism of Sherman not being good enough in man-to-man coverage.

Sherman, understandably, wasn't having it.

"You're going to have to get an interview with him and talk to him about it," Sherman said on "The Rich Eisen Show." "I really got nothing for him, but he seems to have too much time on his hands or something. I think it's one of those where a guy who thinks more of himself than the world thinks of him, feels like I'm getting more credit than I deserve or something like that. Obviously, his stats don't match my stats so he's trying to find other ways to make himself relevant in the conversation."

All professional athletes think they can stack up with the best their sport has to offer. Few are as vocal about it as Sherman.