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.