Raheem Mostert proved his worth to the 49ers last season in a greatly expanded role.
Now, he and his agent are seeking a greatly expanded contract.
The 49ers are learning that success comes at a significant cost.
Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, the team MVP, signed a contract that pays him $21 million a season after the 49ers dealt him to the Indianapolis Colts. The 49ers opted to save the money and pick up a first-round draft pick.
The 49ers are likely conserving cap room for tight end George Kittle’s next contract. After Kittle earned a total of $1.665 million in base salaries in his first three NFL seasons, his next contract will make him the highest-priced tight end in the league with a deal that shatters the current mark of $10.5 million a year.
Teams are always looking for bargains, such as Kittle and Mostert. But here’s the thing: Bargains do not remain bargains for very long.
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Once a player under-performs on his contract, a team has the option of cutting ties and moving on. Likewise, a player whose production exceeds his pay has the right to ask for more money or request a trade.
Mostert’s agent, Brett Tessler, said Wednesday he requested a trade after “months of unproductive talks” with the 49ers. He said he wants the club to adjust Mostert’s contract to a figure that falls in line with what a player of his caliber should receive.
Mostert signed a three-year, $8.65 million deal with the 49ers in March 2019 as a restricted free agent.
Mostert is scheduled to earn $2.575 million this season with $250,000 also available in per-game roster bonuses. His agent is seeking a deal that compensates Mostert at the level of teammate Tevin Coleman, who is scheduled to make $4.55 million in base pay with another $250,000 available in pre-game roster bonuses.
The 49ers almost certainly do not want to set the precedent of tearing up multi-year contracts any time an agent asks that his client be given a raise.
Mostert opened last season as a special-teams ace and ended the season as the 49ers’ leading rusher and playoff standout.
He rushed for a team-high 772 yards and eight touchdowns with a 5.6-yard average in the regular season. Mostert added 336 yards and five touchdowns with a 6.3 average in the postseason, including his club-record 220-yard, four-touchdown performance against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game.
Mostert’s presence allowed the 49ers to trade running back Matt Breida to the Miami Dolphins during the draft.
Mostert headlines the team’s group of running backs, though he has never started a game in his NFL career. Coleman returns, as does Jerick McKinnon, who did not play for the second season in a row after his ACL graft did not heal properly. Jeff Wilson, a second-year player, enters camp as the 49ers’ fourth running back.
The 49ers also signed running backs JaMychal Hasty (Baylor) and Salvon Ahmed (Washington) as undrafted rookies.
At this stage of the offseason, there does not appear to be a clean and easy solution for both sides.
The 49ers had Mostert locked into his contract for two more seasons, and they are not likely to budge. Mostert has the right to seek a better contract. But this is where it gets sticky: There has to be another team willing to pay Mostert the price he wants while also giving the 49ers fair compensation in a trade.
The 49ers rarely had these problems during the years they were stumbling around at the bottom of the NFL just trying to piece together a roster of competent players.
Now, the 49ers have a roster of productive players. And that leads to a whole new set of problems.