SANTA CLARA -- Running back Jerick McKinnon did not play in a regular-season game during his first two seasons with the 49ers. And there are no guarantees he will get an opportunity in 2020, either.
McKinnon certainly will not be back with the 49ers on his scheduled salary of $6.5 million. But he said he is willing to work with the team to find a way to remain with the organization.
“I’m willing to do whatever,” McKinnon said on Wednesday. “This team and my teammates know I want to be part of this team, this organization. When that time comes, there will be talk between both parties.”
Coach Kyle Shanahan hand-picked McKinnon on the first day of free agency in 2018 for his ability to fit into his offense because of his route-running skills out of the backfield. McKinnon, who played his first four seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, signed a four-year, $30 million contract with the 49ers.
McKinnon is particularly effective with what Shanahan calls “choice routes,” where the receiver acts like a basketball point guard with the freedom to set up the one-on-one defender and break whichever way there is an opening.
The 49ers got great production from Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida this season, but none supplied much of a threat out of the backfield as a route-runner. Jeff Wilson was the 49ers’ best receiver out of the backfield.
That is an area in which McKinnon excels. He could provide an upgrade to the 49ers’ offense with his versatility on third downs. In 2017, he rushed for 570 yards with the Vikings while also catching 51 passes for 421 yards.
McKinnon missed the entire 2018 season when he sustained a torn ACL during a practice one week before the start of the regular season. That development forced Shanahan to adjust his offensive plan for the season because McKinnon’s skillset is different than the other backs on the roster.
McKinnon went on season-ending injured reserve again in the summer of 2019. The ACL graft did not fill back in, McKinnon said. Follow-up surgery was required to pack the ACL graft with bone marrow from his hip. In addition, a bone spur had to be shaved off.
McKinnon said he spoke to the doctor on Wednesday and was told that everything looked good. He said he expects to be ready to participate in organized team activities. The 49ers’ offseason program is scheduled to begin on April 20.
The 49ers have a decision to make in the coming months, as $2.6 million of his 2020 salary becomes fully guaranteed on April 1. The sides likely will have to renegotiate his contract in order for him to remain with the organization for a third season.
McKinnon made no secret of where he wants to play this year.
“The only thing I can do is keep working and focus on things I can control,” McKinnon said. “It hasn’t been easy, not the easiest road. But at the same time, my teammates are the ones I leaned on during that time. Their energy and their success and how they come to work every day is really pushing me that much harder.
“My teammates know how much I want to be out there. The organization knows what I bring to the table, as far as a player and person, on and off the field. For me, it’s about getting right and showing what I can do next season.”