49ers

Shanahan sees versatile McKinnon as piece that was missing from 49ers' offense

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AP

Shanahan sees versatile McKinnon as piece that was missing from 49ers' offense

The player Kyle Shanahan studied on video was a lot better than the player he saw on the stat sheet.

The 49ers coach said he places a lot more emphasis on how he projects a player in his offense than what the player did with his former team.

And that is why the 49ers placed a large priority on signing former Minnesota Vikings running back Jerick McKinnonon the first day of the free-agent signing period. McKinnon comes to the 49ers on a four-year, $30 million contract with $11.7 million guaranteed.

McKinnon's stats might not suggest he is anywhere near a top running back in the NFL, but Shanahan sees it differently. And that is why the 49ers opted to pursue McKinnon instead of Carlos Hyde.

“I don’t know the numbers until I like the guy,” Shanahan said. “I always watch the guy first, and turn on the tape and get lost in it for a while. There were so many things I liked about him, visualizing how we would use him and stuff he would do. And even though there wasn’t a ton of it, you still got to see him do some stuff that we do a lot. Where he did it, he excelled a ton and was very good at it.

“Eventually, I look at the numbers and it did surprise me. Then you go back and you try to see why. I’m not going to get into all the whys, but I know all the stuff we liked about him, we cut up those numbers. I think they would’ve been good numbers.”

In four NFL seasons as a part-time player, McKinnon (5-9, 205), averaged 4.0 yards per rushing attempt. The past two years, he gained 539 and 570 yards with rushing averages of just 3.4 and 3.8 yards.

Hyde (6-foot, 230) is a bigger back with more production in his career. He rushed for 988 and 938 yards in 2016 and ’17 with averages of 4.6 and 3.9 yards.

Shanahan said he looked at every player who was available, and McKinnon was the player he evaluated to be the best of all the free agents. Shanahan has long valued running backs who are versatile in the run and pass games with an ability to make defenders miss.

“A good run is when you get more yards than what it was blocked for,” Shanahan said. “Sometimes, runs are blocked for negative 1 (yard) and the best run in the game was a 1-yard carry.

“Sometimes the one that most people could do is a 60-yarder because it was a busted coverage or a busted front and nobody was there. Numbers do tell stuff, but it’s never an absolute."

The 49ers signed McKinnon to be the starting running back with Matt Breida likely mixing into the action. The 49ers could also be in the market to add to the competition and depth through the draft.

Shanahan is likely to deploy multiple players, just as he did successfully with Atlanta Falcons running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. McKinnon is expected to take Freeman’s role. In each of Shanahan’s two seasons as Falcons offensive coordinator, Freeman accounted for more than 1,500 yards from scrimmage. He rushed for 1,056 and 1,079 yards while catching 578 and 462 yards in passes.

“I’m just excited to be in the offense that I feel is a perfect fit for me,” McKinnon said on Thursday at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.

“Things that coach Shanahan has done with the backs like he did in Atlanta with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, I see myself doing those kinds of things. For me, I feel like the scheme is right. The fit was just perfect for me. I feel like I can’t be in a better situation as a player.”

Shanahan said he liked McKinnon as a draft prospect in 2014 out of Georgia Southern but it was more difficult to evaluate him because he mostly played quarterback in college.

But in studying McKinnon while with the Vikings, he saw a runner who has speed and elusiveness while also exhibiting the strength to break arm tackles. He set the record at the NFL Scouting Combine for running backs with 32 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press in 2014. But McKinnon's best asset might be his ability to be a factor in the passing game in blitz pickup, while also being a dependable receiver out of the backfield or in the slot.

“When it comes to separating and beating linebackers and safeties in man-to-man coverage, I definitely think he’s an issue for teams,” Shanahan said. “I think this league, when it comes to third downs and things like that, you move the chains based off of matchups, which allows you to get points in the long run. I think Jerick is very versatile and we can do a lot of things with him.

“He’s good enough to make it as a runner alone in this league. He’s good enough to make it in the pass game as just a third down threat alone, but when you can do both of those, it gives you a lot of freedom as a coach.”

If 49ers add running back in offseason, who drops off the depth chart?

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USA TODAY SPORTS IMAGES

If 49ers add running back in offseason, who drops off the depth chart?

The 49ers could add another running back in the offseason, all right.

They could draft a power back who provides a different style of running than the players already on their roster. Or, as many sentimental 49ers fans have suggested, they could sign veteran Frank Gore, who turns 36 in May.

But if they add a running back, somebody is going to have to sit.

The 49ers have Jerick McKinnon and Matt Breida under contract. Raheem Mostert is likely to return as a restricted free agent. As the team’s best special-teams player and a capable No. 3 running back, a healthy Mostert is assured of suiting up for every game.

The 49ers finished 13th in the NFL last season with 118.9 yards rushing per game. They tied for 12th in the league with a 4.5-yard average. Where the 49ers struggled, in particular, was near the goal line. The 49ers tied for 30th with just seven rushing touchdowns.

Yet, the 49ers were effective short-yardage situations. On third- and fourth-down attempts of 1 or 2 yards, the 49ers were successful on 21 of 26 opportunities (81 percent).

Coach Kyle Shanahan addressed his throughts on a short-yardage back a year ago after the addition of McKinnon.

“We’ll continue to look in the draft, and we’ll always look to add running backs,” Shanahan said. “When it comes to a big bruiser for the goal line, no one is just running over guys unblocked, either. You need to find open holes and be a good running back.”

Shanahan chose McKinnon a year ago in free agency for his running, his receiving and his ability to exploit mismatches in the middle of the field.

Make no mistake, Shanahan selected McKinnon, whom the New York Jets also pursued on the open market. The 49ers were going to go about as high as necessary to make sure they signed McKinnon.

Shanahan had big plans for a restructured 49ers offense. He envisioned an offense designed around the basic principle that defenses would be compromised when making decisions on how to simultaneously cover McKinnon, fullback Kyle Juszczyk, a healthy slot receiver, Trent Taylor, and tight end George Kittle. There would be holes in the defenses, and Shanahan envisioned Jimmy Garoppolo exploiting the weak links – especially on third downs.

But all those plans were blown up a week before the start of the regular season when McKinnon sustained a season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament.

McKinnon continues his rehabilitation and training, and the 49ers can only hope he can return physically to somewhere close to his pre-injury form.

In McKinnon’s absence last season, Breida rushed for 814 yards despite battling knee, shoulder and ankle injuries that kept him listed as “questionable” for a large portion of the season. He averaged a hefty 5.3 yards a carry.

Mostert is scheduled for restricted free agency. The 49ers will not let him go, and could even target him for a multi-year contract extension. Mostert proved to be a valuable player on a 46-man game day roster because of his value on special teams.

And when given a chance at running back, the speedster averaged 7.7 yards a carry before sustaining a fractured forearm in Week 9 against the Raiders.

[RELATED: As expected, 49ers will not pick up option on Pierre Garçon]

Veteran Alfred Morris is not expected back, and Jeff Wilson faces an uphill climb for a roster spot despite showing some promise late in the season after his promotion from the practice squad.

So while the 49ers could easily add another running back to their mix, the bigger question is which player would be pushed aside to create opportunities for a new player.

Settlement amounts, NFL compensating Colin Kaepernick for not playing football

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AP

Settlement amounts, NFL compensating Colin Kaepernick for not playing football

The 49ers paid Colin Kaepernick more than $43 million during his six-year career.

Presumably, the NFL is giving him one final large sum of money to not play football.

The NFL’s settlement with Kaepernick and former 49ers safety Eric Reid prevents the collusion grievances and the gathered evidence from ever being heard. How much was that worth to the NFL? Terms of the resolution announced Friday contain a confidentiality agreement, so we’ll likely never know.

Kaepernick originally sat on the team bench during the playing of the national anthem during the summer of 2016 as a protest against racial inequality and oppression against minorities, he said. After consulting with former Green Beret Nate Boyer, he and Reid decided to kneel. The protest immediately became one of the nation's biggest storylines -- and not just in sports, either. Many players on other teams joined the movement, which gained more momentum and attention a full year later when President Donald Trump addressed the issue during a political rally in Alabama.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’ ” Trump said.

Although Reid was just as outspoken every step of the way, his football career resumed. He played in 2017, the final year of his contract, with the 49ers. And after a slow free-agent market last year, Reid signed a one-year deal with the Carolina Panthers in late September.

Reid’s play in the final 13 games of the season prompted the Panthers to sign him last week to a three-year contract extension worth more than $21 million.

Kaepernick’s football days came to a halt in what should have been the prime of his career.

Kaepernick, now 31, has not found employment since completing 17 of 22 passes for 215 yards and a 122.3 rating in a 25-23 loss to the Seattle Seahawks at Levi’s Stadium on Jan. 1, 2017.

He opted out of his contract, which was scheduled to pay him $14.9 million in salary and bonuses, in March 2017. General manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan, who had been hired just a month earlier, already had met with Kaepernick and told him that if he did not opt out, he would be released.

The 49ers never seriously considered having Kaepernick on the team in 2017 because he was not considered a fit for the team’s offensive system, Shanahan said.

Instead, the 49ers signed quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley on the first day of free agency. They also drafted C.J. Beathard and signed undrafted rookie Nick Mullens. The 49ers later added Jimmy Garoppolo in a trade with the New England Patriots in the middle of that first season without Kaepernick.

Based on his production alone, Kaepernick should have signed with some team. He ranks tied for No. 2 all-time with Tom Brady and behind Aaron Rodgers in interception percentage at 1.8.

Kaepernick’s career consisted of 58 starts in the 71 games since he took over for Alex Smith during the 2012 season. In Kaepernick’s first season as the starter, the 49ers advanced to the Super Bowl, as he posted a 98.3 passer rating in seven starts. He rushed for an NFL quarterback-record 181 yards against the Green Bay Packers in his first playoff start.

Kaepernick’s best full season as a starter was 2013 when he threw a career-best 21 touchdown passes with eight interceptions for a 91.6 passer rating.

The 49ers went 21-8 in Kaepernick’s first two seasons as the starter, including a playoff record of 4-2. In his final season with the 49ers, they went 1-10 in games he started.

Surely, Kaepernick’s style of play wasn’t a fit for some coaches. Also, it is fair to surmise, his form of peaceful protest did not fit the styles of many other owners.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell addressed Kaepernick’s seemingly permanent free agent status two weeks before the settlement during his press conference in Atlanta for Super Bowl 53.

“I think if a team decides that Colin Kaepernick or any other player can help their team win, that’s what they’ll do,” Goodell said. “They want to win and they make those decisions individually in the best interest of their club.”

The NFL made the decision to settle the grievance because it was in the best interest of its clubs. After Kaepernick filed his collusion grievance in October 2017, some notable NFL names were deposed, including, reportedly, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, Patriots owner Bob Kraft, Texans owner Bob McNair, Broncos general manager John Elway, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and Ravens coach John Harbaugh.

It also is safe to assume members of the 49ers organization were included in the evidence gathering, as individuals associated with the NFL and linked to Kaepernick were required to turn over emails and text messages.

What those interviews and electronic messages disclosed likely factored into the NFL's willingness to negotiate a settlement. Was there anything that pointed to outright collusion? There's no telling. But the NFL had its reasons for keeping private communication private.

And around the time, Kaepernick filed his grievance, the New York Post reported he had signed a $1 million book deal with Random House.

[RELATED: Settlement doesn't mean Kap will play again]

Kaepernick came through with his promise of $1 million to community charities to advance his goal of empowering individuals in under-served communities in 2016 and '17. He continues to work toward his originally stated goal of helping those whose voices are not heard.

Nothing has changed there.

But the settlement announced Friday appears to block the possibility of Kaepernick publishing a tell-all book. And, clearly, the NFL concluded that was worth the cost of one final paycheck.