It's entirely understandable why Raheem Mostert would be unsatisfied with his current contract, which prompted the 49ers running back to request a trade Wednesday.
After bouncing around the league earlier in his career with stops with the Philadelphia Eagles, Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, New York Jets and Chicago Bears, Mostert finally found a home with San Francisco. And once he did, he showed what he was capable of.
A standout special teams player, Mostert got an opportunity to showcase his running skills this past season, and it left people wondering how on earth it was possible that he had been waived and/or cut by six different teams.
He led all 49ers running backs with 772 rushing yards and 10 total touchdowns during the regular season. His average of 5.6 yards per carry ranked first among all NFL running backs, and only trailed MVP Lamar Jackson for the top mark in the league. From Week 12 on, as San Francisco pushed for and through the playoffs, Mostert's 760 rushing yards trailed only NFL rushing leader Derrick Henry's 1,154 for the most over that span. His 220-yard, four-touchdown explosion against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game was a performance for the ages.
And yet, he basically has zero leverage.
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Mostert is due to make $2.575 and $2.875 million in base salary over the next two seasons. Though his 2020 base salary is considerably lower than Tevin Coleman's ($4.55 million), it's still the 18th-highest base salary among all NFL running backs for the upcoming season. As such, the 49ers could argue he already is being paid like a starter.
Then there's the matter of depth. In addition to Mostert and Coleman, the 49ers have Jeff Wilson and Jerick McKinnon potentially to depend on, not to mention undrafted free agents JaMychal Hasty and Salvon Ahmed. McKinnon was one of coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch's first major free-agent acquisitions. Though he has been limited by injury, the team is optimistic he'll be able to break through in the year ahead.
Speaking of Shanahan, he simply doesn't pay high-end salaries for the running back position. He believes his scheme can get just as much, if not more, out of lower-salaried backs, and Mostert's performance last season only serves to support that stance. That's part of the reason why San Francisco traded Matt Breida to the Dolphins earlier in the offseason. Breida's salary was only going to increase moving forward, so the 49ers added a draft pick while assuming no drop in rushing production.
And really, that's not just a Shanahan philosophy. Teams have smartened up -- well, most of them -- and realized only a select few backs are worth the giant salaries. They make roster-building that much more challenging, and there's an argument that a committee approach is a better way to go. That partially explains why Henry has yet to receive a new contract from the Tennessee Titans. It's also partly why the Cowboys are going to be in salary-cap hell in short order.
Mostert was incredibly productive, but he's not Henry or Zeke Elliot. Granted, he reportedly isn't asking for that kind of money, but it begs the question as to why a team would be willing to cough up assets for Mostert and pay him the salary he is looking for.
NFL Media's Ian Rapoport reported Wednesday, citing Mostert's agent, that Mostert simply wants to make as much as Coleman. If he wants to be the highest-paid running back on a team, there aren't going to be many teams lining up to trade for him.
Spoke with @TesslerSports about RB Raheem Mostert and his trade demand from #49ers. His request was simply to bring Mostert in line with the highest paid RBs on the team. Tevin Coleman makes $4.55M in 2020 and that’s where Mostert wants to be. He has two years left on his deal.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) July 8, 2020
Again, it's completely understandable why Mostert would want a significant raise. But the fact of the matter is, he is negotiating from a disadvantageous position. If there's limited interest from other teams -- which is likely -- the 49ers are better off retaining him. That would leave Mostert with what are the two likeliest options at this point. Either he'll play for San Francisco, or he'll hold out.
If he holds out, he's doing so at the wrong time, as the new CBA increased penalties for holdouts. Fines were bumped up, and if a player holds out for more than five days without receiving permission from the team, he fails to accrue a year of service -- meaning he'd be no closer to a larger payday.
Given the camaraderie the 49ers have built, there would seem to be motivation on both sides to find a compromise. Perhaps San Francisco could re-work Mostert's contract to provide incentives that, if reached, would get his salary in the realm he is looking for. And given the unprecedented success Mostert has had in Shanahan's system, one would imagine he would want to remain within it, particularly as he edges out of his prime.
Ultimately though, the 49ers have very little reason to budge. Every penny counts in roster building, and San Francisco has far more important -- and lucrative -- contract extensions to work out with more critical personnel. The 49ers surely want to keep Mostert and want him to play, but they won't sacrifice the structure of their salary cap to retain a replaceable player who has very little leverage to begin with.