Over the past four seasons, the 49ers’ most consistent and impactful offensive player was tight end George Kittle.
That part is obvious, right?
But after Kittle, the one player whose unique skills were a perfect and important match for Kyle Shanahan’s system was fullback Kyle Juszczyk.
The “hot take” crowd second-guessed the 49ers for overspending on Juszczyk in 2017, when he was signed to a four-year, $21 million contract. This happened before anyone realized how Shanahan planned to use Juszczyk and how valuable he would become to the team.
"Kyle is a unique football player whose versatility, leadership and skillset are a tremendous fit with us,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said Monday in a statement. “He has been integral to the success of our offense the last four seasons and his contributions on the field are just a portion of the value he brings to our team.”
The fullback position has been devalued through the years, as more teams relied on single-back formations.
But the 49ers never felt they overpaid for Juszczyk. After all, he saw more playing time than the team’s No. 3 receiver and quickly turned into a key member of the team.
Juszczyk’s change-of-direction ability and penchant for being able to execute blocks against any size and shape of defender allowed run game coordinator Mike McDaniel to get creative.
He also scored a career-best six touchdowns last season on 36 touches last season. He had just 19 receptions -- the fewest total since his first year as a starter with the Baltimore Ravens. But he also had a career-high 17 rushing attempts, which netted 12 first downs, including two touchdowns.
The 49ers put together one of the game’s best rushing attacks over the past four seasons, averaging nearly 1,940 yards per season and 4.4 yards per rushing attempt.
The 49ers have done it with Carlos Hyde, Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. as their annual rushing leaders. Juszczyk, Kittle and a strong run-blocking offensive line have been the constants.
That is why it was probably one of the easiest decisions the organization could make when they re-signed him to a five-year contract.
“Kyle has helped to establish a standard for our team on the field, in the locker room and in the community,” Lynch said. “We couldn’t be prouder to reward him with this well-deserved contract extension.”
Juszczyk turns 30 next month, so signing him to a five-year contract might seem like an unnecessary risk. But the structure of his back-loaded contract could turn the deal into a three-year, $14.5 million contract.
And that’s a small price to pay for such a player so unique that would have required the removal of a few pages from the playbook if he was not re-signed.