Derrick Henry

49ers' free agency, draft options also working against Raheem Mostert

49ers' free agency, draft options also working against Raheem Mostert

From Week 12 through the entirety of the playoffs, Raheem Mostert's 760 rushing yards trailed only Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry's 1,154 for the most in the NFL over that span.

Henry was rewarded with a four-year, $50 million contract Wednesday that reportedly includes $25.5 million guaranteed and makes him the fifth-highest paid running back in the league in terms of annual average salary. Naturally, Mostert -- who also is seeking a salary bump to the degree that he has demanded a trade -- will be rewarded, too. Right?

Wrong.

Aside from the obvious facts that Henry is nearly two years younger than Mostert and has a far larger sample size of success, the Titans simply couldn't afford to not lock up their lead back for the long term. You can be a believer in Ryan Tannehill's resurgence if you'd like, but you cannot view it in a vacuum. Henry is the straw that stirs the drink in that offense, and it's not a coincidence that Tannehill had his best season yet behind the NFL's leading rusher.

Mostert did lead the 49ers in rushing yards last season, but he is nowhere near as personally essential to San Francisco's offense as Henry is to Tennessee's. For one, coach Kyle Shanahan favors a running back-by-committee approach, which is why you'll likely never see the 49ers offer a running back a salary similar to the one Henry got. There's also the argument that Mostert's breakthrough was the product of Shanahan's system, and that he might, therefore, be replaceable.

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It's not that Mostert doesn't deserve a raise. It's just that he's highly unlikely to get exactly what he wants because San Francisco holds all of the leverage. Assuming he isn't traded, he can either play for the 49ers or potentially risk losing an accrued season. And that leverage disparity doesn't even include the bevy of external options San Francisco could fill Mostert's spot with, whether in the immediate or the near future.

Let's go in chronological order, shall we? 

If we're operating under the assumption that Mostert will not play under his current contract, nor will he receive what he deems an acceptable raise, there are a few potentially intriguing options on the free-agent market. Shanahan deploys an outside-zone running scheme, so any free-agent back the 49ers brought in likely would already have to be familiar with those concepts.

All of the backs currently on the free-agent market are there for a reason, mind you. They all have certain knocks against them, but it could also be the result of an oversupply and lack of demand.

Devonta Freeman's best seasons certainly would appear to be behind him, but it's worth noting that the two best seasons of his career -- in which he made the Pro Bowl both times -- came with Shanahan as his offensive coordinator with the Atlanta Falcons. And who did he share the backfield with during those two seasons? None other than current San Francisco running back Tevin Coleman.

There's Chris Thompson, who Shanahan surely had a say in drafting in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL Draft when he was Washington's offensive coordinator. There's Isaiah Crowell, who spent his rookie season with Shanahan as his offensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns. Then there are veteran backs Lamar Miller, LeSean McCoy, Bilal Powell and others who might have varying degrees of experience in an outside-zone system, but might be better equipped to learn on the fly.

Again, each of those backs has some negative marks against him. But, as we've seen throughout Shanahan's coaching career, he can make magic with previously overlooked players.

That's just the current free-agent market. Looking a bit further down the line, next year's free-agent class could be absolutely stacked.

Obviously, you can remove Henry from that list now, but it's still quite a collection of big-name rushers. Many of them surely will be re-signed by their incumbent teams or be franchise-tagged, but some will sneak through the cracks. Again, the 49ers are unlikely to cough up a ton of money for a running back, but that abundance just further exasperates the current supply-demand dynamic that is working against Mostert.

Although the cost of those 2021 free-agent running backs might prove prohibitive for San Francisco, the same cannot be said for what is likely to be a loaded 2021 draft class at the position. Clemson's Travis Etienne, Alabama's Najee Harris (a Bay Area native), Oklahoma State's Chuba Hubbard and Ohio State's Trey Sermon headline the class. But there's tremendous depth within it, and the 49ers surely could add a talented back in the middle or later rounds at relatively little cost.

[RELATED: What 49ers can learn from Chiefs' deals with Mahomes, Jones]

Will Mostert get exactly what he is demanding? It's difficult to envision it playing out that way. The odds remain in favor of some sort of compromise, perhaps in which more of Mostert's salary is guaranteed.

In any case, there are a number of factors working against Mostert, both currently and down the line. He's not in the wrong for wanting his salary to be adjusted to meet his value. But that value is as much dependent on how he performs as it is how easily he could be replaced.

Why 49ers have all leverage in Raheem Mostert trade demand, contract

Why 49ers have all leverage in Raheem Mostert trade demand, contract

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.

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.

[RELATED: Kittle cites captaincy, leadership as holdout deterrents]

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.

Raiders' Josh Jacobs wows Alabama alums Derrick Henry, Kenyan Drake

Raiders' Josh Jacobs wows Alabama alums Derrick Henry, Kenyan Drake

Josh Jacobs had an award-worthy rookie season. The Raiders and their fans can attest to that.

The No. 24 overall pick from the 2019 NFL was dominant in his first year out of Alabama, proving he can produce steadily with a heavy workload. He had a 4.8-yard average over 242 carries, with a large portion executed working with a fractured shoulder suffered in Week 7.

Family, friends and fans weren’t the only ones keeping close tabs. Fellow Crimson Tide running backs now in the NFL were impressed by the latest addition to a small, yet proud fraternity.

The active list includes Jacobs, Derrick Henry, Mark Ingram and Kenyan Drake, with others in less prominent roles.

The older guys came away wowed by Jacobs’ rookie year.

“I definitely followed what Josh was doing. I try to keep up with everybody who played at Alabama, especially the running backs because we have that special bond,” Henry said in an interview with NBC Sports Bay Area during Super Bowl week. “What Josh was able to do was remarkable. I tried to keep up with him every week, and I saw a guy who was physical and made big plays. He’s a big part of the offense.

"He had a great year and he showed me that he’ll be able to do that for years to come.”

Rest should get his shoulder back to full strength this offseason, where he can prep for a 2020 Raiders season played in Las Vegas. He won’t be sneaking up on anyone after a rookie year where he earned tremendous respect, but he proved efficient last season even when the whole world knew he was running.

Jacobs is a tough runner between the tackles and in space. He’s good near the goal line and is a solid receiver out of the backfield who deserves more opportunities in that role.

Drake saw a complete package able to do it all, a point of pride for him after Jacobs shared the workload with Damien Harris in college.

"I always try to keep up with the backs from my school and players I have gotten to know well. It’s a tight-knit community,” Drake said in 1-on-1 with NBC Sports Bay Area. “I love what Josh was able to accomplish this year. He’s a humble guy who works hard and it shows when he’s out on the field. He plays that way because I feel like he thinks he has a lot to prove, from the way he lived and what he witnessed growing up.

"I love to see that passion displayed in the way he plays. You can just tell it means a little more to him.”

Jacobs went through some rough times during his childhood, living with his dad and siblings in cars or motels while struggling to make ends meet. Jacobs' work ethic, talent, draft status and an excellent rookie year has put him in position to buy his father a house this offseason and change lives for those in his family.

[RELATED: How Crosby built foundation for excellent rookie season]

Jacobs turned 22 year old on Tuesday, leaving plenty of time to build an elite career off an excellent rookie foundation and keep up with Henry and Ingram and Drake as Alabama rushers thriving in the pros.

“Anytime I catch up with those guys, it’s always a good thing,” Drake said. “It’s mostly through social media or text messages, but I saw Josh recently. It was great to catch up with him as well. It’s a testament to the guys who choose Alabama. We all know that it’s going to be a tough task to play because there’s pretty much always one back on the field at a time.

"So many talented guys go there and have to wait in the wings, like me or Josh. You just wait your turn, learn from those older than you and make the most of the opportunities you do have. When we have reached the league, we have been able to show the hard work and dedication we learned at the university.”