NFL

How Jerick McKinnon impacts 49ers' negotiations with Raheem Mostert

How Jerick McKinnon impacts 49ers' negotiations with Raheem Mostert

49ers running back Raheem Mostert wants a raise or to be traded. The problem for him is, he doesn't really have any leverage. Regardless of what he deserves, that's just the reality of the situation.

49ers coach Kyle Shanahan favors a running back-by-committee approach. He will be able to employ that, regardless of whether or not Mostert wants to be a part of it. The 49ers have ample depth at the position, even after trading Matt Breida earlier in the offseason.

Tevin Coleman isn't going anywhere. Cutting him would result in a $2 million dead cap hit, and San Francisco can't afford to waste cap space at the moment.

Jeff Wilson scored five touchdowns on 30 total touches last season. He seemed to make a play whenever given an opportunity, and the coaching staff has plenty of faith in him.

The 49ers also signed undrafted free agents JaMycal Hasty and Salvon Ahmed, who originally might have been ticketed for the practice squad, but there's a reason why San Francisco pursued them. Shanahan has a long track record of creating productive rushers out of thin air, and Mostert's performance last season only backs that up.

But there's one major wild card in San Francisco's backfield: Jerick McKinnon.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Having signed a four-year, $30 million contract with the 49ers on the opening day of free agency in 2018, McKinnon was hand-picked by Shanahan to transform San Francisco's offense. Though never a bell cow, he offered the speed and matchup versatility that Shanahan covets. McKinnon rushed for 570 yards and hauled in 51 receptions for another 421 yards in his final season before joining the 49ers, and in Shanahan's system, the possibilities were endless.

And then, all dreams were dashed.

McKinnon tore his ACL one week before the start of the 2018 season, and then sat out the entirety of the 2019 campaign after requiring additional surgery. After not stepping foot on the field in a single game over his first two seasons with the franchise, McKinnon agreed to a pay reduction for the 2020 season that will see him make $910,000 in base salary, a sign of his commitment to the team. He was scheduled to make $6.8 million in 2020 prior to the restructuring.

Given his injury history, the 49ers would be wise to be cautious with their dependence on him. That said, he has had nearly a full year to recover from the most recent surgery, and last month his trainer said McKinnon is "in the best shape of his life."

He had been working with Rischad "Footwork King" Whitfield, and on Wednesday, McKinnon posted more workout videos to his Instagram Story.

The 49ers are optimistic they'll finally be able to unleash McKinnon this coming season, with Mostert recently going so far as to predict that McKinnon will "surprise people." If he's healthy, there's no doubt Shanahan will be itching to involve him in the offense, creating yet another potential matchup nightmare for the opposing defense. Plenty can happen between now and then, but San Francisco has to be feeling good about the progress "Jet" has put on tape.

[RELATED: How Mostert's 49ers trade demand shows price of success]

If the 49ers go into the season feeling like they can count on McKinnon, Mostert inevitably will get fewer touches. There are only so many to go around, especially with receivers Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd liable to take a few of their own. Mostert rightfully feels like he deserves a significant raise, but that's under the assumption he is going to be the lead back in Shanahan's system.

That might still be the case, regardless of McKinnon's status. But the 49ers haven't forgotten about McKinnon, and until they do, the odds are against Mostert getting what he wants.

What Raheem Mostert's agent says client wants in 49ers trade demand

What Raheem Mostert's agent says client wants in 49ers trade demand

49ers running back Raheem Mostert's trade demand carries another motive, according to his agent.

Within an hour of announcing Mostert's trade demand Wednesday, Brett Tessler told NFL Media's Ian Rapoport that Mostert "simply" wants his salary "in line" with teammate Tevin Coleman's.

Coleman's $4.55 million base salary is nearly $2 million more than Mostert's $2.575 million, according to Over the Cap. Mostert's salary is not guaranteed, whereas $2 million of Coleman's became guaranteed on April 1. Coleman can earn nearly $4.9 million after workout and roster bonuses, and Mostert can make up to $2.825 million if he hits all his roster bonuses.

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Mostert (151) and Coleman (158) had nearly the same number of total touches during the regular season, with each player rushing an identical 137 times. But Mostert led the team in regular-season rushing yards (772) and rushing touchdowns (eight), becoming the 49ers' top back down the stretch and having over twice as many carries (117) and touches (126) as Coleman (55; 58) from Week 13 onward.

Prior to that stretch, Mostert had 113 rushing attempts and 127 touches in the preceding 31 games. Coleman, meanwhile, signed with the 49ers as a free agent in 2019 after averaging 165.5 touches per season in four years with the Atlanta Falcons.

[RELATED: How Mostert's 49ers trade demand shows price of success]

Whether the 49ers meet either of Mostert's demands remains to be seen.

He still has two years left on his contract (including 2020), and the 49ers currently have the NFL's eighth-highest salary-cap number on running backs. San Francisco has just over $12 million in salary-cap space, but that number conceivably could diminish if star tight end George Kittle's contract extension includes a reworked 2020 cap number.

Kittle's set to count just over $2.2 million against the cap this season. Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz, who has the NFL's highest cap number at the position, counts just shy of $12.5 million against the cap.

How Raheem Mostert's 49ers trade demand shows costly price of success

How Raheem Mostert's 49ers trade demand shows costly price of success

Raheem Mostert proved his worth to the 49ers last season in a greatly expanded role.

Now, he and his agent are seeking a greatly expanded contract.

The 49ers are learning that success comes at a significant cost.

Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, the team MVP, signed a contract that pays him $21 million a season after the 49ers dealt him to the Indianapolis Colts. The 49ers opted to save the money and pick up a first-round draft pick.

The 49ers are likely conserving cap room for tight end George Kittle’s next contract. After Kittle earned a total of $1.665 million in base salaries in his first three NFL seasons, his next contract will make him the highest-priced tight end in the league with a deal that shatters the current mark of $10.5 million a year.

Teams are always looking for bargains, such as Kittle and Mostert. But here’s the thing: Bargains do not remain bargains for very long.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Once a player under-performs on his contract, a team has the option of cutting ties and moving on. Likewise, a player whose production exceeds his pay has the right to ask for more money or request a trade.

Mostert’s agent, Brett Tessler, said Wednesday he requested a trade after “months of unproductive talks” with the 49ers. He said he wants the club to adjust Mostert’s contract to a figure that falls in line with what a player of his caliber should receive.

Mostert signed a three-year, $8.65 million deal with the 49ers in March 2019 as a restricted free agent.

Mostert is scheduled to earn $2.575 million this season with $250,000 also available in per-game roster bonuses. His agent is seeking a deal that compensates Mostert at the level of teammate Tevin Coleman, who is scheduled to make $4.55 million in base pay with another $250,000 available in pre-game roster bonuses.

The 49ers almost certainly do not want to set the precedent of tearing up multi-year contracts any time an agent asks that his client be given a raise.

Mostert opened last season as a special-teams ace and ended the season as the 49ers’ leading rusher and playoff standout.

He rushed for a team-high 772 yards and eight touchdowns with a 5.6-yard average in the regular season. Mostert added 336 yards and five touchdowns with a 6.3 average in the postseason, including his club-record 220-yard, four-touchdown performance against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game.

Mostert’s presence allowed the 49ers to trade running back Matt Breida to the Miami Dolphins during the draft.

Mostert headlines the team’s group of running backs, though he has never started a game in his NFL career. Coleman returns, as does Jerick McKinnon, who did not play for the second season in a row after his ACL graft did not heal properly. Jeff Wilson, a second-year player, enters camp as the 49ers’ fourth running back.

The 49ers also signed running backs JaMychal Hasty (Baylor) and Salvon Ahmed (Washington) as undrafted rookies.

At this stage of the offseason, there does not appear to be a clean and easy solution for both sides.

The 49ers had Mostert locked into his contract for two more seasons, and they are not likely to budge. Mostert has the right to seek a better contract. But this is where it gets sticky: There has to be another team willing to pay Mostert the price he wants while also giving the 49ers fair compensation in a trade.

[RELATED: Mostert reveals how he stays motivated after breakout 2019]

The 49ers rarely had these problems during the years they were stumbling around at the bottom of the NFL just trying to piece together a roster of competent players.

Now, the 49ers have a roster of productive players. And that leads to a whole new set of problems.