Listening to a recent @Capology101 podcast while driving the other day, an idea for an article sprung to mind. Or I completely ripped off their premise and ran with it. I say tomato, you say theft.
With the madness that is NFL Free Agency sometimes the devil that hides in the details often goes overlooked. Most NFL fans are savvy enough to understand what’s reported as a players “contract” is largely meaningless.
Knowing what a contract entails is instructive when deciding if you want to sink fantasy capital into a player. Having already covered Quarterbacks, today we will be digging deep into the contract of Jerick McKinnon signed this offseason with San Francisco.
Note: All contract information pulled from http://www.spotrac.com/
Jerick McKinnon – Finally, Sparq-X God Jerick McKinnon is going to get the run all of his truthers have been waiting for! $30 million over 4 years! Nothing can stop McKinnon now; he’ll be the perennial RB1 some of us have dreamt he can be. There’s just one potential fly in the ointment.
That $30 million over four-years contract could turn out to be nothing more than a 1 year $12 million deal. After the 2018 season, San Francisco can cut ties with McKinnon and eat just $1.5 million in dead cap. The 49ers came into this offseason with almost $100 million in cap space available. With so much available space it does make sense that San Francisco front loaded McKinnon’s and Jimmy Garoppolo’s contracts ($37 million 2018 cap hit). Re-signing Marquise Goodwin and signing free agent Richard Sherman helped lower the 49ers available cap space to $36 million. San Francisco looks to have “only” $46 million in available cap space for 2019. Why this matters is this caveat to the CBA:
“Every four years, teams must spend at least 89 percent of their cap space in cash to avoid a CBA violation.”
Without front loading both the contracts for Jimmy G and McKinnon, it’s hard to envision a scenario where the 49ers could have put a significant dent in this year’s available cap space, in turn, making it harder for them to reach that 89% floor over four years.
I don’t doubt the 49ers like McKinnon. Any way you look at it they made a significant investment in the player, whether it be for $30 million or $12 million. I do question if the contract McKinnon signed shows a real level of commitment from the 49ers to McKinnon as the starting running back beyond 2018. McKinnon’s 2018 salary, is on the books for $10.5, million and drops to $4.5 million ($1.5 million dead cap if cut) then increases again in 2020 to $7.3 million($1 million dead cap if cut). This feels like a hedge on San Francisco’s part. If McKinnon plays well, they have a starting running back, or lead back in a committee, for a reasonable salary. If McKinnon fails to impress the 49ers have an easy out after 2018.
That’s the question in a nutshell. Will McKinnon play well enough to make his contract’s finer points moot? Yes, yes he will. Minnesota and San Francisco offensive lines graded similarly in 2017 per PFF in 2017, Minnesota graded out as the 22nd best o-line while San Francisco checked in at 20th. Where there was significant separation is Yards Before Contact (YBC) per attempt. Minnesota came in at 20th, giving their running backs 1.43 yards before contact while San Francisco checked in at 8th with 1.73 yards. Again, per PFF:
“On average, offensive lines produced 1.47 yards before contact for running backs during the 2017 regular season.”
When you consider that McKinnon had an above average 23.8% Juke Rate, 28th in the league, and was 25th in Evaded Tackles with 48, it’s not hard to envision McKinnon outperforming his 2017 rushing stats. McKinnon will also carry more of the load in San Francisco than he did in Minnesota last season. After Dalvin Cook went down for the season, McKinnon averaged 11.75 rushing attempts per game. Carlos Hyde, the 49ers starter last season, saw 15 carries per game.
Even though I agree that McKinnon will never be a 20 carry a game running back, I can see him with at least 13-15 carries per game. While 2-3 carries per game isn’t a monumental increase in his workload from last season, it would still be enough to increase McKinnon’s value and production.
Another area McKinnon could see an increase in usage is in the red-zone, and specifically in goal-line situations. Last season McKinnon ranked just 41st in red-zone touches with 21 and 37th with just 3 goal-line carries. Hyde was utilized heavily in both situations last year, with 50 red-zone touches (4th) and 1st in goal-line carries with 15. At 6’0″ and 230 pounds Hyde has the prototypical size that McKinnon lacks (5’9″ 209 pounds), but their respective BMI’s, Hyde 31.2, and McKinnon’s 30.9 aren’t that dissimilar.
Who else on the 49ers roster is going to get the goal-line work if not McKinnon? Matt Breida, who had 0 goal-line carries on 105 attempts last season? Joe Williams has decent size at 5’11” and 210 pounds, but his BMI is in the 28th percentile which pales in comparison to McKinnon’s 65th percentile BMI. Assuming Williams even makes the roster it’s hard to envision him being active over Breida who flashed last year and is a special teams contributor, or Raheem Mostert, also a contributor to the special teams, considering Williams doesn’t play special teams. If I were a betting man, I’d put money on McKinnon seeing a majority of the goal line work in 2018.
Burying the Lede
Kyle Shanahan may have found his ultimate receiving back weapon in McKinnon. McKinnon runs routes well enough that Minnesota would sometimes line him out wide and go with an empty backfield. Shanahan, as he sometimes did with Tevin Coleman, will also be able to line McKinnon up in the slot, which McKinnon also did during his time with Minnesota.
Mark Bullock of “The Washington Post” breaks down in depth the ways that Coleman’s usage as a receiver under Kyle Shanahan could be a preview of how McKinnon will be used in San Francisco. Though McKinnon has never had a backfield to himself, he still was able to produce 43 receptions in 2016 and 51 in 2017. If you’ll allow me a moment to wander down narrative street, the creativity that Shanahan employs using his backs in the receiving game runs laps around anything Pat Shurmur or Norv Turner could ever devise.
Considering the less accomplished and less talented pass catcher Carlos Hyde saw 88 targets last year under Shanahan, there’s no reason to think McKinnon won’t see at least that many targets. Before the 2017 season, Hyde’s previous career highs were 27 receptions and 33 targets. Hyde was only able to convert 67% of those targets into 59 receptions and a pathetic 350 yards. In stark, stark, contrast McKinnon turned his 68 targets into 51 receptions and 421 yards.
Comparing McKinnon to other “receiving” backs Kyle Shanahan had at his disposal in the past is almost unfair based on his absurd athleticism. Devonta Freeman roughly matches McKinnon’s size, and Tevin Coleman could be considered a welfare version of McKinnon athletically.
Looking at all the best receiving seasons for running backs under Shanahan I can imagine McKinnon settling in somewhere approaching Freeman’s 2015 season when he saw 97 targets and had 73 receptions. If McKinnon sees that level of volume in the passing game, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him approach 800 receiving yards. He’s that explosive with the ball in his hands.
McKinnon is a Buy
In the end, determining whether to buy or sell on McKinnon is going to come down to cost. Since it’s draft/rookie pick season, I’ll speak in terms of those parameters. I’d be willing to trade as much as the 1.07 right now for McKinnon. Outside of Barkley, Chubb, Moore, Sutton, Guice, and Penny, there’s not a rookie in this class I value higher than McKinnon. Though his contract does give me pause, the reward for McKinnon could easily be worth the cost.
Thanks for reading. You can also find my smooth stylings on the DynastyTradesHQ podcast every week. If you want to tell me why I’m wrong when it comes to this take or any other you can find me on Twitter @DFF_Shane.