49ers Jerick McKinnon Free Agency

Although the San Francisco 49ers were not as active at the start of 2018 NFL Free Agency as they were in 2017, they were successful in adding a number of important free-agent pieces to their roster.


The San Francisco 49ers entered the offseason with five major areas of need that they hoped to address via both free agency and the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft:

1. A dual-threat running back to replace Carlos Hyde

2. Upgrades to the interior offensive line

3. Edge rushers to pressure opposing quarterbacks

4. A tall, physical outside cornerback to pair with Ahkello Witherspoon

5. Red-zone targets for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo

49ers general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan were able to address four of the five in the first days of free agency.

RB Jerick McKinnon

The 49ers opted to let Carlos Hyde — a poor fit in Shanahan’s offensive system due to his lack of pass-catching and pass-blocking ability — walk, in favor of a dual-threat back. On the first day of free agency, they found their running back in former Minnesota Viking Jerick McKinnon.

McKinnon, while an athletic freak, is undersized for a feature back at 5-foot-9 and 205 pounds, and has never been used as such during his four-year career. However, McKinnon is similarly sized to Falcons running back Devonta Freeman, who ran for over 1,000 yards in both of Shanahan’s seasons as Atlanta’s offensive coordinator.

With former New England Patriots running back Dion Lewis signing with the Tennessee Titans, and no other comparable running backs on the market, the 49ers paid more than expected for McKinnon. McKinnon’s four-year contract — worth up to $30 million — makes him one of the highest paid backs in the NFL, but the 49ers aren’t tied to the running back after the first year of the deal.

As opposed to a large signing bonus, the 49ers elected to give McKinnon a $5.5 million roster bonus in 2018, and a smaller signing bonus of just $2 million.

If McKinnon doesn’t work out as planned this season, the 49ers could cut him for just $1.5 million in dead money, which would essentially make the running back a $10.5 million one-year rental.

C Weston Richburg

After signing center Daniel Kilgore to a three-year contract extension last month, the 49ers were expected to shore up their offensive line by signing a guard in free agency.

But with free-agent guards signing record-breaking deals, the Niners went in a different direction, signing former New York Giants center Weston Richburg to a five-year contract.

Richburg — an athletic lineman and excellent pass-blocker — spend the majority of last season on injured reserve due to a head injury, after missing just one game in his previous three seasons in the league. Richburg best play came in 2015, with Pro Football Focus ranking him among the league’s top centers, before the lineman took a step back in 2016.

The 49ers promptly traded Kilgore to the Miami Dolphins for minimal compensation, just a day before the team was scheduled to pay the center his $2.3 million roster bonus.

Since Kilgore’s contract did not include a signing bonus, the 49ers were able to trade him without any negative financial implications.

Richburg’s five-year deal is worth up to $47.5 million, with a signing bonus of over $9 million, and $16.5 million in guaranteed money. The center will likely remain on the team for at least the first three years of his contract, which are also guaranteed for injury.

After the 2020 season, Richburg could be released for under $4 million in dead money. Although Richburg is no Alex Mack, the similarities between the two players demonstrate that Shanahan prioritizes athleticism at the center position.

EDGE Jeremiah Attaochu

After the initial rush on the first day of free agency, the 49ers signed former Los Angeles Changers EDGE Jeremiah Attaochu to a one-year contract the following day. Attaochu’s “prove-it” deal is the right combination of risk and reward for a player with upside but limited NFL experience.

The Chargers had high expectations for Attaochu — Georgia Tech’s all-time sack leader — when they traded up for him in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft, but the pass rusher never fully developed due to a history of injuries once he reached the NFL.

The 49ers hope the edge rusher will provide much-needed help rushing the quarterback on passing downs, and filling in at the LEO position on base downs.

Attaochu’s one-year deal includes $2.5 million in guaranteed money, and has the potential to be worth over $5 million, although much of the contract is likely incentive-based.

As Attaochu’s contract is similar in cost to that of recently departed EDGE Elvis Dumervil, the 49ers are electing to go with a younger, unproven talent over an older, proven veteran with limited upside or long-term potential.

CB Richard Sherman

Prior to the official beginning of free agency, the 49ers filled one of their biggest areas of need with the signing of former Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman.

While controversial due to Sherman’s history of disrespect to the team and fan base, the move makes sense on paper, as Sherman is the prototypical cornerback for the Cover 3 Press defensive system preferred by defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.

With the 49ers moving away from cornerback Dontae Johnson, Sherman is penciled in at starting cornerback along with second-year player Ahkello Witherspoon — provided Sherman fully recovers from last season’s Achilles injury.

Sherman’s new three-year contract has been heavily scrutinized due to its team-friendly nature, and the fact that Sherman elected to negotiate the contract without the assistance of an agent.

Although the deal was initially reported to be worth over $39 million, once the details of the contract were revealed, we learned that the initial numbers were inflated with incentives. Sherman received a meager $3 million signing bonus, and a 2018 base salary of $2 million, with the potential to make an additional $8 million if he remains healthy throughout training camp and the entire regular season, and receives Pro-Bowl and All-Pro honors.

If Sherman stays healthy, he will most likely cost the 49ers around $7 million in 2018.

If Sherman loses a step or can’t stay healthy, the 49ers can walk away from the contract with little salary-cap repercussions — and if Sherman returns to All-Pro form, he will be locked into the three-year deal at an under-market price.

This contract appears to be one of 49ers chief negotiator Paraag Marathe’s best pieces of work to date.

About the Author: Chris Wilson

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