Super Bowl LVIII - San Francisco 49ers v Kansas City Chiefs
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Elijah Mitchell and Jordan Mason’s contracts are up after 2024

The San Francisco 49ers are a forward-thinking organization. That’s part of the reason they’ve been so successful under Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch. In general, the team has been ahead of the curve in addressing positions of need.

We’ve gone over safeties and the lack of depth and done the same with cornerback — where Lynch believes it’s a position that you must address yearly and how Brock Purdy needs a backup.

Let’s talk about the running back position, where the 49ers have an MVP finalist and the Offensive Player of the Year. Christian McCaffrey plays a position that the NFL doesn’t value. That’s evident during every free agency.

But when you look at McCaffrey through the lens of being an “eligible” receiver, he’s one of the most valuable players in the league:

McCaffrey, who turns 28 in June, is coming off a season where he had 355 touches. For the first month of 2023, McCaffrey had at least 23 touches in each game. Shanahan lightened his workload during the middle of the year but ramped it back up down the stretch.

It’s difficult to talk yourself into taking a player of CMC’s caliber off the field in general, but when there isn’t a versatile, reliable backup, leaving No. 23 on the field becomes a whole lot easier.

Elijah Mitchell and Jordan Mason are entering the final years of their contracts. Mitchell will be an unrestricted free agent after 2024, while Mason will be a restricted free agent.

Mitchell has the speed Shanahan covets and looked fresh when he carried the ball late in the season. There’s a reason he’s fresh, and that’s likely the reason you can’t offer him a new contract. As for Mason, he’s a talented runner but offers little in the passing game and has struggled in pass protection.

Running backs under contract for 2024:

Christian McCaffrey – $14.14 million cap number

Elijah Mitchell – $1.1 million

Jordan Mason – $988,334

McCaffrey’s deal voids after 2025. He’s not any other running back; therefore, he shouldn’t be viewed as one. The 49ers could extend or restructure McCaffrey and create significant cap space during the next two years. They’d save at least $8 million in 2024 and $7.2 million next year.

The Niners would only do that if they have their eyes on a free agent at a critical position or feel that’s the only way they could “keep the band together.”

With 11 picks in the NFL Draft and how that position tends to fall, a Day 3 pick on a running back makes sense. Here’s the list of running backs the team met with at the NFL Combine or a collegiate all-star game:

Isaac Guerendo
Audric Estime
Braelon Allen
Jawhar Jordan
Dajun Edwards
Frank Gore Jr.
Carson Steele

Guerendo, Estime, Allen, and Steele are at least 220 pounds. Guerendo stole the show. He ran a 4.33 40, jumped 41.5” in the vertical, and ran a 6.94 3-cone at 221 pounds.

Estime ran a 4.71, but his jumps were explosive, and he has longs of 50, 80, 41, and a few others of over 30 yards in 2023. Forty-four percent of his carries were at least 15 yards.

Allen is an intriguing prospect as Wisconsin shifted away from their traditional offense this past year. I think he’ll be a better pro. There wasn’t much to offer from Allen in the passing game, but 682 of his 982 yards came after contact in 2023.

I’ll be interested to see whether the 49ers complement McCaffrey with another “Mason-type” runner or a scatback.

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