Jerick (Jet) McKinnon makes his case on Twitter. Raheem Mostert says “hummmm.”

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Here is some bad news for the Raheem Mostert contract re-negotiating team. Check out the workout Jerick (Jet) McKinnon posted on Twitter. McKinnon, of course, has been battling knee problems since he tore his ACL before the 2018 season.

He’s tried several procedures and the team was hopeful he’d be back for 2019, but ended up having another knee surgery in August and was out for the year. It would not have been a huge surprise to find he was unable to answer the bell if this season happens. He wouldn’t be the first to have a chronic knee injury derail his career.

Based on this, he looks ready to compete. Notice that the first couple of clips are about making short, quick cuts and changes of direction. Players recovering from ACLs can often regain their straight ahead speed. It’s making the cuts that tell the story.

And, there’s another factor. The 49ers were so enamored of McKinnon when they signed him from the Vikings, that they gave him a contract that paid him $15.5 million for the past two seasons — when he never got on the field. This year he was scheduled to make $6.5 million.

But, in a story reported in March, Matt Maiocco said the 49ers and McKinnon reached a deal to reduce his contract to $910,000. That takes down his salary cap total, decreases what they owe McKinnon and makes him a much more attractive option at running back.

It could be interesting. Although we were promised a route-running, pass-catching back in McKinnon (notice he calls himself a “dual-threat running back in the Tweet) we still haven’t seen what he can do. We do know that in four seasons with the Vikings he caught 142 passes for just under 1,000 yards and five touchdowns.

So, all in all, it might not be a great time for Mostert to ask to have his contract reworked. Mostert’s agent, Brett Tessler, made the bold move and told the 49ers that if they wouldn’t pay Mostert they should trade him.  Tessler’s point is that Mostert’s pay should be brought up to match comparable running backs.

He’s got a point. Mostert’s base salary in 2019 was $1.4 million, according to Spotrac, climbing to $2.575 this year. Meanwhile, Matt Breida signed a $3.26 million deal in April. On the other hand, the 49ers also traded Breida, which may indicate that’s more than they intend to spend for a running back.

I’m hoping it works out for Mostert. An undrafted free agent, he took a role as a special teams player bouncing around the NFL and turned it into a feel-good story for the 49ers. He led the team in rushing last year with 772 yards and was excellent in the playoffs too, averaging 6.3 yards per carry in three post season games.

Engaging and outgoing, Mostert is also the kind of guy you root for. And just speaking personally, I was standing near the sideline at a practice one day and a back rolled out of the backfield, caught a pass and, simply vaporized. The abrupt burst of speed was so striking that I checked the roster sheet to see who it was — Raheem Mostert.

But a couple of things: One is, as people in the NFL say, you never make up for that first contract. As a free agent, he started low on the salary ladder and it is hard to work your way up. Second, with McKinnon and others, like Tevin Coleman, the team may think they are set in the backfield. (Although you can bet they wish they weren’t paying Coleman an estimated $4.55 million next year.)

And finally, there is the harsh reality of a changing NFL. Running backs aren’t the bell cows they used to be. There are some exceptions — Ezekiel Elliott and Saquon Barkley — but teams aren’t depending on a single running back anymore. Bleacher Report did the data search. It found that over the last five years, only an average of five backs had more than 300 carries a year. Back in 2003, 13 backs had more than 300 carries. Ricky Williams had almost 400 (392).

But, you say, the pounding ground game has been replaced by versatile running backs who can catch passes. The whole basketball-on-grass revolution has changed the position. Running backs are now much more involved in the passing game than ever before.

Not really. Last year the stat site FiveThirtyEight took the premise that running backs have re-defined their roles. What they found, they said, was that “Teams are just throwing to everyone more often.”

They point out that in 2018 20.2 percent of passes were thrown to running backs. And the NFL average from 2001-2017? 19.5 percent.

What is happening, undeniably, is that teams, like the 49ers, have shown you can find backs in the later rounds of the draft or even free agency. And that if can find guys that check the right boxes — say 5-9, 205 pounds, 4.4 40 — you can run a squad of them out there and get the same results that you would with a single, expensive, blue chip, first round draft choice.

In fact, you could make the case that Mostert benefited from the RB-by-committee. In an eight-game stretch between Oct. 8 and Nov. 25, he averaged just 4.8 carries a game. But in December, when they needed him, Mostert’s rushes were in double figures for each game, which continued through the playoffs. Against the Packers he had 29 attempts for 220 yards.

The lesson? A good back is valuable. But he can’t be too expensive.

Washington finally caves, will “retire” Redskins nickname

Not a lot to say about this, but it is worth reading the Washington Post story. 

Just a couple of points. There have been thoughtful protests about this for decades. The nickname was clearly offensive. But when it came right down to it, the name change happened because corporate sponsors stepped up and threatened their profit margin. That’s either encouraging or a sad commentary on sports, not sure which one.

And second, because you are wondering, the team says it has come up with a replacement name, but that name is protected by trademark issues. They hope to work through the legalities and announce a new name soon.

It had better not be the Washington Bullets, which was easily the worst NBA team name ever.





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