MIAMI – Sorry, Dalvin Cook. As great as you are, now doesn’t seem to be the best time to be a running back looking for huge money heading into the final year of a rookie deal.
Not when one of the hottest story lines in the seemingly endless lead-up to Super Bowl LIV is 49ers running back Raheem Mostert, a former nobody whose iPhone notes app lists the dates and teams that cut him six times in about 15 months.
“It’s incredible,” said 49ers teammate George Kittle. “He’s a grinder. Every single day. He attacks every single day. And when he gets his opportunity, he sprints at people’s faces with it.”
And the agents of running backs looking for a bigger piece of the NFL payment pie groan along with every step.
The three-year, $8.7 million deal Mostert signed last spring doesn’t just make him the 23rd-highest-paid running back in the league at $2.9 million a year. It made him the third-highest-paid running back on his own team.
“Hey,” says the former undrafted nobody from Purdue, “it just took me awhile. Five years.”
Former Vikings backup Jerick McKinnon is the 49ers’ highest-paid running back. He makes $7.5 million a year.
And he’s never played a game for San Francisco. Thanks to knee injuries, his last NFL game was the Vikings’ NFC Championship Game loss at Philadelphia.
McKinnon clocks in as the NFL’s seventh-highest-paid running back. The six guys ahead of him — Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley, Le’Veon Bell, David Johnson, Devonta Freeman and Saquon Barkley — watched the playoffs from home. So did the ninth-highest-paid running back, Leonard Fournette.
Yes, young 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan has brought an old-school running game mentality back to the NFL’s biggest stage. But it’s not a celebration of the old workhorse back or even the modern-day ones who can catch the ball.
It’s more of an ode to offensive line play, a tight end who enjoys pancake blocks as much as yards after the catch and, of course, the resurrection of the fullback position.
C.J. Ham is more likely to use the 2019 postseason as a PowerPoint presentation than Cook will be in his efforts to climb from 39th-highest-paid at $1.59 million a year. San Francisco’s Kyle Juszczyk averages $5.25 million. The next-highest average: $2.1 million.
That’s not all. When’s the last time, if ever, that you heard a fullback called “Juice”?
“Juice is in his own world,” 49ers defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said. “He’s a rare guy. An X Factor.”
At running back, the 49ers had three backs rush for 1,939 yards and 15 touchdowns without a single one of them surpassing 137 carries.
Mostert had 772 yards and eight touchdowns on 137 carries. A 5.6-yard average.
Matt Breida, the No. 3 back with the 4.38 speed, had 623 yards on 123 carries. A 5.1 average a year after averaging 5.3.
And Tevin Coleman — the 49ers’ second-highest-paid back at $4.25 million a year — had 544 yards and six touchdowns on 137 carries. A 4.0 average.
Coleman led the 49ers in rushing in the divisional win over the Vikings. He started the NFC Championship Game against the Packers but left the field with 21 yards and a separated shoulder.
Mostert stepped in with 220 yards rushing, second-most in NFL postseason history, and four touchdowns on 29 carries.
Not bad for a guy who spent 15 months in 2015-16 going from Philadelphia to Miami to Baltimore to Cleveland to the Jets to Chicago …
… to, finally, San Francisco.
Games played in that journey: 14. Total carries: one.
If you need the dates of all those releases, Mostert has them. And not just to gloat.
“It’s not all just about what those teams missed,” Mostert said. “Maybe I didn’t do just enough. What could I have done differently?”
He’s showing the world. And so are the 49ers.