The 49ers had a revolving group of running backs throughout 2018 due to various injuries. Head coach Kyle Shanahan is hoping to squeeze more stability out of them in the coming season, so he’s bringing back a familiar face.
Shanahan is adding free agent running back Tevin Coleman on a two-year, $10 million deal, a league source confirmed to The Bee just after the start of the new league year Wednesday. Coleman was taken in the third round of the 2015 draft when Shanahan was offensive coordinator with running backs coach Bobby Turner, who remains on Shanahan’s staff with San Francisco.
That leaves the 49ers awfully crowded at the position, which could be a good thing if injuries prove problematic again. Coleman will join a running back group featuring Jerick McKinnon and Matt Breida, giving San Francisco three speedy running backs with the ability to work as receivers out of the backfield.
But Coleman’s fit into the group isn’t a seamless one. McKinnon signed a four-year, $30 million contract last spring before missing all of 2018 with an ACL tear suffered just prior to Week 1. He received $11.7 million in guarantees at signing and his $3.7 million salary for 2019 doesn’t become fully guaranteed until April 1, according to Overthecap.com. That means San Francisco could move on in the coming weeks, making Coleman for McKinnon a clean swap without much financial burden.
Or, the team could use its remaining cap space to keep both after signing linebacker Kwon Alexander and trading for pass rusher Dee Ford, allowing Shanahan to replicate the league’s No. 5 rushing attack with the Falcons in 2016 when he had Coleman and Devonta Freeman carrying the load. Freeman and McKinnon are considered to have similar running styles, though McKinnon is believed to be better as a receiver.
For now, it appears the 49ers have a surplus of halfbacks, including the team’s best special teams player in Raheem Mostert. Shanahan has typically only had three halfbacks available on game days, but that could change in 2019 because he hasn’t had a group this talented since he came to San Francisco.
Adding Coleman is another fix for a draft mistake, much like signing Alexander was earlier this week. Shanahan believed 2017 fourth-round draft pick Joe Williams had similar big-play ability to Coleman. But Williams never played in the NFL and was released before last season. Adding Coleman in free agency makes up for that mistake just like signing Alexander fills the void left by 2017 first-round pick Reuben Foster, who was released in November.
Coleman is coming off his best season in 2018. He logged 1,076 all-purpose yards. His four rushing touchdowns were more than any 49er and his five receiving scores matched George Kittle and Dante Pettis, who tied for the most on San Francisco. Coleman’s nine touchdowns were four more than anyone on Shanahan’s offense.
San Francisco, of course, finished with the NFL’s worst red-zone attack in 2018 scoring touchdowns on just 41 percent of its trips.
Jimmie Ward back on one-year deal
Ward ended four of his five seasons with the 49ers on injured reserve due to a fractured foot, shoulder and forearm (twice). He was drafted in the first-round of 2014 and has played every position in the secondary for four different defensive coorindators.
He could be in the running to start at free safety in 2019 as the team hasn’t made any outside additions at the position in free agency. Earl Thomas early Wednesday morning agreed to join the Baltimore Ravens.
Despite his injury woes, Ward has been a favorite of the coaching staff for his attitude, work ethic and playing style.
“I love Jimmie Ward,” Shanahan said at the scouting combine. “I really hope to have him back. We all know he struggled a little bit to stay healthy. But he’s a guy that I’ll go to war with any day, I really trust, I really believe in.”
Ward played his best under Shanahan’s staff when he took over at free safety midway through last season. Third-year pro Adrian Colbert and second-year player D.J. Reed are the team’s other options at free safety.
Verrett meets with 49ers
The 49ers’ search for improvements on defense continued Wednesday. The team hosted free agent cornerback Jason Verrett, a Fairfield, Calif. native, for a visit at the its Santa Clara facility, according to an NFL Media report.
Verrett (5-9, 189) was a first-round draft pick of the Chargers in 2014 who’s dealt with a slew of injuries throughout his career. He didn’t play at all in 2018 due to a torn ACL suffered during a conditioning test of the start of training camp. That came after he missed 39 games during his first four seasons due to shoulder injuries (2014), a partially torn ACL (2016) and aggravating the knee injury (2017).
The report indicated Verrett was in Santa Clara to undergo a physical with the team’s new training staff. Clearly, that will be the most important part of the meeting.
How Verrett would fit with San Francisco’s defense is another question. At his diminutive size, it seems he would be best as a slot cornerback. But the 49ers already have options there in K’Waun Williams and Reed. Verrett also had meetings scheduled with the Texans and Chiefs, according to the Houston Chronicle.