It seems every year gives us a curveball in free agency. This year’s version of the ol’ 12-6 bender came in the form of free agent running back Tevin Coleman signing with the San Francisco 49ers for just two years and $8.5 million on a contract reportedly that included no signing bonus and a salary of just $3.6 million this season – a far cry from the money Coleman was expected to command on what ended up being a very soft running back market. There were rumors the 49ers were pushing hard for Le’Veon Bell, but few expected them to add a different running back when they struck out on Bell. Coleman now joins a very crowded backfield that presumably includes a semi-recovered Jerick McKinnon, Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert. The move is a puzzling one for sure and while the 49ers look to have scored a bargain, this move looks like a dynasty fantasy football nightmare. Let’s run down the players involved and how it impacts their value.
Tevin Coleman, RB SF
A ton of dynasty owners gobbled up shares of Coleman over the past year with the hope and expectation he’d find a job as a starting running back and get a boost in value in the process. Unfortunately, the situation in San Francisco is far from optimal. The key here is likely the plan the 49ers have with McKinnon. If San Francisco was to designate him as a post-June 1st cut, they’d save $3.7 million on their salary cap. However, without getting too complicated, it would actually cost San Francisco more on the books if they cut McKinnon than if they keep him. If McKinnon is let go, Coleman’s value would obviously go up as he’d likely be the bigger part of a timeshare. If McKinnon stays, we could be looking at a dreaded three-headed monster the likes few outside New England dare to destroy fantasy football owners with. On the surface, it seems Coleman may be one-year insurance to see if McKinnon can regain his form as the 49ers can easily get out of Coleman’s contract after a one season rental.
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On the plus side, Coleman is very familiar with Kyle Shanahan’s system and should make a seamless transition. Over his four year career with the Falcons, Coleman has rushed for 2,340 yards, caught 92 passes for another 1,010 yards and scored a total of 29 touchdowns playing as the second half of a running back committee with Devonta Freeman. He’ll be asked to produce each and every week in San Francisco. However, it’s really anyone’s guess as to just how Kyle Shanahan is going to deploy this stable of runners. Odds are Coleman starts out the season with the most carries as McKinnon continues to recover form his torn ACL. When McKinnon is healthy, they’ll likely look at some type of rotation with Matt Breida mixing in as well.
In short, this looks like a mess if McKinnon stays and isn’t optimal even if he leaves as Breida will clearly still earn some work. Fantasy owners rolled the dice on Coleman and the result wasn’t what any had hoped for. What would you call that with the 49ers? Dice a Roni? Regardless, Coleman’s ADP isn’t likely to rise as he’s in a similar situation as he was in Atlanta.
Jerick McKinnon, RB SF
McKinnon was looked upon to be a huge part of the offense for the 49ers last year until a torn ACL derailed his season before it even began. His owners were clearly hoping he was going to make a full recovery and make good on his potential as a lead back this season. It doesn’t look like that’s going to happen in San Francisco this year. We’ll clearly know more about things by April 1st when his salary becomes guaranteed, but this has the looks of a massive running back by committee and McKinnon’s ADP is sure to suffer as a result. On the plus side, if McKinnon really does get back to form this year, it’s possible (if not likely) the 49ers move on from Coleman after the season.
Matt Breida, RB SF
There are really two “knowns” in the backfield of San Francisco right now – Coleman is going to get touches and Matt Breida will not be going away. Breida was solid last season as he rushed for 814 yards and three touchdowns on a gaudy 5.3 yards per carry. He also caught 27 passes on a fairly ridiculous 87% catch rate. Breida is likely going to be on the wrong side of a committee here and it’s doubtful he leads the team in carries this season unless injuries occur again. However, dynasty owners need to hold on to Breida and hope he finds himself on a different team in the near future or really gives the coaching staff no choice but to keep him on the field.
Raheem Mostert, RB SF
It would be easy to say Mostert is the odd man out and the 49ers should just keep him inactive on game days with McKinnon, Breida and Coleman taking the helm in the backfield. Unfortunately, that’s likely not going to happen because of his value on game days as a special teams player. It’s more than likely all four running backs are active and another skill position player ends up on the game day inactive list. Regardless, the path to carries for Mostert is almost impossible if McKinnon is kept, so there are better dynasty sleepers out there.
Devonta Freeman, RB ATL
One would surmise Freeman would benefit from Coleman being gone, but that’s doubtful. First, he has to show he’s completely healthy after playing in just two games last year. Second, it’s apparent the Falcons are comfortable with Ito Smith taking Coleman’s spot as the second half of a running back tandem. Freeman is still very valuable in dynasty leagues, but it’s been a while since we’ve really seen him at a RB1 level. This is a big year for him.
Ito Smith, RB ATL
Smith was a popular deep sleeper last year and he was serviceable when given his chances as he produced 315 rushing yards, 27 catches, 152 receiving yards and four touchdowns as a rookie. However, Smith only averaged 3.5 yards per carry and 5.6 yards per catch, showing very little explosiveness in the process. If the Falcons fail to bring in other running backs, Smith should be in line for a bigger workload and could make a nice Sophomore leap this season. He remains a strong hold in dynasty leagues.
Ken is on Twitter at DLF_KenK
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