49ers: Contract implications of RB Jerick McKinnon’s season-ending injury

Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images
Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images /
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San Francisco 49ers RB Jerick McKinnon injury contract
Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images /

The San Francisco 49ers signed running back Jerick McKinnon to an expensive four-year deal this offseason. How does the Niners’ starting RB’s season-ending knee injury affect his contract with the team?

On Saturday, the San Francisco 49ers lost starting running back Jerick McKinnon for the season, after the dual-threat back tore his ACL in his right knee. Similar to many ACL injuries, The Niners’ top RB hurt his knee without making contact with another player, but by merely landing “awkwardly” on the team’s final play of yesterday’s practice:

Shortly after the injury, the 49ers confirmed McKinnon’s injury was indeed an ACL tear that will keep the running back out of action for the 2018 NFL regular season. While the team searches for a short-term solution to their running back problem, they also need to address both the long-term and financial ramifications of McKinnon’s unfortunate injury.

Over the offseason, 49ers general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan specifically targeted McKinnon, and signed the former Minnesota Vikings running back on the first day of free agency. Since the demand for McKinnon was high, San Francisco was forced to pay handsomely in order to acquire their new No. 1 RB.

Initial reviews of the expensive four-year $30 million deal were mixed, but once salary cap expert Jason Hurley got his hands on the contract, we learned that McKinnon’s deal was more team-friendly than originally reported. Thanks to the work of 49ers chief contract negotiator Paraag Marathe, McKinnon’s contract was mostly front-loaded, with the majority of his guaranteed money coming in the first year of the deal:

Unfortunately for San Francisco, the team won’t be able to reap any of the benefits they paid for in 2018. The 49ers are on the hook for McKinnon’s $4.2 million base salary and $2 million signing bonus, as well as the majority of his $5.8 million in roster and workout bonuses; the only money they’ll save is a total of $250,000 in per-game roster bonuses for the upcoming season.

McKinnon’s 2019 salary is only guaranteed for injury, so the 49ers could decide to part ways with the runner — provided he’s healthy by next spring — for a nominal cost. However, It’s much more likely the team will retain McKinnon next season, since his $3.7 million base salary, $250,000 roster bonus and $50,000 workout bonus total only $4 million for the season.

However, if McKinnon doesn’t produce in 2019, the 49ers will likely part ways with the running back, as his cost rises to $6.8 million in 2020, and then $7.2 million in 2021 — but an early release would come with salary cap implications: