First, the 49ers lost Carlos Hyde. He signed with the Cleveland Browns early Wednesday morning.
Then, the 49ers replaced him with former Minnesota Vikings backup running back Jerick McKinnon, who never has been a full-time starter in the NFL.
Then, the 49ers made McKinnon the fourth-highest-paid running back in the league. He will earn up to $30 million from the 49ers during the next four seasons.
“Jerick has proven to be an extremely versatile football player,” 49ers GM John Lynch wrote in a statement, “whose speed, elusiveness and tackle-breaking ability make him a very difficult matchup for defenses.”
McKinnon fits 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense, which emphasizes speed and elusiveness. Hyde is not fast or elusive. He didn’t fit Shanahan’s offense.
Hyde and McKinnon are different types of running backs. McKinnon is small — 5-foot-9, 205 pounds And he’s fast — he recorded a 4.41 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine. He runs around the edges, catches screen passes and avoids tackles.
Hyde is big — 6-0, 225 pounds. And he’s tough. He runs up the middle and breaks tackles, but is not elusive around the edges.
Only three running backs currently earn more than McKinnon’s $7.5 million average annual salary: Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell, Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman and Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy. All three have gone to multiple Pro Bowls.
McKinnon, 25, has gone to no Pro Bowls. Last season, he was the Vikings’ third-string running back until Week 4, when rookie Dalvin Cook, their starter, tore the ACL in his left knee and went on the Injured Reserve list. Then, McKinnon became the Vikings’ second-string running back behind Latavius Murray.
McKinnon finished the 2017 season with 150 carries, 570 rushing yards (3.8 yards per attempt), three rushing touchdowns, 51 catches, 421 receiving yards and two touchdown catches.
Hyde finished 2017 with 240 carries, 938 rushing yards (3.9 yards per attempt), eight rushing touchdowns, 59 catches and 350 receiving yards. He started 37 games the past three seasons after replacing Frank Gore as the 49ers’ starting running back in 2015.
On Wednesday, Hyde signed with the Browns for three years and $15 million — $5 million per season on average. Significantly less than McKinnon.
McKinnon and Hyde both entered the draft in 2014. The 49ers drafted Hyde in the second round with the 57th pick, and the Vikings drafted McKinnon in the third round with the 96th pick.
The Vikings initially used McKinnon as a third-down, change-of-pace back behind Adrian Peterson. As a rookie, McKinnon played in 11 games, rushed 113 times and averaged 4.8 yards per carry as the backup for starter Matt Asiata. Peterson missed all but one game that season. The league suspended him for child abuse.
In 2015, Peterson returned to the Vikings and rushed 327 times while McKinnon hardly played. He rushed 52 times for 271 yards.
Then, during Week 2 of 2016, Peterson tore his meniscus. So, the Vikings increased McKinnon’s workload. They gave him 159 carries, and he started seven games. But he averaged only 3.4 yards per rush — by far the lowest average of his career.