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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.

So the next season, 2017, the Vikings decreased McKinnon’s workload.

They drafted a running back in the second round, signed another running back to a three-year, $15 million contract and demoted McKinnon to third on the depth chart.

But McKinnon still earned a role as the Vikings’ primary pass-catching running back. And he excelled in this role. He averaged 8.3 yards per catch — 12th best in the league among running backs. This, plus his ability to function in Shanahan’s zone-blocking run game, attracted the 49ers to him.

Hyde was the 49ers’ primary pass-catching back last season — he led the team in receptions. But he averaged only 5.9 yards per catch. He was ineffective.

One of the knocks the organization had against Hyde was his tendency to go down after contact. He wouldn’t break many big plays, or “explosives,” as Shanahan calls them. An explosive play gains at least 20 yards.

Hyde had zero explosive catches last season. His longest catch went for 18 yards.

McKinnon had seven explosive catches in 2017, tied with Christian McCaffrey of the Carolina Panthers for third most among running backs. The only running backs with more explosive catches than those two last season were Todd Gurley of the LA Rams and Chris Thompson of the Washington Redskins.

If McKinnon stays healthy, he will probably be one of the 49ers’ leading receivers next season, and he could be their leading rusher, too. But he may split carries with second-year running back Matt Breida, who played college football at McKinnon’s alma mater, Georgia Southern.


The 49ers allowed the fifth-year option in free safety Jimmie Ward’s rookie contract to become fully guaranteed on Wednesday. Ward will earn $8.526 million in 2018, and hit the free-agent market in 2019 unless the 49ers extend his contract.

Ward started six games in 2017 before breaking his arm Oct. 29 against the Philadelphia Eagles. He finished the season with 32 tackles, one pass breakup and zero interceptions.

The 49ers re-signed middle linebacker Brock Coyle to a three-year extension Wednesday afternoon. Coyle’s deal is worth up to $11.5 million and includes $4.1 million guaranteed, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

“Brock stepped up big for us last season when we experienced some adversity at the linebacker position,” Shanahan said in a written statement.

Coyle started 10 games in 2017 and recorded 64 tackles. He most likely will back up Reuben Foster next season.

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