Niners' $30 million RB Jerick McKinnon suffers third setback in recovery from ACL tear

Jack BaerWriter

After missing all of last season with a torn ACL, it looks like Jerick McKinnon is going to have wait even longer to make his San Francisco 49ers debut. The Niners running back suffered a setback Tuesday in his return from injury that could land him on injured reserve, general manager John Lynch said in an interview with KNBR on Wednesday.

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This is the third setback McKinnon has suffered since this summer, per the San Francisco Chronicle. He also reportedly had a “flareup” in July that forced him to begin training camp on the physically unable to perform list, then was sidelined for weeks with knee soreness in early August.

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Returning to practice for the first time since Aug. 7 on Tuesday, McKinnon did not look good according to Lynch.

From KNBR, here’s what the GM said:

“It’s a real bummer because you keep getting to the final step and the final step is actually playing NFL football, and particularly at his position, where you have to make hard cuts, you have to put your foot in the ground, and we did it a month ago and he kind of regressed and I would say yesterday we had a similar situation.

“So we’re trying to get to what’s the root cause of the problem that he’s having. And just because he’s working through it, I’m going to leave it at that, but yesterday was not encouraging from that standpoint for Jet. What that means, we’re not sure yet, but we’re working hard to find that out.”

And just like that, the Niners’ big investment in McKinnon last offseason has to wait even longer to return any dividends. McKinnon signed a four-year, $30 million contract with the team in 2018 after a strong season with the Minnesota Vikings.

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The 27-year-old seemed primed to take over feature back duties in San Francisco, but a torn ACL in the beginning of September cost him the entire season. And now it’s possible McKinnon doesn’t see a snap with the team at all.

What can the 49ers do with Jerick McKinnon?

At this point, it seems possible the 49ers place McKinnon on injured reserve to start the season. Cutting him now probably isn’t an option given the nearly $10 million in dead money on his contract, but it could be a different story down the road.

If McKinnon ends up on IR, he could return in Week 8, a long wait for a player to make his debut. The Niners could put him on injured reserve for the season, cut him in the offseason when they can save salary-cap space and proceed forward with their current RB options.

Jerick McKinnon's debut with the San Francisco 49ers keeps getting pushed back. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar, File)
Jerick McKinnon's debut with the San Francisco 49ers keeps getting pushed back. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar, File)

Niners have options at RB

McKinnon’s injury didn’t leave the 49ers with many established options last year, but it’s a different story this season.

Still present is Matt Breida, the undrafted free agent who led the 49ers in rushing with 814 yards last year. The Niners also signed Tevin Coleman to a two-year, $10 million deal this offseason. Coleman racked up more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage and nine touchdowns last year with the Atlanta Falcons, and he also has a history with head coach Kyle Shanahan.

Those two figure to be the top options heading into the season with McKinnon sidelined, while special teams ace Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. provide depth.

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