Backs on the run: Carlos Hyde is joining the Cleveland Browns; McKinnon to 49ers

March 15, 2018

The Cleveland Browns’ offensive makeover for 2018 — well, save for one small draft detail — might be nearing its completion after former San Francisco 49ers RB Carlos Hyde agreed to return to his home state on a three-year deal worth up to $15 million, per Ian Rapoport.

Hyde was one of the more attractive backs on the open market, though it’s worth noting the 27-year-old (28 in September) racked up easily a career high in touches (299) but also a career-low 3.9 yards per carry. The former second-round Buckeye standout remains a strong early-down option, but he took on a bigger passing-game role under Kyle Shanahan to mixed results and was slowly fazed out in that area by season’s end.

In Cleveland, Hyde pairs with excellent receiving back Duke Johnson to form a strong one-two punch — three if we include new dual-threat QB Tyrod Taylor. We were bullish on Hyde’s fantasy football prospects a season ago as Shanahan arrived, and although he couldn’t fully capitalize on that opportunity, this is another ideal one for Hyde with the Browns, who just signed former Steeler Chris Hubbard to round out their talented and high-priced offensive line.

Plus, they could have a pair of lid-lifting big-play wideouts if Josh Gordon and Corey Coleman finally put it all together. But Hyde doesn’t figure to get the passing-down chances he did under Shanahan, not with Cleveland reportedly in extension talks with the talented Johnson, the club’s most consistent offensive performer for arguably the past two seasons.

And as part of the Niners’ Hyde replacement plan, former Minnesota Viking Jerick McKinnon is headed west on a four-year pact, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. McKinnon performed yeoman’s work for the NFC North champs in the absence of rookie Dalvin Cook, tallying 51 catches for 421 yards as the third-down weapon behind Latavius Murray.

McKinno, the converted college quarterback, is a unique athlete whom Shanahan could have big plans for. He’s never panned out as a full-time runner, but McKinnon showed how dynamic he could be in the right situation a year ago. Yet, McKinnon was clear in his free agency mission of wanting a bigger opportunity, not to play second or even third fiddle behind a healthy Cook and possibly Murray, so it’ll be fascinating to see what exactly the Niners have in mind for him in their backfield alongside Jimmy Garoppolo.

Tuesday night, Dion Lewis set the RB market with a four-year deal reportedly including $11.5 million guaranteed. That’s an exceptional haul for the former Patriot, who becomes a top-five earner at the position in terms of guaranteed dollars if we omit the backs still on first-round rookie contracts.

The next big RB dominos to fall prior to teams turning their attention toward a special rookie crop could be future Hall of Famer Frank Gore, who’s reportedly visiting the Detroit Lions on Wednesday, DeMarco Murray, who had at least the Seattle Seahawks on his dance card, and Darren Sproles, among others. Indeed, the older backs generally have to wait their turn in today’s NFL, and now that the veteran market is materializing, we could see more movement here sooner than later.

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