Raheem Mostert, who delightfully paddles out on an imaginary board when he scores touchdowns in the NFL, is an enthusiastic surfer.
So you would think he would know about the danger of shark-infested waters.
Unfortunately, I fear the sleek 49ers running back, the hero of the NFC Championship romp over the Green Bay Packers, the leading rusher on the 13-3 Niners, the feel-good story of the year with wheels so rapid 49ers color commentator Tim Ryan boisterously nicknamed him “MOSTER-ATI!” . . . has failed to heed the shark warning on the NFL beach.
By having his agent ask for a trade from the 49ers one year into a three-year contract, Mostert has now pitted himself not only against ice-cold lead negotiator Paraag Marathe, but against cold, cruel NFL reality.
The reality of the NFL is that teams have come to view running backs as disposable as “Jaws” viewed summer swimmers on the New England coast.
And while Mostert riding a wave in the end zone this January, over and over as Levi’s Stadium roared, was the sight that warmed every 49er fan’s heart, Mostert trying to play the game of leverage vs. the 49ers front office will likely result in him finding out that NFL front offices have very little room for warm hearts.
For starters, Mostert is one year into a three-year contract he signed before the 2019 season, lessening his argument. Mostert’s total deal of $8.7 million for the three years seemed to be a great deal for a special teams ace on his seventh team, and a player who hadn’t rushed for more than 216 yards in a season.
While I fully understand Mostert’s camp trying to play his big 2019 season (team-leading 772 yards, NFL-leading 5.6 yards per carry, team-leading eight TDs) into his one moment in time to get paid like some of his teammates, unfortunately the reality of the NFL isn’t as sympathetic. Holding out of camp, which could be Mostert’s play while asking for a trade, now comes with significant fines daily, thanks to the new CBA. So that’s an unpleasant option.
And then there’s the problem of leverage.
How much does Mostert have on the 49ers? Unfortunately for him, not as much as he’d like.
Mostert’s value to the 49ers is diluted by the fact that the team’s running back room is crowded, including Tevin Coleman (a year younger than Mostert, and a two-TD, 105-yard performer in the playoff win over the Vikings), Jerick McKinnon (coming off two disappointing years of injury, but historically a dual-threat), Jeff Wilson, Jr. (only 24 years old, on the rise) and tantalizing rookie free agents JaMycal Hasty out of Baylor and Salvon Ahmed out of Washington.
If Mostert’s argument to the 49ers is: Yeah, but none of those guys did what I did, he’s likely to be handed a dossier that shows the Shanahan/Turner Family Tree of Developing Running Backs. Niners running back coach Bobby Turner spent 15 years with Mike Shanahan in Denver, perfecting the art of the “system” running back. Their work with Terrell Davis, turning him from a sixth-round pick into a Pro Football Hall of Famer, morphed into their work with Orlandis Gary in 1999 (fourth-round pick, 1159 yards) into their work with Mike Anderson in 2000 (sixth-rounder, 1487 yards) into their work with Clinton Portis in 2002 (second-rounder, 1508 yards) into their work with Reuben Droughns in 2004 (third-rounder, 1240 yards) into their work with Tatum Bell in 2006 (second-rounder 1,027 yards).
Turner is to 49ers running backs what Bobb McKittrick used to be to offensive linemen. You give him a player with some talent who shows up on time, Turner/McKittrick will turn that player into a mainstay.
All this adds up to a scenario where Mostert’s agent, Brett Tessier, is possibly overplaying his hand. You hate to hear this, because Mostert is one of the most likable players on the team, on and off the field.
But it’s a big boy world, the NFL. Players take their shots at getting paid. Teams assess value and leverage.
I just hope Mostert knows from his surf days that the sharks usually win these showdowns.