The San Francisco 49ers have seen a rash of injuries to the running back position over the past several days. This has forced the team to look to the veteran free agent market for some depth.
That comes in the form of two-time Pro Bowl running back Alfred Morris, who 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan announced Monday the team is going to sign.
"Alf did a great job for us for the two years I was with him," Shanahan said. "It’s not flashy but he runs extremely hard. He’s very reliable," Shanahan told reporters, via the team's official website. "He’s always been able to - you block it for zero, (he) usually can get at least one. He’s a hard-nose runner, you can keep handing the ball off to who’s very reliable.”
This comes on the heels of Matt Breida suffering a shoulder injury in the preseason opener Thursday against Morris’ former Dallas Cowboys team. The second-year back will miss the remainder of the preseason with the expectation of returning for Week 1.
Meanwhile, starting running back Jerick McKinnon suffered a strained calf during practice on Sunday and will be evaluated once again in a week.
While both players are expected to be ready for the opening of the regular season, it remains to be seen just how much of an impact they’ll be able to make early on.
In signing the 29-year-old Morris, San Francisco brings in a player that’s familiar in head coach Kyle Shanahan’s system. A two-time Pro Bowler, Morris put up a tremendous two-year run to start his career in Washington with Shanahan as the team’s offensive coordinator. Morris accumulated a total of 2,888 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns during that span.
With an ability to come in immediately and understand the nuances of Shanahan’s offense, Morris could very well be an insurance policy in case San Francisco’s top two backs are not ready to make an immediate impact Week 1.
Last season with Dallas, Morris did a tremendous job in filling in for the suspended Ezekiel Elliott. He put up 547 rushing yards and averaged a robust 4.8 yards per attempt. He tallied 430 yards in the six games Zeke had to sit.
The deal itself will likely be for nothing more than the veteran league minimum with very few guarantees. While Morris had drawn some tepid interest in free agency, he’s a one-dimensional back. That’s not necessarily of high value in today’s NFL.
But for Morris, it provides him an opportunity to play under an offensive genius who he had his best years with in the nation’s capital.
From the 49ers’ perspective, there’s no real reason to read too much into this. Signing Morris is not an indication that they’re worried about Brieda and/or McKinnon being out over the long term.
Rather, it’s simple insurance. Should the two return to full health, Morris provides more depth in the backfield. That’s never a bad thing, especially given his ability on short-yardage situations.
In a vacuum, the injuries are a concern. That goes without saying. But if they indirectly give San Francisco more depth during the regular season, everything will work out for the better.