The 49ers remain unclear when their most expensive free-agent acquisition, linebacker Kwon Alexander, will be ready to play with his new team.
But they should have a better idea when Alexander returns to team headquarters in Santa Clara on April 2 to have his surgically repaired torn ACL examined by San Francisco’s medical staff.
“It’s kind of an empty feeling that we know he was in good hands with the (Tampa Bay Buccaneers),” general manager John Lynch said Monday at the NFL owners meetings. “But all of a sudden once we acquire him, he can no longer start doing his rehab or continue doing his rehab with the Bucs.”
Alexander, 24, signed a four-year, $54 million contract with the 49ers despite suffering the injury Oct. 21 in a victory over the Cleveland Browns. His contract includes $14.25 million in guarantees for 2019, even though there’s a chance Alexander misses time or doesn’t return to 100 percent.
“We’re going to get to assess exactly where he’s at,” Lynch said. “I can tell you … when you do a deal like that, you want the return right away but we had discussions that, hey, when you’re making an investment like this, we’ve got to make sure he’s right. So we will hold true to that. … Our conversations with the people from the Buccaneers (indicate) that he’s on track.”
Alexander’s $13.5 million average annual salary is higher than star linebackers such as Carolina’s Luke Kuechly ($12.4 million) and Seattle’s Bobby Wagner ($10.75 million). Alexander was brought in to play the “stack linebacker” position vacated by the release of 2017 first-round draft pick Reuben Foster in November.
Alexander’s contract includes just $3 million in true guarantees over the remaining three years of the contract after 2019, perhaps insulating the 49ers if Alexander can’t return to his pre-injury form. He led the NFL in solo tackles in 2016 and was named a Pro-Bowl alternate after the 2017 season.
McKinnon to remain in the fold
The 49ers’ addition of free-agent running back Tevin Coleman raised questions about the future of Jerick McKinnon, a free-agent signing in 2018 who didn’t play last season because of a torn ACL suffered before the season opener.
But Lynch on Monday quelled any speculation that McKinnon wouldn’t be in the mix in the 49ers’ backfield, confirming he would be on the roster beyond April 1, when his 2019 salary becomes fully guaranteed. He’s due $3.7 million and would cost $5.75 million against the salary cap if his various bonuses are realized.
“Jerick is going to be a part of us. We’re excited to see that through,” Lynch said. “Jerick is working incredibly hard. It was an unfortunate blow that happened to him, but you never like to see that and this year, last year, we were extremely excited that we had him, but he’s always had kind of a chip on his shoulder because that was his first opportunity to be the guy and I’m sure he’ll have a bigger chip on his shoulder.”
San Francisco dealt with several injuries to running backs throughout 2018 but could have a quality duo if Coleman and McKinnon can stay healthy. Coleman last season had a career-best 1,076 yards from scrimmage and has scored 28 touchdowns over the past three seasons.
The 49ers were surprised they were able to get Coleman — who played under coach Kyle Shanahan when he was the Falcons’ offensive coordinator in 2015 and 2016 — on a two-year, $8.5 million contract.
“We saw an opportunity with Tevin and we pounced on it because we knew the player he was, and that’s one where Kyle had first-hand experience with him,” Lynch said. “If we can do it at that price, absolutely we’d be involved. And we worked hard to get it done and we’re really thrilled.”