Squeezing the Most Out of the Offense: Why Re-Signing Juice Was a Top Priority
Image Credit: 49ers
The OW is back!
Kyle Juszczyk never hid his desire to continue his career as a 49er, but as last season wound down, the All-Pro fullback publicly admitted to being intrigued by the idea of hitting free agency again.
Juice also appeared on the Haberman and Middlekauff podcast shortly before the start of free agency hinting at the importance of being closer to his family on the East Coast.
Ultimately, all it took was a FaceTime call with John Lynch, Kyle Shanahan and Jed York to bring back the prized free-agent-to-be in an instant classic late-night tipsy tweet from the General Manager himself:
Juszczyk’s agent met with Paraag Marathe the next day to iron out the final details of a five-year, $27 million contract before Juice could even begin to (officially) talk to other teams. Sorry, Pete Carroll!
With so many other free agents set to hit the market, what made re-signing Kyle Juszczyk a top priority?
1. Fullback is a staple of Kyle Shanahan’s offense
As the NFL entered the decade of the 2010s, fullbacks became relics of a lost era.
Several new-age offenses completely dismissed the position, often choosing to cast defensive tackles on power run package-based plays rather than investing in the position at all.
Sure, it was always fun to see B.J. Raji dance in the endzone or Isaac Sopoaga maul linebackers to pave the way for a Frank Gore touchdown run. But it looked like most teams were moving away from the versatility of the position.
Fast forward to 2021 to witness Kyle Juszczyk becoming the highest-paid fullback in NFL history, partly because he brings so much more than bruising run-blocking to the offense:
Triple Threat: When Juszczyk is lined up at the line of scrimmage, he is a threat to block (run or pass), run (64 yards on 17 attempts and 2 TDs in 2020, all career-highs) or run routes. Juice is not only a solid route-runner, he is also able to run after the catch. One of last season’s lowlight was Nick Mullens air-balling No. 44 over the middle of the field where it looked like Juszczyk was going to run free for 80 yards against the Eagles.
Position-less offense: With so few elite fullbacks in the NFL, defenses are no longer built to defend fullbacks effectively. Juice’s mere presence forces defenses into personnel and coverage mismatches. Juszczyk can line up at fullback, tight end, in the slot or split out wide.
Pre-snap Shanahanigans: Because of his abilities, defenses must account for him in every facet of the game. Shanahan uses this to his advantage, as you will often see Juszczyk move in motion before the snap, forcing the defense to tip its hand in coverage.
Tight formations for an effective running game: Tight formations allow Shanahan to get the most out of his offense, including creating run gaps, big play threats on play-action and empty space over the top of the defense to attack the deep field and the sidelines with speed.
2. An All-Pro fullback still in his prime
Kyle Juszczyk couldn’t honor Tom Rathman’s old number any better as he is widely considered as the NFL’s best active fullback.
In a season when the 49ers were ravaged by injuries at the quarterback, tight end, offensive line and running back positions, Juszczyk still managed to rank second in the league in PFF position grade while playing 104 more snaps than first-ranked Keith Smith of the Falcons.
Source: Pro Football Focus
The Harvard graduate also recorded career-highs in games started (15), rushing attempts (17), rushing yards (64), rushing TDs (2), receiving TDs (4) last season.
Juszczyk is still in his prime as he is about to turn 30 on April 23 in a role where he can continue to excel for many years to come.
3. The backbone of the John Lynch-Kyle Shanahan era
The 49ers raised a few eyebrows when they made Kyle Juszczyk one of the highest-paid free agents in 2017. It didn’t take long for everyone to find out why.
Juice quickly became a fan-favorite with powerful run-blocking and brutal stiff arms. During his four seasons with the 49ers, Juszczyk has provided the fans with several signature moments including a TD catch in Super Bowl LIV.
What makes Kyle Shanahan’s offense so effective is his running game. Analytics show that this is especially true when Juice is on the field.
Per ESPN's Nick Wagoner, between 2017 and 2019, the San Francisco ranked second in the NFL in yards per play (5.99), fourth in yards per rush (4.49) and third in yards per pass (8.65) when two running backs are on the field compared to twentieth, twenty-third, and nineteenth, respectively, when there is only one RB on the field.
Among some of the great things this new regime has brought to the franchise are their transparency and loyalty with their players. There is a strong bond between the roster and the coaching staff, and the 49ers have made it a priority to keep their “core guys.”
Why would any player not want to come play here?
Kyle Juszczyk has established himself as one of the cornerstones of this team, and the front office made it a top priority to re-sign him during the offseason.
Source: SF Gate
4. A leader in the locker room
Source: Yahoo Sports
During his tenure as the GM of the 49ers, John Lynch has made it clear that he values high character and passion for football. During the rebuild, San Francisco has done an excellent job of mixing its talented and youthful roster with several proven veterans to help bring the youngsters up to speed.
This was evident in their first season as they immediately brought in free agents Pierre Garçon, Richard Sherman and the “Offensive Weapon,” Kyle Juszczyk.
Since then, Juice has become one of the most important voices in the locker room and he will be a vital piece of the puzzle as the 49ers look to implement new ideas from new offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel, as well as helping the future rookie quarterback learn the offense and settle in as the new face of the franchise.
Juice spoke highly of his new coordinator before re-signing with the team, and the fact that the 49ers didn’t even let him hit the market shows how much they value their veteran fullback.
In his own words during his last press conference, “there’s no better fit” for him than the 49ers. I’m not crying, you’re crying!
5. Worth every penny
Once again, Paraag Marathe has worked wonders to ensure that the extension gives the 49ers as much flexibility as possible by making Kyle Juszczyk’s contract essentially a two-year deal.
This means that out of the $27 million owed, only $9.6 million is guaranteed with $2.275 million in year one, up to $2.96 million in year two and a jump to $6.59 million in year three. After that, there won’t be any more guaranteed money left to pay.
The cap hit would only be of $2.5 million if the 49ers were looking to get out of this contract after year two.
However, needless to say, barring any unforeseen circumstances, the 49ers will look to retain their fan-favorite fullback for all five years of his contract.
Get ready to roar “JUIIIIIIIIICE” a lot more over the next 5 years!
Written by Adrien Julienne
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