Fullbacks in today’s NFL are rare, a species in decline. With most offenses centered around the passing game, coaches are more focused on getting more wide receivers on the field than using a big guy in the backfield to flatten linebackers.
Yet the 49ers value the position, and especially value the man who plays it, Kyle Juszczyk.
Juszczyk was one of the first free-agent signings by general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan when they took over team operations in 2017. They signed the former Baltimore Ravens standout to a multi-year deal worth as much as $21 million, making him the league’s highest-paid fullback.
He’s rewarded the franchise by being selected to the Pro Bowl all three seasons in the Bay Area, including 2019 when his multipurpose talents as a blocker, receiver and runner helped the 49ers go 13-3, win the NFC West and get to the Super Bowl.
Now, the 49ers reportedly have exercised the option for a fourth year on Juszczyk’s deal to ensure the fullback remains a key piece of the offensive scheme in 2020, reports Jeremy Fowler of ESPN. The Niners will pay him just over $5 million in 2020, a bump over the $4.2 million he earned in 2019.
This past season, Juszczyk played 12 games and carried the ball three times for 7 yards and had 20 catches for 239 yards and a touchdown. But his true value was as a blocker, opening holes for the NFL’s No. 2 rushing attack. He had a big Super Bowl, too, catching three passes for 39 yards and a TD in the loss to the Chiefs.
To Shanahan, Juszczyk is an invaluable player. When the fullback suffered an injury and missed a few games during the middle of the schedule, Shanahan used a combination of players – including a tight end – in the backfield.
"I mean, you don’t replace Kyle," Shanahan told reporters at the time. "He’s kind of a one-of-a-kind at fullback. We still use a fullback, and you do that with tight ends also. I mean, you motion them in there and do stuff, but no one is going to fully replace him."
Now, for another season, at least, Shanahan won’t have to.