Sometimes coaches and general managers say more with a single transaction than they do in a month's worth of press conferences.
What does the 49ers' signing of Tevin Coleman to a two-year, $10 million deal say? It sure doesn't say anything great about Jerick McKinnon, the 49ers' splashy free-agent-and-then-injured back from a year ago, or Matt Breida, the 49ers' in-a-pinch starter who limped off the field more times that we could count.
Maybe the 49ers will be happy to have McKinnon and Breida contribute, but not take on a bigger role like they were ticketed for at various points last summer and fall. That bigger role, theoretically, will go to Coleman.
We're witnessing a reunion between Coleman and Niners coach Kyle Shanahan. When Coleman entered the NFL in 2015, his offensive coordinator in Atlanta was Shanahan. That lasted until 2017, when Shanahan bolted for San Francisco. Coleman's role never really changed after Shanahan left, but over his four seasons with the Falcons he not only displayed a nose for the end zone on the ground (18 touchdowns) but also through the air (11 receiving scores). He proved he could be a physical chain mover (4.4 yards per carry over his career) just as much as a dart out of the backfield in passing situations (11.0 yards per catch).
Back with a coach who scouted him and was at least partially responsible for drafting him four years ago, Coleman should have no problem picking up a playbook he once thrived in and taking on a sizable role.
But how sizable will that role be?
Shanahan has used multiple backs before and clearly is happy to do so again. Coleman makes sense as the lead back — he's certainly the healthiest and has a track record for being a strong contributor in a timeshare. McKinnon and Breida are injury risks — McKinnon is still working his way back from a torn ACL suffered last September and Breida is at risk for ankle injuries every time he steps on the field.
Maybe in a perfect world, Shanahan would have Coleman start and nudge his way to around 15 touches, with McKinnon as the third-down back and Breida on the bench. In this far-from-perfect world, we could see Coleman and McKinnon splitting 80 percent of the snaps with Breida playing a nominal role in a tough-to-track timeshare. Or it could sway so far in Coleman's favor that McKinnon is off the team, saving the Niners a little cap space, with Breida on the bench.
There's no clear plan. Not yet. But what's the likelihood Coleman's split will go against him and for McKinnon and/or Breida? Seems unlikely given the variables around McKinnon and Breida's fragility.
That means Coleman has a great shot to be the primary running back for a 49ers offense fixed with a good O-line and a great playcaller who's not only found success for Coleman in the past but has somehow weaved magic with his run game using backups and nobodies. There's upside for Coleman to have a massive season, and that's where Fantasy managers should be focused.
Coleman stands as a No. 2 running back worth a Round 4 gamble regardless of PPR scoring. McKinnon has lost any luster and will need to get healthy, stay healthy and completely outperform Coleman to be anything more than a mid-to-late round pick depending on your PPR scoring (he has more appeal in full PPR). Breida has fallen to the very late rounds as an unappealing handcuff to a timeshare.