Everyone had something to say about Jerick McKinnon's four-year contract with the San Francisco 49ers. Many were quick to criticize the 49ers for handing out such a lucrative deal to a player who has been primarily used as a third-down back in his first four NFL seasons.
Mike Zimmer isn't one of those critics.
"I knew he was going to get money," the Minnesota Vikings head coach said during this week's owners meetings. "I obviously didn't know it was going to be that high. But he's a good kid. He's worth it."
Zimmer became Minnesota's coach in 2014, the same year the Vikings selected McKinnon in the third round of the draft. McKinnon accumulated 2,902 yards from scrimmage and 12 total touchdowns during his four seasons in Minnesota.
Before diving into his ability as a player, it's important to note McKinnon's characteristics as a person. Kyle Shanahan has said multiple times that it's crucial to do extensive homework on each player signed during free agency. The nature of the open market is to overpay, and so it's vital to make sure you're bringing in a person who will continue to work and be a positive addition to the locker room.
"He's a great kid," Zimmer said. "He works hard. He always has a smile on his face. We're going to miss him."
As for McKinnon's ability as a versatile running back, Shanahan is counting on him thriving in an expanded role with the 49ers. McKinnon is eager to shed his tag as a third-down back and prove capable of being a featured ball carrier.
Shanahan is sure to get creative in how he deploys the player who once posted a 4.41-second 40-yard dash and a running back-record 32 reps on the bench press at the combine.
"He catches the ball extremely well out of the backfield," Zimmer said. "He became a much better runner last year. He hit the hole much better last year and accelerated out. He's great in pass protection even though he's a smaller guy."
Zimmer and McKinnon will be on opposite sidelines next season as the Vikings are set to host the 49ers at some point in 2018. A standout performance against his former team is surely on McKinnon's to-do list for next season. But while 49ers fans will be eager to see if McKinnon is worthy of his long-term contract, it's nice to see that Zimmer is already sold.