According to 49ers general manager John Lynch‘s personal Twitter, the San Francisco 49ers reached an agreement with Kyle Juszczyk to bring the ‘offensive weapon’ back to the Bay for the next five years.
The terms of the deal see Juszczyk sign a five-year deal worth $27 million in total. Juszczyk’s deal is backloaded with only $10 million fully guaranteed and a potential out for the 49ers after the first three years. In other words, the deal is incredibly team-friendly for the 49ers.
I’m thirsty. Niners fans, you want some “Juice?”
— John Lynch (@JohnLynch49ers) March 14, 2021
While this may seem like a deal that the 49ers front office ‘won’, Juszczyk’s unique skillset sees him best utilised by 49ers head coach, Kyle Shanahan. If Juice were to seek more money elsewhere, he may receive it, but he’s not going to see the same type of production on the field he currently enjoys under Shanahan.
While Juice obviously sought to secure the right deal for his services, it was also vitally important the 49ers got the deal done as well. One of the integral philosophical pillars of Shanahan’s offence is the concept of ‘positionless play’ – the idea that any skill position player can line up anywhere on the field to obtain a degree of unpredictability.
For example, Deebo Samuel is as good a running back as he is a receiver. Tight end George Kittle can cut like a wide receiver, truck like a running back, all while having the physique of a defensive end. Jusczcyk fills this prototype perfectly. The five-time Pro Bowler can run past linebackers and truck defensive backs all in the same play. Juice can lineup as a running back, a full back and a tight end.
Let’s take a look at how Shanahan and Juszczyk’s symbiotic relationship has improved the 49ers offence and, in turn, propelled Juice as one of the best full-backs of his generation.
Juicing up the 49ers passing game
In this clip from Week One of the 2020 season, Juszczyk is lined up in his familiar role of full-back in the I-formation. The 49ers being in 21 personnel (2 running backs and 1 tight end on the field) forces Arizona to play their 4-3 base defence (4 down linemen and 3 linebackers).
As a result, Juszczyk is matched up against Arizona linebacker Haason Reddick. Reddick does contain some athleticism, but the play-action gives Juice a free release and he flies past the linebacker on the wheel route. Juszczyk demonstrates his soft hands and makes the grab for the 41-yard reception on first down.
Juszczyk’s presence on the field forces opposing defences to account for the run game. As a result, they are often forced into their base defence, leaving Juszczyk matched up on a slower, less agile linebacker. This is Shanahan’s positionless philosophy in motion.
However, as offences evolve, defences are normally right behind them in the Darwinian school of survival of the fittest that is the NFL. As a response to these positionless players, defences are drafting their own versatile weapons.
In Week Three of the 2019 season, the 49ers came up against the Pittsburgh Steelers who boast a defence made up of fast, versatile and hard-hitting players.
Despite Pittsburgh’s talent on defence, Juice once again proves why he is so vital to this Shanahan offence. The 49ers are in a similar concept to the clip previous with Juszczyk lined up as the full-back in the I-formation. Instead of being in a base defence, the Steelers are in nickel, which means now Juice is matched up against Tre Edmunds – a fast and versatile strong safety.
The ball is snapped. Play-action. Juice once again bursts past his defender up the sideline. Although this time, the safety reads the play and attempts to break up the pass. In response, Juszczyk shows off his athleticism and does his best Randy Moss impression to come up with the grab in traffic.
Running back, full back, tight end, wide receiver. Juice can do it all.
Now let’s take a look at Juszczyk lining up in the slot as a receiver.
Sticking with the same game against the Steelers in 2019, the 49ers are facing a 1st & 10 from their own 36-yard line. To emphasise the point about Shanahan’s positionless offence, this time Juice is lined up in the slot with wide receiver Deebo Samuel in the backfield.
As a result of Samuel being lined up in the backfield, both Steelers defenders near the bottom of the screen go to cover Deebo coming out of the backfield. This frees up Juszczyk for the quick completion.
As Juice catches the ball, he immediately stiff arms Steelers safety, Minkah Fitzpatrick into the shadow realm, conveying his ability as a runner in the process.
The last clip we’ll look at came against the Kansas City Chiefs during Super Bowl LIV.
The 49ers are trailing 3-10 and are in the red zone. Play-action roll out to the right for Jimmy Garoppolo as Juice runs a tight zig route against Chiefs free safety Daniel Sorenson.
Juszczyk makes the contested catch, shakes Sorenson and dives into the endzone for the touchdown.
During the Super Bowl, Juszczyk caught three balls on three targets for a total of 39 yards and 1 touchdown. This proves that Juszczyk is one of Shanahan’s most trusted deputies. Moreover, each of the clips shown in this article came on first down. Whenever the 49ers are struggling on offence, or are about to begin a drive after the opposition has scored, Shanahan turns to Juszczyk.
Although it may be a tad on the nose, Juszczyk literally is the juice that invigorates this 49er offence. Whenever receivers are dropping passes or running backs are getting stuffed behind the line of scrimmage, Shanahan can always draw up a Juice-centric play to help inject some energy into the offence.
Juszczyk’s deal makes him the highest-paid full back in the NFL. A title that Juszczyk more than deserves. After putting pen to paper and signing the deal, general manager John Lynch was quoted as saying “Kyle is a unique football player whose versatility, leadership and skillset are a tremendous fit with us… He has been integral to the success of our offence the last four seasons.”
Be ready to hear, and read, plenty of more Juice related puns in 2021 as the 49ers, with Juszczyk in tow, concentrate on returning to the Super Bowl this upcoming season.