The Carolina Panthers traded franchise running back Christian McCaffrey to the San Francisco 49ers, the Panthers announced.
McCaffrey, the Panthers’ No. 8 overall draft pick in 2017, was speculated to be on the trading block since the team fired previous head coach Matt Rhule earlier this month. Two people with direct knowledge of the negotiation said that the Panthers were initially asking for multiple first-round picks for McCaffrey – but as trade talks developed, it became clear to all involved that no team would be willing to part with that level of capital.
In fact, no first-rounders were on the table at all. The Panthers received a second-round pick in 2023, a third-round and a fourth-round pick in 2023 and a fifth-round pick in 2024, a league source confirmed to The Athletic.
Panthers didn’t get the first-round pick they were seeking (SF doesn’t have one in ’23).
But they got a haul: 2nd, 3rd and 4th in 2023 and a 5th in ’24, per league source and as @RapSheet said.
– Joe Person (@josephperson) October 21, 2022
Most of McCaffrey’s 2022 contract was already paid out by the Panthers. He is owed a little more than $ 1 million this season by his new team, but his base salary rises to about $ 12 million each year from 2023-25 - though none of that money is guaranteed.
McCaffrey cost the 49ers a lot of draft capital, but he will cost only about $ 646,000 of 2022 salary-cap space. That’s an easy fit into the 49ers’ 2022 budget, as they have about $ 5 million cap space. After this trade, the 49ers now have only two third-round picks (they had been awarded a pair of compensatory selections), a fifth-round pick and two seventh-round selections. They are expected to receive some more compensatory picks in the later rounds, but it’s the first time in Shanahan and Lynch’s tenure that the 49ers do not own a first- or second-round pick.
Multiple teams in addition to the 49ers, including the Rams and Bills, had exploratory conversations with Carolina about McCaffrey as Weeks 6 and 7 unfolded, but ultimately the 49ers and Rams expressed the most interest in the 26-year-old running back / receiver and sustained that interest late in the process.
McCaffrey broke Barry Sanders’ NCAA single-season record in 2015 with 3,861 all-purpose yards for Stanford. His most prolific performance of that season came at what would be his future home with the 49ers: McCaffrey racked up 461 yards in the Pac-12 title game at Levi’s Stadium.
There’s long been a link between McCaffrey and the 49ers’ brass. When his father di lui Ed McCaffrey played for Denver and coach Mike Shanahan in the late 1990s, a teenage Kyle Shanahan even babysat McCaffrey. The families have remained close ever since.
And like McCaffrey, general manager John Lynch is a Stanford alumnus and seriously scouted the running back in 2017. The 49ers ended up drafting McCaffrey’s college teammate, Solomon Thomas, with their first pick (No. 3 overall) in the 2017 draft. The Panthers took McCaffrey five selections later at No. 8. Ed McCaffrey played receiver for the 49ers in 1994, their most recent Super Bowl-winning team.
McCaffrey projects as an excellent fit in Shanahan’s offense, which has stressed at least some degree of “position-less skill position” versatility. That means receivers like Deebo Samuel are counted on to deliver from the backfield, and vice versa. This lineup flexibility has allowed Shanahan to create mismatches. McCaffrey’s ability to both hit creases in the 49ers’ run game and line up as a wide receiver – either in the slot or out wide – should mesh well with what Shanahan aims to do.
In the simplest terms, the 49ers need more from their run game, which currently ranks No. 26 in defense-adjusted value over average – the worst ranking of the Shanahan era. It’s languished ever since the 49ers lost running back Elijah Mitchell and quarterback Trey Lance to injuries. Trading for McCaffrey should give the 49ers immediate juice on the ground while also complementing quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s quick release in the pass attack, which is ranked No. 7 in DVOA.
In his most recent full season, 2019, McCaffrey eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in both rushing and receiving.
(Photo: Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images)