On October 20, 2022 by A Thursday night football A game between the New Orleans Saints and Arizona Cardinals, an announcement came before halftime: The Carolina Panthers had traded Christian McCaffrey to the San Francisco 49ers.
The trade actually blew away one of the more watchable games on Thursday night in the Saints’ 42-34 loss to the Cardinals. The news was less about the winner and more about this giant business.
It might be a stretch to say the business had a mixed response. “Questions” might be better. The 49ers already lacked a first-round pick due to their trade for Trey Lance two seasons ago. The McCaffrey trade cost them their second, third and fourth round picks in the 2023 NFL Draft. Coupled with the lingering effects of the Trey Lance trade, the 49ers won’t pick their draft class until the third round in 2023.
Not only does the gamble need to work out in 2022, but it needs to be significant in terms of the salary cap to ensure that the 49ers are the future of the franchise. Especially for a player who not only had a large salary, but was employed with the current team, how much juice was left was a concern.
Christian Jackson McCaffrey
A Stanford standout, Christian McCaffrey was a hot name coming into the 2017 NFL Draft. Already known for his speed and power as a running back, McCaffrey didn’t take a single practice day at running back, instead showing off his skills as a pass catcher and wide receiver.
The Carolina Panthers drafted him eighth overall. McCaffrey’s skill set meshed well with Panthers quarterback Cam Newton’s power running ability. His rookie season was the only time he would be on the Panthers’ playoff roster. Although he would be overused in the future, it was the only time he would see a .500 record against the Panthers.
In the year In 2018, McCaffrey was completely done as a starter and in 2018 In 2019, he became the third player in history to have 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in the same season.
Just as McCaffrey was establishing himself, the Panthers’ offense began to falter. Newton battled through injury-plagued seasons and eventually left the Panthers on two separate occasions. The Panthers tried unsuccessfully to find suitable replacements. Wide receivers couldn’t find consistency when reliable weapons like tight end Greg Olsen were released.
There were many games, back-to-back games, some with short weeks, because McCaffrey was the only piece the Panthers relied on to keep the Rays on the field 100 percent.
During his rookie season in 2017, McCaffrey played 69.9 percent of all offensive snaps. That number was more than 90 percent of offensive attacks in both 2018 and 2019.
In the year In 2020, it was Christian McCaffrey. of The Panthers offense simply couldn’t lighten the load as quarterbacks. McCaffrey played as much as injuries would allow, and his extensive use opened the door for wear and tear.
The attack went through McCaffrey and McCaffrey struggled to stay on the field as a result. The Panthers lost several close games and had more trouble settling down at the quarterback position with the departure of Cam Newton.
Regardless, McCaffrey felt he would forever be a Panther.
A trade wasn’t even on McCaffrey’s mind. Neither was against the Panthers. General manager Scott Fitter had no plans to move their star running back in early 2022. These sentiments were reflected in McCaffrey’s personal life as well; Fitterer told McCaffrey he would “never sell.” The emotional bond, despite his defeat, may have been the one thing that made McCaffrey’s switch never go off. Although the Panthers seem to improve every year, they will never stumble to .500.
In the year After six games in 2022, including a 37-15 loss at the hands of the team he was traded to, McCaffrey was traded to the 49ers.
For McCaffrey, it brought mixed feelings. He felt like the Panthers thought they were better off without him and a few draft picks richer. Officially, it was a lie later, and secretly, they said they wouldn’t trade him, especially when the average fan saw how much he was used in the backfield. McCaffrey later says that the business was the best thing that ever happened to him.
One thing was certain: He was on his way to a 49ers team that would feed right back to the Wolves. Most people don’t take kindly to the situation they’re in.
Diamonds are rough
On the surface, the 49ers trade for McCaffrey may seem unnecessary. 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan has been able to bring the running back position into a plug-and-play position in the offense. He took Matt Breda, an undrafted free agent from Georgia Southern, and set him up to flourish.
After Breda was Raheem Mostert, who gradually transitioned from a special teams gun into one of the fastest runners and players in the league. Mostert’s crowning moment was a 220-yard, four-touchdown performance against Shanahan in the NFC Championship Game. Following Mostert was Elias Mitchell, who had 963 yards in his rookie year. In the year It was quarterback Jeff Wilson Jr. who scored a key win for the 49ers in 2019 against the Cardinals and was valuable as a change of pace.
Besides decent production, these running backs had one thing in common: they couldn’t stay on the field. Breda battled injuries in the 2018 season and split playing time with Mostert in 2019. Monster went on injured reserve in 2020 and played just one game in 2021. The first game of the season and Mostert’s last as a 49er.
Mitchell, after his strong showing during Mostert’s injury a year ago, was projected as a starter in 2022, but was placed on injured reserve after spraining his MCL in Week 1 and won’t return until November.
Worse, while Shanahan has found gems, he’s also made plenty of busts that could be traded or released. Without Michel, Shanahan will back up starters Tyrion Davis-Price and Jordan Mason, Jeff Wilson Jr. The 49ers also had to call up Tevin Coleman from the practice squad. Although not world-beating, the unit is expected to weather the storm until Mitchell returns from injury, assuming the 49ers make the playoffs.
That assumption was in jeopardy early in the season.
The 49ers lost their opener to the Chicago Bears and then lost starting quarterback Trey Lance in their second game against the Seattle Seahawks. The 49ers continued to drop an ugly game to the Denver Broncos. They lost to the Atlanta Falcons in Week 6 due to mental errors. Fouled shots, penalties and turnovers – things Christian McCaffrey can’t fix.
In making the trade, the 49ers said McCaffrey would have a set of games and be in the starting lineup for their matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs. There’s no doubt that the running back position has improved, but given Shanahan’s penchant for creating stars out of nothing, the question was a matter of narrowing down the answer. Was McCaffrey that much of an improvement?
McCaffrey’s trade announcement came and the 49ers said he would be part of the lineup against the Chiefs. The first carry, a pitch from Jimmy Garoppolo, went for 10 yards. Despite McCaffrey’s promise, the 49ers faced off against the Chiefs when Garoppolo was pulled for starter Brock Purdy in the fourth quarter when the game got out of hand.
The offense put the 49ers at 3-4. The following week, McCaffrey was the full starter for the 49ers. He rushed for a touchdown, caught a touchdown pass and threw his own touchdown pass. The 49ers beat the Rams 31-14.
The 49ers would not lose another regular season game for the remainder of the 2022 season.
The addition of McCaffrey not only revitalized a running back that had been decimated by Mitchell’s injury, but also became more dynamic due to McCaffrey’s abilities. When Mitchell returned in November and Jordan Mason stepped up in his absence, the 49ers had a formidable three-headed beast.
Mitchells return also dealt another blow, pushing this three-man beast into the game and making the McCaffrey trade even more critical.
And that, on paper, could mean McCaffrey finally gets a break and won’t be reliant on his team’s 100 percent momentum. It’s an unproven theory to this day, as he still plays mostly on the field.
In the year In 2023, McCaffrey is still taking the lion’s share, averaging 80 percent after Week 8. The 49ers have been able to replace his physicality with other tools like Brandon Ayuck, who can pick up the load or step in when needed when injured. Brock Purdy helped take the burden of the offense off the starters by learning the pro game, McCaffrey finding holes and simplifying the passing game for the quarterback.
McCaffrey’s usage hasn’t changed much. The 49ers used him more than most expected. In the year In 2022, his trade year, he entered the playoffs in a game where he was asked to fill in for quarterback Brock Purdy, who injured his elbow early in the game.
In the year In 2023, the 49ers are 5-3 and dealing with some losing issues, but they also look like a team capable of making a deep run in the postseason. McCaffrey wasn’t called the only offense or the only talent on the team, he was a cheat code. A guy whose talent has contributed to victories and rather than steadying the ship as a team, he’s fallen into rebuilding a possible Super Bowl title. McCaffrey is very important and worth giving 50% clips. He’s also too good to be on a team that can’t consistently hit .500.
McCaffrey’s usage has not changed. Maybe he will dress for the nub, but in this case, as they say, winning changes everything.