The San Francisco 49ers are going all-in this season, that much is clear after they traded a slew of draft picks to the Carolina Panthers for Christian McCaffrey.
San Francisco sent a second-, third-, and fourth-round pick in the 2023 draft and a fifth-round pick in 2024 to land McCaffrey, the Niners sending the signal that they believe their 3-3 team, which leads the NFC West, can to go again deep into the playoffs and the challenge of reaching the Super Bowl.
But the level of compensation sent to Carolina also makes it clear that McCaffrey is not just a one-year rental for San Francisco, as some had speculated he might be before the trade took place. Rather, the investment in McCaffrey is long-term in a player who can substantially diversify what is already one of the hardest-to-stop offenses in the NFL when he is at his best.
While the compensation is similar to what the Los Angeles Rams gave for running back Von Miller, for whom they sent a second- and third-round pick in this year’s draft to the Denver Broncos, McCaffrey is under contract for the next three seasons. Miller was in the final year of his contract and was signed by the Buffalo Bills after helping the Rams win the Super Bowl title.
The deal is one the 49ers could restructure in the offseason, with McCaffrey capped at $12 million in 2023, 2024 and 2025.
Although the lack of a dead cap in his deal means the Niners could drop McCaffrey at any time, the likelihood of them doing so is extremely low given the cost.
Instead, the 49ers will plan to make McCaffrey an integral part of both their present and future, with his ability to do damage as a running back and as a receiver sure to be a significant boost for a Jimmy Garoppolo-led offense in 2022 and for Trey. Lance when he returns from injury to lead the attack in 2023.
No running back has averaged more yards from scrimmage per game since entering the NFL in the 2017 draft than McCaffrey, who leads the way with 113.6. Alvin Kamara is the only running back with more receiving yards than the former Stanford star’s 3,292 in that time.
San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan hasn’t had a running back offer as much explosiveness in both the running game and passing game since he took over as head coach in 2017, and the prospect of utilizing the talents of McCaffrey paired with versatile ‘broad back’ Deebo Samuel skill set is tempting and will become even more appealing when dual threat Lance is added back into the mix next year.
Whether McCaffrey can put the 49ers over the top in a year in which they’ve already been beset by injuries is debatable, but there’s no question he’ll immediately make life easier for Jimmy Garoppolo and can be an important safety net. for Trey Lance in the future as part of a running game that now boasts extremely impressive depth in the backfield.
McCaffrey will be tasked with maximizing what the 49ers feel is a Super Bowl-ready roster this year and ensuring that a running game of which Lance will obviously be a focal point is a nightmare to defend in 2023 and beyond. Accomplishing those dual objectives won’t be easy, but if he does it, McCaffrey will be worth the heavy price the 49ers paid.