49ers adding Christian McCaffrey is a high-risk, high-reward move

Christian McCaffrey #22 of the Carolina Panthers (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Christian McCaffrey #22 of the Carolina Panthers (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /

The 49ers spent a considerable amount to trade for former Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey, which generates plenty of risks.

The San Francisco 49ers are a better team on Friday, Oct. 21 than they were on the morning of Thursday, Oct. 20.

This, in the wake of trading for former Carolina Panthers All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey, the dynamic playmaking weapon who’ll look to spark an offense that has struggled to score much more than an average of just 20 points per game this season.

McCaffrey is one of only a handful of NFL players capable of taking over a game. And while the Niners already have offensive playmakers like that, especially wide receiver Deebo Samuel, putting the 26-year-old McCaffrey into the fray only serves to make head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense that much better.

But, wow, San Francisco gave up a lot.

Already minus a first-round pick in 2023 because of the 2021 trade-up that landed quarterback Trey Lance, the 49ers are shipping out a second-, third- and a fourth-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, plus a Round 5 pick in 2024 to make the deal work.

The aggressive move signifies a few things here. For starters, it shows the Niners are committed to upgrading what has been an injury-plagued and less-than-effective rushing attack. And with McCaffrey one of only three players in NFL history to record 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in a single season (along with Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk and former San Francisco legend Roger Craig), McCaffrey now helps drive the receiving game, too.

But it’s not necessarily a win-now move. The former Stanford standout is also signed through 2025 on a notably hefty deal.

One which the 49ers will have to absorb.

49ers want Christian McCaffrey to replicate his 2019 All-Pro season

There’s little questioning what kind of production McCaffrey is capable of when fully healthy, and all one needs to do is go back to his 2019 campaign with Carolina to see it.

  • 287 rushing attempts for 1,387 yards (4.8 YPC)
  • 116 catches for 1,005 yards (8.7 YPC)
  • 403 total touches for 2,392 all-purpose yards and 19 total touchdowns*

*all league-highs for 2019

Now, the Niners still have to distribute the ball around to other playmaking talents like Samuel. But, if McCaffrey is able to come close to those kinds of numbers again, the trade will likely pay off.

Especially if San Francisco can engineer a potent ground attack in the postseason, one that is aimed to get them over the hump and back into a Super Bowl.

49ers trading for Christian McCaffrey carries plenty of risks

For starters, the trade all but signifies the 49ers’ failures to use third-round picks on running backs, the 2021 selection of now-Philadelphia Eagles running back Trey Sermon and this year’s grab of Tyrion Davis-Price, who now takes a major backseat to McCaffrey.

The trade package alone is a lot, and it’s anyone’s guess whether or not the lack of selections ultimately hurts the Niners in the long run.

However, McCaffrey is going to command some hefty dollar amounts over the remainder of his contract, according to Over the Cap:

  • 2022 cap number: $690,000
  • 2023 cap number: $12,000,000
  • 2024 cap number: $12,000,000
  • 2025 cap number: $12,000,000

McCaffrey fits cheaply into San Francisco’s immediate plans, yes. But a $12 million per-year mark thereafter is awfully expensive for a running back.

Particularly one with a notable injury history.

In 2020, McCaffrey was limited to just three games because of a high-ankle sprain, and then he saw action in only seven games the following year due to both hamstring and ankle injuries.

He’s also dealt with minor injuries this year, too, although he’s been able to appear in all six of Carolina’s contests.

Nevertheless, the 49ers are already dealing with a slew of injured players, and McCaffrey unfortunately fits into that reputation.

One the Niners have to accept as a reality while hoping he stays healthy over the duration of the contract.

Next. Ranking 49ers' 10 worst trades in franchise history. dark