Christian McCaffrey Trade Revisited: 49ers Fleeced Panthers in Acquiring Star Running Back

There has been one obvious winner in the Christian McCaffrey trade since the Carolina Panthers dealt the star running back to the San Francisco 49ers in 2022.

The San Francisco 49ers have always been a run-first offense under head coach Kyle Shanahan. Yet, it was still a stunner when they made a deal with the Carolina Panthers for Christian McCaffrey on the eve of the 2022 NFL trade deadline.

But now, McCaffrey got rewarded with a new two-year extension Tuesday with the 49ers, which pays him $38 million. That deal comes as he’s proven to be a spark that set the blaze in the 49ers’ vaunted running attack.

With that in mind, it’s time to take a look back at the trade and figure out just how badly the 49ers won this deal with the Panthers.

Looking Back at Christian McCaffrey Trade

McCaffrey was traded on Oct. 20, 2022, before the deadline.

What did the Panthers earn in exchange? They received:

  • 2023 second-round pick, No. 61 overall (TE Brenton Strange)
  • 2023 third-round pick, No. 93 overall (TE Darnell Washington)
  • 2023 fourth-round pick, No. 132 overall (EDGE Nick Herbig)
  • 2024 fifth-round pick, No. 157 overall (CB Chau Smith Wade)

The Panthers included the No. 61 pick in their trade up with the Chicago Bears to secure the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, which they used on QB Bryce Young. Carolina also traded picks No. 93 and No. 132 in the third round that same draft to the Pittsburgh Steelers to move up to No. 80 for EDGE DJ Johnson.

This move also allowed the 49ers to send RB Jeff Wilson to the Miami Dolphins, earning a fifth-round pick back in the process.

Who Won the Christian McCaffrey Trade?

Christian McCaffrey (23) is congratulated by fullback Kyle Juszczyk (44) after scoring a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the third quarter at Levi's Stadium.

McCaffrey’s presence became especially beneficial when the 49ers were down to Brock Purdy as their third quarterback option.

He made Purdy’s transition to starter easier in Week 8 against the Los Angeles Rams. McCaffrey damaged the Rams by land and air with 149 total yards and two touchdowns in the 31-14 romp.

Including the playoffs, McCaffrey delivered a total of four 100-yard rushing games for the 49ers following the ’22 trade. He hit 119 rushing yards twice in wins over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks — the latter during the postseason. His versatility and angry running kept the 49ers in contention until an NFC title game loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

And during his first full season in Shanahan’s zone read attack, McCaffrey’s numbers sprouted, and he looked like the All-Pro runner the 49ers envisioned when they made the deal.

In 2023, McCaffrey went on to deliver a career-high 1,459 rushing yards. In the process, the Niners rose to third overall in rushing yards during their run to Super Bowl 58.

McCaffrey was equally stout on the receiving end, adding 564 yards. He finished 2023 with his second career 2,000-yard all-purpose season (2,023 yards) and earned NFL Offensive Player of the Year honors. The 49ers would go on to survive the NFC gauntlet and gave McCaffrey his first Super Bowl appearance.

How have the Panthers fared on their end? Unfortunately, they dropped to a league-worst 2-15 mark in 2023 while ranking 30th in rushing touchdowns. Their best rusher was Chuba Hubbard, who only had 902 yards.

Additionally, Young struggled in his NFL debut and was widely criticized for his rookie play by analysts. Meanwhile, Johnson contributed little to the Panthers’ defense.

Besides Hubbard, Miles Sanders was given the chance to replace McCaffrey and signed a four-year, $25.4 million deal last offseason. Sanders, though, was a free agent bust after mustering just 432 rushing yards.

Carolina finds itself in desperate need of talent around Young. McCaffrey would have given the young passer a strong veteran presence to lean on had the Panthers not traded him away. Granted, the McCaffrey trade cleared significant cap space and added future draft capital.

However, this past season is a sign that things will build up slowly in Charlotte during the Young era. Hubbard and Sanders may not be guaranteed as locks for the RB1 role, either, as the Panthers added running back Jonathon Brooks in the second round of the 2024 NFL Draft.

It’s easy to officially declare the 49ers as the winners here. McCaffrey helped carry the 49ers to the NFC title game and then the Super Bowl in his two seasons in Santa Clara. In the process, CMC now has a new deal that keeps him from drifting away from the Bay for the next two seasons — plus gets him out of his Panthers deal that was set to expire in 2025.

McCaffrey himself walks away in a winning scenario. He immediately became inserted as a focal point for an offense that already features All-Pros Deebo Samuel and George Kittle. He helped keep the 49ers in contention for the NFC title during 2022 and formed a strong QB/RB tandem with Purdy.

Now, this blockbuster 2022 midseason trade has helped reset the running back market across the league. McCaffrey’s deal installs hope in other star RBs who yearn for a similar deal to the one now in his possession.

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