What 49ers’ trade for Christian McCaffrey means for NFL

The San Francisco 49ers sent four draft picks to the Carolina Panthers for All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey. Let’s break down what it all means.

The most exciting moment of Thursday Night Football came not from action, but words.

Late in the fourth quarter of a blowout, broadcaster Al Michaels informed the football world of news: Christian McCaffrey had been traded from the Carolina Panthers to the San Francisco 49ers.

As minutes ticked by, details emerged. The Niners acquired the do-it-all weapon in McCaffrey for 2023 second, third and fourth-round picks, along with a 2024 fifth-round selection. It’s a massive price to pay, but gives San Francisco arguably the best offensive trio in football including tight end George Kittle and receiver Deebo Samuel.

However, the trade comes at a hefty cost to the Niners. It also means a full-blown fire sale in Carolina is underway.

For San Francisco, the price for McCaffrey was enormous. Those picks, as currently situated, are worth 625.2 points based on the Jimmy Johnson value chart, for roughly the 30th-overall choice. Of course, you also factor in San Francisco is now without a 2023 draft pick until the fifth round, essentially wiping out an entire class of young players on cheap deals.

49ers trade for Christian McCaffrey, send four picks to Panthers

As for McCaffrey’s financial cost, he comes to San Francisco with only a $1 million injury guarantee for ’23, and no other guaranteed money. The Niners can cut bait whenever they want should things go sideways, or pay the full remaining cost of three years and $36.2 million.

It’s an all-in move by general manager John Lynch, who understands his team needs to be damn near perfect around quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

The question is whether this is the right way to push all the proverbial chips forward.

In head coach Kyle Shanahan’s system — also the system of his father, Mike — running backs have consistently found ample success. That success should be supercharged with a talent like McCaffrey, but would the Niners have been better off holding onto those picks and building around  quarterback Trey Lance, who should be starting again come next autumn?

For McCaffrey’s part, he’s the best all-around back in the NFL when healthy. Despite playing on a miserable Panthers team, he’s on pace for 1,114 rushing yards on 4.6 yards per carry, and 785 receiving yards with eight total touchdowns. Expect to see those numbers rise further surrounded by terrific coaching and a quality supporting cast.

Still, the cost in draft compensation and cap flexibility is significant, especially considering McCaffrey’s lengthy injury history. Between 2020-21, McCaffrey played 10 total games. So far, he’s been active each week this year despite cropping up on the injury report multiple times.

Bottom line: the 49ers are going for broke, even if it could bankrupt them later.

Meanwhile, the Panthers have stuck the for sale sign in their yard.

Carolina general manager Scott Fitterer understands the assignment. With McCaffrey now sent packing, the Panthers are going to welcome a deluge of phone calls inquiring about edge rusher Brian Burns and receiver D.J. Moore among others. None will be cheap and Fitterer will be emboldened by the high price he extracted from San Francisco, but they’re all available.

For the Panthers, it’s an obvious decision. The team could be headed for the No. 1 overall pick will it will assuredly take a quarterback. Carolina should be stockpiling draft choices, and got off to a tremendous start with the McCaffrey deal. Yet the Panthers can’t be done if they get quality offers, because with their timeline, the picks are more value than the players.

If you’re trying to gauge the value of Carolina’s talent, the biggest price would be for Burns. Still with this season and a fifth-year option on his deal, Burns is cheap and fantastic. He’s a building block even with a rebuild looming. If a team wants him, Fitterer would likely demand a first-round pick and then some. Rightfully so.

On Thursday night, we watched another forgettable game. The end, however, was anything but.

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