49ers acquire star RB from Panthers


SANTA CLARA — If the 49ers wanted Christian McCaffrey, they could have taken him with the No. 3 draft pick in 2017. Instead, they took his Stanford classmate, Solomon Thomas.

Well, they 49ers got a mulligan.

McCaffrey is coming to the 49ers via a trade with the Carolina Panthers, ESPN’s Adam Schefter first reported Thursday night, well ahead of the NFL’s Nov. 1 trade deadline approaches. A league source confirmed the trade.

In return, the 49ers will give up four draft picks, none of which are of the first-round variety, in part because their 2023 first-round pick was included in last year’s package to Miami to move up for Trey Lance. Dealt to Carolina are three picks next year (second, third and fourth rounds) and a fifth-rounder in 2024, NFL Network reported.

This 49ers’ regime of coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch has historically made trade-deadline deals, and now they’ve made one with someone they’ve known for decades.

Before McCaffrey came to Levi’s Stadium as a 2017 rookie, he recalled how Shanahan may have been his babysitter in their Colorado days, to which Shanahan responded: “If I did, I probably left my sister to do it very quickly and moved on.”

Shanahan then noted that McCaffrey’s dad, Ed, “was the man” and that is why Shanahan used to wear No. 87 in college. Speaking of college, Lynch went to Stanford and played with Ed McCaffrey.

Asked earlier Thursday if the 49ers would enter the trade market, Lynch told KNBR 680-AM: “Because we had a very complete roster, the best trade we can make right now are with the inactive list or IR list, just to get our guys back.”

Lynch then mentioned the likely returns of defensive end Nick Bosa and left tackle Trent Williams, rather than single out Elijah Mitchell, their season-opening running back who’s been out since Week 1 with a sprained knee.

Here are some pros and cons to consider of McCaffrey coming back to the Bay Area and joining the 49ers (3-3) ahead of Sunday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs (4-2).


McCaffrey, 26, has seen his career derailed in recent seasons by injuries, not to mention the fact he is on one of the NFL’s worst franchises. He missed 23 of 33 games in the 2020-21 seasons.

The 49ers, with their run-oriented offense, annually have seen their running backs get hurt, to the point it’s become a disturbing routine they rely on five a season. So, adding an injury-plagued running back to the mix doesn’t sound like smart business.

But McCaffrey has been healthy this season. His team, however, has been so ill that it fired its coach after the 49ers beat the Panthers two Sundays ago.

The 49ers have been without their starting running back, Elijah Mitchell, since his season-opening knee sprain. Mitchell is projected to miss two more games and return after the bye for a Sunday night, Nov. 13 home game against the Los Angeles Chargers.

The 49ers are otherwise almost back up to full health in their running back corps. Fill-in starter Jeff Wilson Jr. is beloved — at least he was before last Sunday’s first-quarter fumble in Atlanta — and still awaiting their true NFL shot are rookies Ty Davis-Price and Jordan Mason. Tevin Coleman has responded with hot-then-cold appearances as Wilson’s backup.


Back in 2017, McCaffrey seemed like an ideal, multi-purpose threat for an offense that maximizes such dual-threat talents, such as Deebo Samuel (receiving/rushing), George Kittle (receiving/blocking) and, up until a Week 2 ankle fracture, Trey Lance (receiving/rushing).

McCaffrey has almost as many career rushing yards (3,980) as receiving yards (3,292). The 49ers’ offense, which is averaging just 20.3 points per game, needs that extra output.

Even this season, with Baker Mayfield struggling as the Panthers’ latest quarterback, McCaffrey has been the go-to guy. He has 393 rushing yards (85 carries, two touchdowns) and 277 receiving yards (33 catches, one touchdown).

His 4.6 yards-per-carry average is his best since his 2019 All-Pro season, when he ran for 1,387 yards (15 touchdowns) and totaled 1,005 receiving yards (four touchdowns).


When the 49ers have pulled the trigger on a mid-season trade, they’ve addressed needed depth: quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in 2017, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (2019), and defensive ends Jordan Willis (2020) and Charles Omenihu (2021).

Sparking their offense is a need, to complement Samuel, Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk, Kyle Juszczyk, Trent Williams and, yes, Garoppolo to do that.

The defense could use a boost, too, before the trade deadline. Bill Walsh’s notion of never having enough defensive linemen is proving valid, as the 49ers miss defensive tackles Arik Armstead and Javon Kinlaw. With Nick Bosa missing the past 1 1/2 games because of a groin issue, that isn’t reassuring, either.

The 49ers’ secondary lost cornerback Emmanuel Moseley to a season-ending knee injury, and while they may get Jason Verrett back or turn to younger options from recent drafts, that position also is never too deep. Safety is again a concern, what with Talanoa Hufanga in the concussion protocol and Jimmie Ward having to play with a cast on his left hand.

Financially, that will impact things, too. Sure, McCaffrey could be a cheap rental for the second half of this season, then be cast off before the 49ers have to commit to the remaining three years of his contract, at an annual salary of about $12 million. A restructured contract can solve future issues or current cap constraints, too.




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