Christian McCaffrey’s trade was won by the Panthers, not the 49ers, ESPN determines

The 49ers quickly got themselves back into the Super Bowl talk by knocking out the Los Angeles Rams in Week 8, thanks in large part to an incredible play from their newly acquired running back Christian McCaffrey.

But despite the instant jolt the All-Pro unleashed on the San Francisco offense, ESPN believes the Carolina Panthers came out on top in the McCaffrey trade.

In the outlet’s 2022 NFL Close of Business Report, the 49ers received a C minus Note for the deal, while Carolina earned one A minus.

The blockbuster went down on Oct. 20, sending McCaffrey, a Stanford grad, back to the Bay while the Panthers earned 2023 second-, third-, and fourth-round picks and 2024 a fifth-round pick.

The star running back made his 49ers debut just days later against the Kansas City Chiefs, but showed his true potential in Kyle Shanahan’s offensive plan with his historic game against the Rams the following Sunday.

Compiled by ESPN Analytics’ Seth Walder, the testimonial recognizes McCaffrey’s unparalleled skills and the opportunities an offense can bring with running back, Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle.

But “running back is a non-premium position,” Walder writes, and many believe this is particularly true of Shanahan’s advanced run game. And while McCaffrey’s salary cap isn’t a point against the takeover, the 26-year-old’s injury history is seen by ESPN as the trade’s biggest downside, along with his reduced productivity.

“McCaffrey is plagued by injuries. He missed 23 of 33 games in the 2020 and 2021 seasons despite being healthy this year,” Walder writes. “And for a running back in the modern NFL, McCaffrey is old. He’s only 26, but he’s in his sixth season, and the last time a running back rushed for 1,100 yards in his sixth season or later was in 2017 (LeSean McCoy and Mark Ingram II).

The Panthers, on the other hand, made a trade they had to make as their season headed south, and the need to reload their roster through the draft became even more apparent than it already was.

Walder believes Carolina “did well” getting her package of picks from the 49ers, and that puts her in a better position to go up in the 2023 NFL Draft and grab a quarterback.

In the days after the trade, both Shanahan and 49ers general manager John Lynch emphasized their belief that McCaffrey was worth the four future draft picks they gave up based on his skill and intellect.

And Lynch, who was also a victim of injuries during his NFL career, called McCaffrey’s injured past a part of the game, noting the running back’s current health status.

RELATED: Lynch: CMC Develops ‘Incredible Synergy’ With Jimmy G

But in the end, ESPN’s testimony noted that the 49ers gave up too much draft capital and the trade will have “ripple effects for years to come.”

“Talent rosters don’t last forever, and the NFC looks particularly weak, so I understand the impulse to seize opportunities when they arise,” writes Walder. “It’s a tempting head game. But the most likely outcome here is that the 49ers will end up regretting that choice.”

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