The San Francisco 49ers are sending second-, third- and fourth-round picks in 2023 and a fifth-round pick in 2024 to the Carolina Panthers for star running back Christian McCaffrey, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Thursday night.
The deal gives San Francisco the offensive playmaker needed to compete for a Super Bowl. It also gives McCaffrey a chance to be on a winning team for the first time since his rookie season in 2017 when Carolina went 11-5 and return to the Bay Area where he starred in college at Stanford.
When healthy, McCaffrey is one of the best dual threats in the NFL. In 2019, he became only the third player in NFL history to have 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in the same season. His 670 yards from scrimmage — a team-leading 393 yards rushing and team-leading 33 catches for 277 yards — this season rank fourth in the NFL.
“I’m forever grateful for all of the people who have helped make these past 5 1/2 years so special for me,” McCaffrey posted to Twitter on Friday morning. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Carolina, I will always love you.”
Injuries have been the biggest issue for the former Stanford star. He missed 23 of 33 games during the 2020 and 2021 seasons after being injury-free his first three NFL seasons. He spent time this past offseason talking to Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk, who had some of his most productive seasons beginning in Year 6, about what workout and diet practices could help keep him on the field.
So far McCaffrey has avoided injuries, playing 85% of Carolina’s snaps.
Speculation the Panthers (1-5) might move on from McCaffrey, 26, began after coach Matt Rhule was fired the Monday after the team fell to 1-4 with a 37-15 loss to the 49ers. According to a non-Panthers front-office source, Carolina was initially asking for two first-round draft picks.
The Panthers announced the move Thursday night and thanked McCaffrey in a tweet. Carolina did not disclose compensation from San Francisco.
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Financially, the deal makes sense for Carolina. McCaffrey, the eighth pick of the 2017 draft, is under contract through the 2025 season with a base salary of $11 million in 2022 and 2023 and $12 million in 2025. He has cap hits of his $19,550,750 in 2023 and 2024, and $15,450,750 in 2025.
The trade also makes financial sense for the 49ers this season. McCaffrey has a base salary of $1,035,000 in 2022 after his contract was restructured in December 2021. Between the $26,938,000 dead-money hit the Panthers have on the books in 2022 and his 2022 and 2023 cap hits, Carolina will have a 2023 cap savings of $1,198,500.
The Panthers also have received multiple trade calls on their other top playmaker, wide receiver DJ Moore, but the team considers Moore a foundational piece to the roster long term, sources told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.
What helped the 49ers facilitate the trade was their six extra third-round compensatory draft picks granted to them for losing Robert Saleh to the New York Jets, Mike McDaniel to the Miami Dolphins and Martin Mayhew to the Washington Commanders in recent offseasons.
The move finally gives McCaffrey a chance to play for the 49ers and coach Kyle Shanahan, a pairing that nearly happened when McCaffrey entered the 2017 NFL draft. San Francisco held the No. 2 pick in that draft, and Shanahan has said on multiple occasions that he strongly considered McCaffrey with that initial first-round pick of his tenure before opting for defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, McCaffrey’s Stanford teammate, after a trade down to No. 3.
What’s more, the Shanahan and McCaffrey families have long been connected dating to the nine seasons McCaffrey’s father, Ed, played for Shanahan’s father, Mike, with the Denver Broncos.
McCaffrey went for 104 scrimmage yards and a touchdown against the Niners in San Francisco’s 37-15 win against the Panthers on Oct. 9. Before that game, Shanahan said McCaffrey looked like he was back to himself after dealing with injuries in recent years.
“McCaffrey’s healthy,” Shanahan said. “And he looks the same as he used to. He is a problem.”
McCaffrey now joins a talented skill position group that also includes receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk and tight end George Kittle. But the 49ers hope McCaffrey can help jump start an offense that has disappointed through the first six weeks.
The Niners enter their Week 7 game against the Kansas City Chiefs ranked 22nd in offensive points scored (18 per game) and 18th in yards per game (340.2).
As for the 2023 NFL draft, San Francisco has now dealt most of its top picks away. It has no first-round choice as it goes to the Dolphins as the final piece of the trade up to draft quarterback Trey Lance in 2021. The earliest selection the Niners will have in that draft is the third round.
The 49ers were slated to have three picks in that round because they own a pair of third-round compensatory picks. They no longer have one of those picks, or any picks in the first, second or fourth rounds.
Meanwhile, the Panthers will replace McCaffrey with 2021 draft pick Chuba Hubbard and D’Onta Foreman, who was acquired in a trade with the Tennessee Titans during the offseason. Foreman has 12 carries for 37 yards and Hubbard five for 39 this season.
A dejected McCaffrey said, “All I want to do is win,” following Sunday’s 24-10 loss to the Los Angeles Rams that dropped the Panthers to 1-5. Now he’ll have his chance.
ESPN’s Nick Wagoner contributed to this report.
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