The 2022 NFL trade deadline is still over a week away, but the blockbuster of the season just went down with the San Francisco 49ers trade for Christian McCaffrey. The 49ers got the All-Pro running back, and, in turn, the Carolina Panthers got 2023 second-, third-, and fourth-round picks and a 2024 fifth-round pick. The deal has 49ers Nation excited about the possibilities for their new offensive star, but the truth is, there are three reasons the 49ers wildly overpaid in the blockbuster Christian McCaffrey trade with the Panthers.
3. He’s not a Shanahan-style running back
Over the course of two generations of Shanahans coaching in the NFL, we’ve gotten to see what a Shanahan-style running back is.
49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan is the son of legendary Denver Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan. The younger Shanahan is a product of his dad’s offensive system, which is famous for its use of zone blocking and physical, one-cut running backs who can pound the ball up the middle, hit the hole, and go.
When Mike Shanahan had his most success — turning unheralded runners into 1,000-yard backs, it was with this style of runner. Players like Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson, Reuben Droughns, and Mike Bell, who were all big, physical, pounding, north/south backs all rushed for over 1,000 yards.
Kyle has, likewise, found success with similar RBs. Alfred Morris in Washington and Carlos Hyde, Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert, and Jeff Wilson in San Francisco are these types of backs, too.
Christian McCaffery is versatile and dynamic and can produce highlight reel runs. However, he’s not the style of back that usually thrives in a Shanahan system, and that’s problematic.
2. Paying a running back that much money isn’t smart
In the last decade, it’s become a common theme in the NFL that you can’t pay running backs a ton of money. It just doesn’t make sense. Their careers are short, and the difference between a highly-paid top RB and a player you can get in the second, third, or fourth round (or later) in the draft — with the type of picks the 49ers gave up in the Christian McCaffrey trade — just isn’t that big.
For this year, the 49ers trade is fine financially. The team will only pay McCaffrey $690,000 this season. After that, though, they will owe him $12 million per season.
There is an out after each year, but if the 49ers gave the Panthers four picks for a one-year rental, that’s an overpay for sure.
But of those 1,000-yard rushers listed above, Hyde was a second-round pick, Droughns was a third-rounder, Gay was a fourth-rounder, Davis (the Hall of Famer), Morris and Anderson were sixth-rounders, and the rest were undrafted.
The Shanahans were the family that made the NFL realize that you don’t have to pay backs huge money, and now Kyle Shanahan just gave up four picks for the privilege of doing so.
1. The 49ers got another injury-prone player
The biggest problem with the Christian McCaffrey trade — and the No. 1 reason the 49ers wildly overpaid for him — is that he is injury prone.
There is a school of thought in professional sports that teams can have one “knucklehead” in a locker room (a player with off-field issues) and overcome it. The problem becomes when you have several, and they get together, and before you know it, you have the early 2000s Portland Jail Blazers.
There’s nothing wrong with McCaffrey or any 49ers star’s character. However, with this 49ers trade, the franchise now has a locker room full of injury-prone players that can’t stay on the field.
McCaffrey has missed 23 games in the past two seasons. He comes into a 49ers team where in the last two seasons Jimmy Garoppolo has missed 12 games, Deebo Samuel has missed 10, George Kittle has missed 11, and Nick Bosa has missed 14. The team’s preferred starting quarterback, Trey Lance, is out for the season after just two games, and the team’s other running backs have missed too many games the last few years to count.
So now, the oft-injured McCaffrey is part of one of the biggest MASH units in the NFL.
That’s OK if the team has the depth to deal with these kinds of regular health setbacks. How do you acquire the depth to deal with these kinds of regular health setbacks? With draft picks!!
That’s where the biggest piece of the 49er overpaying the Panthers in the Christian McCaffrey trade comes in. San Francisco has struggled with the health of its stars for years now, and they just gave up four potential starters/high-end backups in their draft picks for another star who spends more time in the training room than on the field.
If everything breaks right — actually, maybe “breaks” is an unfortunate word choice — if everything goes right, McCaffrey could get San Francisco over the hump and to the Super Bowl. However, with the teams' injury history and lack of draft picks now as insurance (remember, they gave up a slew of picks to draft Lance, too), this trade is more likely to tank the franchise and cost general manager John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan their jobs.