SANTA CLARA, Calif. — If the San Francisco 49ers‘ trade for running back Christian McCaffrey looks like a move they hope will put them over the top to winning a Super Bowl, there’s a good reason for that: It is.
The Niners and Carolina Panthers officially completed their trade Friday morning with San Francisco sending second-, third- and fourth-round picks in 2023 and a fifth-round selection in 2024 to the Panthers for McCaffrey.
In San Francisco, the hope is McCaffrey can move the 49ers closer to getting over the hump and winning the Super Bowl after coming up just short in 2019 and 2021.
“You only do this when you have a belief in your team as it’s constructed,” general manager John Lynch said Friday. “The previous time we made a big splash like this, it was [receiver] Emmanuel Sanders back in ’19 because we felt like we had the team capable for [winning] the whole deal. … We’re 3-3 now, so we understand we have a lot of work to do and this isn’t a magic pill that’s gonna fix all of our ills as a team. We’ve all got to get better but we do still very much believe in this team, and, and that’s why we took a swing at an excellent football player.”
McCaffrey arrived in the Bay Area on Friday morning and was quickly plugged into the team’s daily activities. After completing his physical, he got a locker and a helmet and joined the team’s light Friday practice midstream.
It’s not yet clear whether McCaffrey will play Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs, but Lynch said McCaffrey is already lobbying to be active. Regardless of whether that debut comes Sunday or next week against the Rams, the Niners are pleased that he will be playing for them and not on the other side next week in Los Angeles.
The Rams made a habit of making big trades for big names en route to last year’s Super Bowl victory and were the Niners’ closest competition to acquire McCaffrey. It’s something the Niners have been increasingly aware of and strengthened their desire to close out deals like this as fast as possible.
“I’m glad he’s not there,” Lynch said. “It seems like a lot of these situations end up where it’s us against them in these things. … I know their propensity to come in late and go big. And so, I was trying to get it done before, but that wasn’t gonna happen.”
Alas, the Niners did get the deal done, albeit at a significant cost. Lynch said the trade began to come together when the team was in West Virginia for a week of practice last week.
McCaffrey has long been on San Francisco’s radar, dating to the 2017 NFL draft when coach Kyle Shanahan was a big proponent of the Stanford product. The Niners ended up selecting defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, McCaffrey’s Stanford teammate, with the No. 3 overall pick instead.
Lynch said Friday that he and McCaffrey were joking about how the six-year wait to bring him to the Niners was so “everything would be right” when he finally joined the team.
And while the Niners will get McCaffrey for the bargain rate of a little less than $700,000 for the rest of this season, his salary cap number jumps to $12 million in each of the next three seasons. It’s a large figure for a running back who has missed 23 games over the past two seasons with injuries, even one as talented as McCaffrey.
But McCaffrey also has no more fully guaranteed money in his contract after this year, which means a reworked deal could be in the offing. But Lynch made it clear that the team views McCaffrey as a 49er beyond this season.
“It’s not every day that you get a guy like Christian at the minimum,” Lynch said. “And that’s essentially where we got him. But he still has years on his contract after that. I think we’re taking it step by step, but obviously that helps to know that the guy’s got some years after this year and it’s not just an 11-game, for lack a better word, rental.”