San Francisco 49ers among teams interested in Carolina Panthers star Christian McCaffrey

The Carolina Panthers are reportedly entertaining trade offers for All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey. That shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, as Carolina heads into a full-scale rebuild after head coach Matt Rhule was fired.

Previously, I’ve focused on the pros and cons of involving the San Francisco 49ers in trade negotiations for the star running back.

This seemed to be a precursor to a report from CBS Sports’ Jonathan Jones, which indicated that San Francisco is among the teams interested in McCaffrey. They would be joined by two AFC teams and the division-rival Los Angeles Rams in pursuit of McCaffrey.

“And while teams are calling about Christian McCaffrey, the Panthers haven’t engaged in any serious trade negotiations. Carolina isn’t just going to give away one of the best weapons in the league when healthy,” reports CBS Sports on McCaffrey’s business interest “The Broncos, 49ers, Rams and Bills are among the teams that have shown varying degrees of interest in McCaffrey.”

The connection here is real in that 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan has a built-in relationship with McCaffrey that dates back to when his father, Mike, coached McCaffrey’s father with the Denver Broncos.

From a field perspective, getting someone of McCaffrey’s skill set would be a major boon for the 49ers. They’ve dealt with a plethora of injuries at running back and lack that dual threat out of the backfield. However, there are other factors at play here.

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Christian McCaffrey as a fit for the San Francisco 49ers

Jeff Wilson is taking advantage of RB1 duties for San Francisco with 2021 end-of-round pick Elijah Mitchell sidelined with injury. Although Wilson continues to perform well, he’s not much of a threat to catch passes out of the backfield.

Since entering the NFL as a top 10 Panthers in 2017, McCaffrey has caught 383 passes in 63 games (6.1 catches per game).

Prior to the injury-plagued 2020 and 2021 seasons, McCaffrey was the most electric running back in the NFL. In the previous two years, the former Stanford star had 4,357 total yards and 32 touchdowns at a clip of 6.0 yards per touch. He also caught 223 sweeping passes while posting an 83.8% catch rate.

Adding McCaffrey to a skill set that includes other All-Pros such as Deebo Samuel and George Kittle would make Jimmy Garoppolo’s job so much easier at quarterback. It would also create a deep running back group once Mitchell returns here soon.

Contest for Christian McCaffrey

The division-rival Los Angeles Rams have been among the most proactive teams in the trading bloc in recent years. They acquired people like Matthew Stafford and Jalen Ramsey through this avenue.

After a slow start to the season, Los Angeles needs an upgrade at running back. He ranks dead last in the NFL in rushing and has young Cam Akers on the trading block. But just like San Francisco, these Rams are without their first-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. They sent that to the Detroit Lions in the Stafford blockbuster.

The Buffalo Bills seem like a logical choice. MVP contender Josh Allen is once again leading the team in a rush after leading every Bills player in that category a season ago. Whether that’s sustainable for a Super Bowl contender remains to be seen. In clear winning mode now, Buffalo is likely favored to land McCaffrey.

The Denver Broncos make less sense in that they signed newly acquired quarterback Russell Wilson to a record deal. Denver is also lacking a ton of draft capital considering what it traded in to acquire Wilson from the Seattle Seahawks in the first place.

What it would take for the San Francisco 49ers to get involved

A recent report suggests Carolina is demanding multiple first-round picks for McCaffrey. It doesn’t happen. Despite his dynamism since joining the NFL, injuries have played a role in McCaffrey’s career. He’s missed 23 games combined in 2020 and 2021. Add in McCaffrey’s inflated contract after the 2022 season, and Carolina is unlikely to receive more than one first-round pick.

The question for San Francisco is whether it should offer a first round in 2024 and switch to McCaffrey. This would have the team without a first-round selection for three straight drafts.

Maybe Carolina bites if the 49ers offer multiple second-round picks as part of a larger package. In reality, the market will dictate that.

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