Christian McCaffrey trade grades: Panthers receive a haul of draft picks as part of deal with 49ers


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The San Francisco 49ers acquired star running back Christian McCaffrey from the Carolina Panthers in exchange for 2023 second-, third- and fourth-round selections, plus a fifth-round pick in 2024. It is a trade that has both short- and long-term ramifications for two separate franchises. 

Who won the trade?

49ers: B-

San Francisco had already sent its 2023 first-round pick to Miami in the transactions that led to the selection of quarterback Trey Lance. After the McCaffrey trade, the franchise is left with three third-round compensatory picks granted by the NFL as part of an initiative rewarding organizations that developed minority head coaches and general managers hired away: Commanders general manager Martin Mayhew, Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel and Jets head coach Robert Saleh. 

From an on-field perspective, the move is an act of desperation. It did not feel as though they were in a closing Super Bowl window and McCaffrey does not come across as the missing piece for that offense. With that being said, fans should appreciate a front office willing to make a splashy move in an effort to compete for the ultimate prize. 

Since Lance suffered a season-ending injury, San Francisco has gone 2-2 with Jimmy Garoppolo at the helm. They are in a three-way tie atop the NFC West. The acquisition of McCaffrey, a Stanford product, could be the jolt that the team needs but the Niners sacrificed future assets in the process.

Panthers: A-

It is hard to call the team parting with a player as talented as McCaffrey a winner, but that is the case for Carolina. The reality is that they will soon be starting over with a new head coach and could be staring down a significant overhaul. Holding on to a running back who has missed 23 games since the start of the 2020 regular season does not help; nor does having his contract on the books.

If said rebuild were to occur, Carolina now has ample draft capital to be aggressive. The Panthers hold their original picks in Rounds 1, 2, 4 and 5 so the haul from the Bay Area will be added to that pile. Quarterbacks Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield are both free agents after the season so the franchise could have a clean slate at the position. If they want to move around for a top quarterback prospect — thought to be Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, Alabama’s Bryce Young and Kentucky’s Will Levis — in the 2023 NFL Draft, they now have the draft capital to potentially pursue that option. 

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