Christian McCaffrey

A timeline of McCaffrey's 49ers tenure on one-year trade anniversary

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As the teams were warming up prior to their Week 6 game last season, 49ers general manager John Lynch engaged in a brief, pleasant exchange with Carolina Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer.

Lynch concluded their small talk with the big words that would set in motion a blockbuster trade between the teams.

“Let’s catch up this week,” Lynch said.

Following the 49ers’ 37-15 road victory, the club traveled to the Greenbrier Resort near the southeast corner of West Virginia. While the team was preparing for their upcoming game against the Atlanta Falcons, Lynch had his first conversation with Fitterer to gauge whether the Panthers were willing to trade running back Christian McCaffrey.

And if the Panthers were willing to part ways with their best player, at what price?

Today marks the one-year anniversary since the 49ers finalized the trade to acquire McCaffrey for four draft picks: second-, third- and fourth-round selections in the 2023 NFL Draft, as well as a fifth-rounder in 2024.

The 49ers outbid the Los Angeles Rams to acquire McCaffrey. And San Francisco has been atop the NFC West ever since.

Coach Kyle Shanahan initially expressed skepticism to Lynch — in the form of some choice words — that he could pull off the trade. Shanahan was not alone. In the 49ers’ locker room, fullback Kyle Juszczyk, tight end George Kittle and linebacker Fred Warner were among those who talked about and jokingly predicted McCaffrey was heading to Santa Clara.

Lynch got the sense from Fitterer that the Panthers, who fired coach Matt Rhule the day following the loss to the 49ers, were ready to accumulate draft picks and move toward a rebuild.

"Kyle and I both felt like Christian's a guy who can unlock this offense," Lynch said. "We were already really good. But this could be a difference-maker."

With him, the 49ers might be the most talented squad in the NFL — their 19-17 upset loss to the Cleveland Browns on Sunday notwithstanding.

McCaffrey’s arrival, along with the emergence of quarterback Brock Purdy, has taken the 49ers’ offense to greater heights.

In 20 games (19 starts) since the trade that brought him to the 49ers, McCaffrey has rushed for 1,537 yards (5.0 average) and 15 touchdowns, while catching 87 passes for 702 yards and seven touchdowns.

Here’s a timeline of the past year, beginning with the moment the sides finalized the trade:

Thursday, Oct. 20, 6:30 p.m. — Lynch got off the phone with Fitterer. Heart racing, he called Shanahan to deliver the news and to pass along the cost of doing business.

“Everything you do in this business is a gamble,” Shanahan said. “But if you’re going to gamble, first of all, do it with talent. And I want to do it with character, football character, and I see that very strongly with this guy.”

Meanwhile, a short time later, Fitterer called McCaffrey.

"When I called him to tell him he was being traded, he said, 'Great.' " Fitterer told NBC Sports Bay Area’s Jennifer Lee Chan. “He was about to get off the phone when he said, ‘Oh, where am I going?’ I said, 'It’s San Francisco.' "

Friday, Oct. 21, 2022 — McCaffrey arrives in Santa Clara, puts on his new uniform and heads out to the field while his new teammates already are going through their practice.

“He came out halfway through practice, so we just got loose,’ Shanahan said “He watched it all and then our coaches stayed with him after, just to get a small workout in and teach him a few things.”

Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022 — Hall of Famer Joe Montana was in attendance at Levi’s Stadium. And he was as curious as anyone to see McCaffrey’s debut.

“How fast he gets indoctrinated into this offense, I don’t know how much he’ll see today,” Montana said. “I’m sure he’ll see something. They probably have some packages for him, so it will be fun to watch him.”

McCaffrey had a brush with a 49ers legend that reinforced to him that he was no longer in Carolina.

"I’ll always remember this: Jerry [Rice] was on the field,” McCaffrey said. “He came up to me and gave me a big greeting, and I was like, ‘That’s Jerry Rice sitting on the field, man.’ ”

Despite joining his new teammates just two days before the Week 7 game against the Kansas City Chiefs, McCaffrey suited up and played 23 snaps behind starter Jeff Wilson Jr.

McCaffrey rushed for 38 yards on eight carries and caught two passes for 24 yards. The 49ers lost 44-23. It would be a while before they lost again.

Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022 — Nearly a week after being informed of the trade, McCaffrey still was processing what happened. After all, he was a fixture in the Carolina community. And just three years earlier, he put together one of the all-time great seasons when he joined Roger Craig and Marshall Faulk as the only players to gain 1,000 yards both as a rusher and receiver in the same season.

"I understand this is a business, but anytime somebody gets rid of you or something happens, you take it personally," McCaffrey said.

That same day, Shanahan was in his office devising a plan for the upcoming game against the Los Angeles Rams. He asked his coaching staff if anybody knew whether McCaffrey could throw the ball. Tight ends coach Brian Fleury found a video clip of McCaffrey throwing a 50-yard touchdown pass back in 2018 and sent it to Shanahan.

Friday, Oct. 28, 2022 — After Shanahan watched McCaffrey throw the ball in practice, a halfback pass was inserted into the game plan for the matchup of NFC West rivals.

Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022 — McCaffrey got his first start, and he turned in a memorable performance. McCaffrey became the first player since the Chargers’ LaDainian Tomlinson in 2005 to register a touchdown rushing, receiving and passing in the same game.

“I think everyone knows how good of a player he is, but I just like how consistent he is and under control he is,” Shanahan said. “He's a very smart player.”

McCaffrey delivered a 34-yard touchdown pass to receiver Brandon Aiyuk in the second quarter. He made a leaping 9-yard touchdown grab of a Jimmy Garoppolo pass in the third quarter. Then, he had a 1-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter of the 49ers’ 31-14 victory.

He was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week.

Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022 — After being held out of the end zone for two consecutive games, McCaffrey teamed up with quarterback Brock Purdy on a 3-yard touchdown pass with 0:04 remaining in the first half to give the 49ers a 17-10 lead over the Miami Dolphins. The 49ers rolled to a 33-17 victory in a game in which Purdy took over — permanently, it turned out — for injured Jimmy Garoppolo.

Purdy and McCaffrey already had built a bond, as Purdy assisted McCaffrey in his crash course of learning the 49ers offense.

“We would always sit down and go over the scripts together before the game,” Purdy said. “Literally, he wanted me to read every single play. He would say where he’s lining up, what he’s doing, his assignment. That’s insane to see how fast he learned stuff when he got here and has been able to know our playbook already inside and out. It’s been wild to see.”

McCaffrey’s thoroughness and attention to detail behind the scenes left an impression on Purdy.

“I’m like, man, this is what greatness looks like,” Purdy said.

Sunday, Jan. 8 — McCaffrey finished the regular season with a light work day — playing fewer than half of the 49ers’ offensive snaps — against the Arizona Cardinals. He caught one touchdown pass in a 38-13 victory at Levi’s Stadium.

In all (six games with Carolina, 11 with the 49ers), McCaffrey finished the season with 1,139 yards and eight touchdowns rushing to go along with 81 catches for 741 yards and five touchdowns receiving.

Saturday, Jan. 14 — Making only his second appearance in the NFL postseason and his first in five years, McCaffrey was the key to a 49ers ground game that rolled up 181 yards against the Seattle Seahawks. He carried 15 times for 119 yards and scored the first touchdown of the game with a 3-yard reception from Purdy for a 10-0 lead in the first quarter.

“There’s more on the line,” McCaffrey said following the 49ers’ 41-23 victory. “It’s win or go home in the tournament, but the way this team prepares and practices, it’s very similar to every week since I’ve been here.”

Sunday, Jan. 22 — McCaffrey sustained a right calf contusion in the 49ers’ 19-12 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in an NFC divisional-round game at Levi’s Stadium. He was limited, gaining just 35 yards on 10 carries. But his 2-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter broke a 9-9 time, giving the 49ers a lead they would not relinquish.

“I was fighting but made it through great,” McCaffrey said. “Nothing bad. All good.”

On to the NFC Championship Game.

Sunday, Jan. 29 — The 49ers had no chance after Purdy sustained a torn elbow ligament on the sixth play of the game against the top-seeded Philadelphia Eagles.

Still, McCaffrey provided some measure of hope when a determined 23-yard touchdown run around the right end in the second quarter tied the game at 7-7.

After backup quarterback Josh Johnson was knocked out of the game with a concussion, the 49ers inserted Purdy back into the game despite his inability to throw.

The 49ers had 164 total net yards, and McCaffrey accounted for 106 yards, including 84 yards rushing on 15 carries.

Wednesday, Feb. 9 — The sting of the 31-7 loss to the Eagles still was fresh as McCaffrey visited media row in Phoenix in the days leading up to the Super Bowl.

"It's really tough," McCaffrey told Kay Adams on the "Up & Adams" show. "You don't want to make excuses, obviously. It just sucks because we wish we had a healthy quarterback for a full game. It's a really good team that we played. But it feels like something got stolen from you."

Wednesday, May 10 — Nearly seven months after the trade, McCaffrey reflected on the move while on stage during the Dwight Clark Legacy Series in San Jose with 49ers greats Jerry Rice and John Taylor.

“In hindsight, I firmly believe it’s the best thing that ever happened to me,” McCaffrey said. “But at the time, it was bittersweet, right? You’re leaving. In my head, I was pissed off, to be frank. I felt like, ‘You guys don’t want me anymore.’ That’s what it is. I was hungry to get back to the football I knew I could play.”

Tuesday, Aug. 8 — One week into training camp, McCaffrey could feel the difference from the previous season. Now, he had a firm grasp of the nuances of the system after taking part in the entire offseason program.

"Coming into camp you're not playing catch up,” he said, “so it's been great to not only learn the offense but master it."

Sunday, Sept. 10 -- McCaffrey quickly re-established himself as the focal point of the 49ers’ offense in his first game of his first full season with the club.

He rushed for 152 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries in a decisive 30-7 road victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. McCaffrey’s 65-yard touchdown run was one for the highlight reel.

"The whole run game is an 11-man job and they made great blocks,” McCaffrey said. “I got a little spin in there, got sprung and then it was Brandon Aiyuk and Ray-Ray McCloud downfield. When you have receivers that block like that, it's a special feeling for a running back because you truly feel like your guys have your back. That's an awesome feeling to have when you're out there."

Sunday, Oct 1 — McCaffrey scored four touchdowns in a 35-16 victory over the Cardinals. He eclipsed Rice’s team record with his 13th consecutive game, including the postseason, with at least one touchdown.

McCaffrey had 177 yards from scrimmage to become the first player in 49ers history to register 100 or more yards and a touchdown in the first four games of the season.

The 49ers had the ball near the goal line in the fourth quarter, but Shanahan called Purdy’s number for a quarterback sneak.

“I never know that type of stuff,” Shanahan said. “I was actually shocked and now I feel kind of bad about it. I wish I got him five, he deserved it.”

Sunday, Oct. 15 — McCaffrey scored on a shovel pass from Purdy in the first quarter of the 49ers’ Week 6 game at the Cleveland Browns to extend his touchdown streak to 15 consecutive games. He moved into a tie for second place with O.J. Simpson, John Riggins. Baltimore’s Lenny Moore holds the NFL record with touchdowns in 17 consecutive games.

McCaffrey sustained an injury to his oblique area that sidelined him for the fourth quarter of the 49ers’ 19-17 loss, as the 49ers fell from the ranks of the unbeaten and saw their regular-season win streak snapped at 15 games.

Thursday, Oct. 19 — McCaffrey did not practice, and his status for the 49ers’ game Monday night against the Minnesota Vikings might be in question.

What is not uncertain is the impact McCaffrey has made in one calendar year since the blockbuster trade brought him to the 49ers.

Obviously, Shanahan knew a lot about McCaffrey before he arrived. But he has learned a great deal more about the star running back over the past 365 days.

McCaffrey enters Week 7 as a contender for NFL Most Valuable Player. He leads the league with 553 yards rushing. He is second with seven touchdowns. McCaffrey also ranks second in the NFL with 730 yards from scrimmage.

But his contributions to the 49ers have gone far beyond the numbers.

“I think it’s the example he sets for everybody,” Shanahan said. “He reminds me of the mentality like basically a walk-on guy who’s trying to get people’s attention for working so hard. And he’s one of the more talented guys in the league.

“And every single play is like the biggest thing in the world, whether he’s getting the ball or not. He’s a really great example of how to be a football player.”

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