Christian McCaffrey

49ers plan to manage CMC's usage with his long-term future in mind

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SANTA CLARA — With running back Christian McCaffrey under contract for the next four seasons, the 49ers have reason to play the long game with his usage.

McCaffrey is coming off a season in which he won the NFL Offensive Player of the Year award.

Three days shy of his 28th birthday, the 49ers awarded him Tuesday with a contract extension through the 2027 season.

And coach Kyle Shanahan made it known that he would like to avoid running McCaffrey into the ground to make sure he remains productive through the duration of his contract.

After all, McCaffrey carried the ball 272 times last season for 1,459 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. He also caught 67 passes for 564 receiving yards and seven touchdowns.

His 339 touches during the regular season were 258 more than Elijah Mitchell, the No. 2 running back.

“I don’t think it needs to be that case with all the runs,” Shanahan said on Tuesday. “We got guys who can run the ball. We got to protect Christian from himself. He doesn’t like to ever come out, no matter what the situation is.

“I do think that’s something we can protect him with more. When you are such a threat in the pass game, it’s a little bit different.”

Because of McCaffrey’s unique versatility with his route-running and ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, the 49ers do not have a player specified as their third-down back.

McCaffrey is the team’s best option on all downs.

But Shanahan suggested maybe the 49ers can mix Mitchell and third-stringer Jordan Mason into the offense for more carries on early downs.

Mitchell and Mason had 75 and 40 carries, respectively, while catching a combined nine passes out of the backfield.

The problem is McCaffrey is one of the game’s great offensive players, and the 49ers’ offense is not nearly as explosive when he is on the sideline.

Said Shanahan, “If he’s just taking the wear and tear with 20 carries every game — and he’s definitely good enough to do that and he’s proved he can stay healthy — but you’d like to take some of that off him and give it to other guys."

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