Why ESPN deems Panthers, not 49ers, winners of CMC trade


The 49ers swiftly put themselves back into the Super Bowl conversation by blowing out the Los Angeles Rams in Week 8, thanks largely in part to an incredible game from their newly acquired running back, Christian McCaffrey.

But despite the instant jolt the All-Pro provided for San Francisco’s offense, ESPN believes the Carolina Panthers came out on top in the McCaffrey trade.

In the outlet’s 2022 NFL trade deadline report card, the 49ers received a C-minus grade for the deal, while Carolina earned an A-minus.

The blockbuster went down Oct. 20 and sent McCaffrey, a Stanford alum, back to the Bay while the Panthers received second-, third- and fourth-round picks in 2023 and a fifth-round selection in 2024.

The star running back made his 49ers debut just a couple of days later against the Kansas City Chiefs but showed his true potential in Kyle Shanahan’s offensive scheme with his historic game against the Rams the following Sunday.

The report card, compiled by ESPN Analytics’ Seth Walder, acknowledges McCaffrey’s unparalleled skill set and the possibilities an offense with the running back, Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle can bring. 

But “running back is a non-premium position,” Walder writes, and many believe that to be particularly true in Shanahan’s advanced run game. And while McCaffrey’s salary cap hit isn’t a point against the acquisition, the 26-year-old’s injury history is viewed by ESPN as the trade’s biggest downside, along with his decreased productivity.

“McCaffrey is injury plagued. He missed 23 of 33 games during the 2020 and 2021 seasons, though he has been healthy this year,” Walder writes. “And for a running back in the modern NFL, McCaffrey is old. He's only 26 years old, but he's in his sixth season, and the last time a running back in his sixth season or later cracked 1,100 yards was 2017 (LeSean McCoy and Mark Ingram II).”

The Panthers, on the other hand, made a trade they had to as their season went south and the need to reload their roster through the draft became even more apparent than it already was. 

Walder believes Carolina “did well” to get their package of picks from the 49ers, and that puts them in a better position to move up in the 2023 NFL Draft and snag a quarterback.

In the days following the trade, both Shanahan and 49ers general manager John Lynch emphasized their belief that McCaffrey was worth the four future draft picks they gave up because of his abilities and intellect.

And Lynch, a victim to injuries during his career NFL as well, called McCaffrey’s bruised-up past part of the game, noting the running back’s current clean bill of health.

RELATED: Lynch: CMC developing 'incredible synergy' with Jimmy G

But in the end, ESPN’s report card determined the 49ers gave up too much draft capital, and the trade will have “ripple effects for years to come.”

“Talented rosters don't last forever, and the NFC is looking particularly weak, so I understand the impulse to seize opportunity when it presents itself,” Walder writes. “It's a tantalizing upside play. But the most likely outcome here is the 49ers will end up regretting this choice.”

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