A Week 7 loss took some of the shine off newly acquired Christian McCaffrey, who finished with 22 snaps against the Chiefs. On Monday, Kyle Shanahan had this to say about McCaffrey’s performance:
“I was impressed. It didn’t seem too big for him. Yeah, I was impressed with him just in the 48 hours leading up to it. Just him trying to cram a bunch of stuff in and just being able to talk with him. He didn’t seem too overwhelmed, and he seemed the same on Sunday.”
McCaffrey had 38 yards on eight attempts, two first downs, including one, forced missed tackle and a double-digit run.
Of his 22 snaps, 15 came in the backfield at running back. Three were in the slot, and four were out wide at receiver. McCaffrey didn’t play much in the second half, as only four of his snaps came after halftime.
San Francisco averaged 5.6 yards per play when he was on the field. Nobody will argue whether McCaffrey is a game-changer. You saw what he brings to the offense on his first touch that went for ten yards.
Questions surrounding the trade ask whether McCaffrey is worth the draft capital, whether will he stay healthy, and if the 49ers should have gone all-in this season. ESPN’s Bill Barnwell answered some of those questions and tackled what the 49ers will do with McCaffrey contractually after this season.
To me, that’s the fascinating part of this trade. San Francisco owes McCaffrey $12 million after this season. Decisions must be made as other critical veterans will also be up for a new contract.
Barnwell believes there’s a workaround when it comes to paying McCaffrey:
One way to make the financial math work for the 49ers comes to mind. I’ve talked about how significant and valuable McCaffrey’s role is in the passing game. What if the 49ers see him primarily as a receiver as opposed to a running back? They used him more as a traditional back Sunday, but it’s easier to give him those initial touches before he learns the playbook as a runner as opposed to taking snaps as a receiver. I don’t think he will be taking 80% of his touches as a runner for the majority of his time in San Francisco.
Jimmy Garoppolo lives over the middle of the field. Using McCaffrey as a slot receiver only helps Jimmy. It also gives you a mismatch with CMC on a linebacker that could turn into a free five yards, at least, each time he is targeted.
The 49ers don’t have to pay McCaffrey much this year. It’s under $1 million after proration. But that number jumps next year to $12 million, and the rest of the 49ers stars' contracts will begin to spike, especially in 2024.
By then, Nick Bosa will have a new deal. Trent Williams will have a cap number north of $28 million. George Kittle won’t have any guaranteed salary left but still will have a cap number just south of $20 million. And that’s before we get into any potential extensions, like Brandon Aiyuk.
If it feels like the 49ers are mimicking what the Rams did by ignoring the salary cap down the road and focusing on the now, you’re not alone. It comes off as short-sighted, but that’s how most decision-makers in professional sports think. The Rams are paying for it now, but they won a Super Bowl last year. That’s the goal, so it’s difficult to fault them.
You have to win, though.
Barnwell went off the rails after debating whether acquiring McCaffrey meant a Trey Lance trade is coming this offseason. The thought process there would be to get some of the picks you lost back. Giving up on Lance after a season-ending injury would not be a good look for this franchise. Trading someone else, like Aiyuk — I would not advise doing this — would be more plausible.
Everything about McCaffrey and the 49ers is fascinating. You need great players to win a Super Bowl. No team is more aware of this than the Niners. McCaffrey falls under said category, regardless of position.
There’s always a rush to judgment to grade a trade. We won’t know how to react fully to this deal until a couple of years later, all of the other pieces are figured out. Until then, the 49ers have one job: win.