The run-focused San Francisco 49ers produced the NFL’s seventh best rushing offense and placed fifth overall in rushing touchdowns this past season — both rankings coming without a 1,000-yard runner, with injuries in the backfield and with no one scoring 10 times off of handoffs.
But could the 49ers be interested in adding to an already potent ground attack?
Better yet, could the 49ers score this two-for-one special: Add a Pro Bowl running back who happens to be a past Bay Area star via a blockbuster trade?
One NFL analyst has reason to believe it’s a possibility.
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‘Elite Running Back’ a Possible Trade Option
Grant Cohn of Sports Illustrated asked on Monday, February 21 “Will the 49ers Trade for Christian McCaffrey?”
Cohn, who’s the publisher of “All 49ers” on the SI network, says the franchise “might be interested” in the former Stanford Cardinal star who emerged as a first rounder out of nearby Palo Alto, California. Here’s what Cohn wrote:
“The Carolina Panthers reportedly will listen to trade offers for star running back Christian McCaffrey this offseason, and the 49ers might be interested in trading for him.
It’s easy to see why the 49ers might want McCaffrey. He’s an elite running back when healthy. The 49ers’ current starter, Elijah Mitchell, is good, but they never intended him to start — Raheem Mostert was supposed to fill that role. It’s possible the 49ers are still looking for a top-level replacement for Mostert.
McCaffrey is better than Mostert. McCaffrey in the same backfield as Trey Lance would be so difficult to stop. And McCaffrey on the same field as George Kittle, Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk would give the 49ers the best group of weapons in the league.”
While the 49ers haven’t been known for making splashy trades in recent years, particularly to upgrade their running game, the chance of a McCaffrey-49ers pairing is beyond intriguing for a team looking to scale the mountain known as the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams.
How Could the Cardinal Legend fit with the ‘Niners?
Let’s take a dive into what McCaffrey is facing this offseason…followed by what the 49ers are looking at.
On McCaffrey’s end, he’s still young at 25 years of age and not even at the prime of his career. He has two 1,000-yard seasons in his first five years in the league. And it wasn’t that long ago that McCaffrey was a First Team All-Pro — 2019 to be exact.
And the last time he shared the same region with the 49ers, he provided these types of field explosions:
This past season, McCaffrey was able to average 4.5 yards per carry — an increase from the 3.8 he averaged in 2020.
But McCaffrey has been boggled down by injuries following his breakout 2019. He’s only managed 10 combined starts the last two seasons. This past season, he dealt with an early hamstring ailment.
Then, an ankle injury canceled the rest of his season.
We also have to address the financial aspect in all this. McCaffrey signed a four-year, $64,063,500 deal that makes him an unrestricted free agent by 2026 according to Spotrac. And according to the site, his 2022 base salary is set for $8.4 million…with that number expected to rise to $12 million by 2025.
Will the 49ers be willing to take on that kind of salary? Spotrac has the 49ers with $2,952,032 available in cap space. However, by moving on from Jimmy Garoppolo with any trade suitor, that can free up $26,950,000 for the ‘Niners.
There’s more, especially in the RB room: Four backs not named Elijah Mitchell and Trey Sermon are free agents. If all four walk away, that leaves the 49ers with a combined $6,565,000 leftover, but also just two running back options left in the two rookies (plus the “wide back” Deebo Samuel).
It’s definitely a significant gamble if the 49ers put their chips on the table and attempt to pilfer McCaffrey. But just imagine a 49ers offense with Samuel, George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk, a fast-riser in Mitchell, new signal-caller Trey Lance and McCaffrey all in the mix. The yards and points will go up…and so will the title winning chances for the 49ers.