Biggest questions and what’s next

The San Francisco 49ers have mostly watched as NFC West Division rival Los Angeles Rams repeatedly swung at the fences in an attempt to win the Super Bowl. That approach worked for the Rams last season. The Niners believe it’s their turn, which is why they pulled off a stunning trade late Thursday night running back Christian McCaffrey.

The Niners sent second-, third-, and fourth-round picks in 2023 and a fifth-round pick in 2024 to the Carolina Panthers for McCaffrey in hopes he can help kickstart a sagging offense.

In its first six weeks, the 49ers have been plagued by injuries across the roster, and their offense hasn’t come anywhere near the level of their dominant defense.

Coach Kyle Shanahan doesn’t want a repeat of 2019, when the Niners squandered an elite defense as offense failed to finish the Super Bowl against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Simply put, San Francisco believes it is in a championship window, and trading McCaffrey sends that message loud and clear to the rest of the league.

How does McCaffrey fit into the 49ers offense?

This should be relatively seamless for McCaffrey, who has plenty of experience in a high-zone system and brings the kind of versatility that allows Shanahan to pair it with the team’s skill position options. And make no mistake, while McCaffrey will be the team’s No. 1 running back, Shanahan will use him abundantly in the passing game and give more headaches to the defense who now have to keep an eye on him and receivers like Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk and tight end George Kittle. – Nick Wagoner


Did the 49ers give up too much?

It looks like this on paper. But when you make an all-in move like this, no price is too high when it pays off. The risk is clear: McCaffrey has missed 23 games over the past two seasons and he’s joining a team constantly plagued by injuries. And while the Niners have a few third-round equalizer picks, they’re essentially betting on the 2023 NFL draft. Adding young, low-cost players is important for a team that has so much high-priced talent and plans to help defensive end Nick Paying Bosa an enormous amount of money this off-season. But if McCaffrey, who is signed until 2025, is healthy and on the field, he’ll give the 49ers one of the best groups of ability-position players in the league, and losing several Day 2 picks won’t sting much at all. – Wagoner


Will the addition of McCaffrey put the 49ers over the top in a tight NFC vest?

It should, but that comes with a significant caveat as to whether the Niners and McCaffrey can get (and stay) relatively healthy. No team has been as battered as the Niners in the first six weeks and while many of these players are expected to return, there are no guarantees of health. If their injury fortunes take a turn for the better, the Niners, already 2-0 in the division, have the best roster in the NFC West and should be able to not only win the division but embark on another deep postseason run make. – Wagoner


Is this a complete rebuild for the Panthers after firing their coach and getting rid of McCaffrey and Anderson?

The Panthers might not call it a full rebuild as the defense is in good shape for next season. Defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis is the only starter not under contract. But this is a complete makeover considering the Panthers will have a new coaching staff as Matt Rhule has already been fired; a new quarterback since Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold aren’t the answer; and a new face to the franchise since McCaffrey is no longer around.

In addition, the receiver room is a mess. DJ Moore is the only legitimate threat after Robbie Anderson was traded to the Arizona Cardinals. And none of Carolina’s tight ends are legitimate weapons. Not to mention that the offensive line is on the bottom end of the league in terms of pass-win and run-win rates. It could be argued that 2022 first-round pick Ikem Ekwonu has had growing pains in the left tackle thus far. He might be better suited for the right touchline or as a guard. So call this what you will, but it’s a remodel. – David Newton


How does caretaker coach Steve Wilks put this up?

Wilks never got a fair shake in his one season (2018) as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals because he didn’t have the talent to compete and mostly trained with an inherited baton. He now has the same situation with Carolina. And now he’s losing his most valuable offensive asset. McCaffrey was his offensive line that accounted for 75% of the team’s mileage in Sunday’s 10-24 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. Wilks must replace him with sophomore Chuba Hubbard and journeyman D’Onta Foreman.

Offense is already ranked last in the NFL in total yards and third-down percentage, and former XFL quarterback PJ Walker begins his second straight game Sunday against Tampa Bay while Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold recover from ankle injuries . Owner David Tepper said Wilks would be considered for the full-time job if he does an exceptional job for the rest of this year. Instead, he seems doomed again. This feels like a total tank to build for the future. – Newton


What are the contract and cap implications of the deal?

McCaffrey is on a year-long lease on a favorable contract for San Francisco, with a salary of $1.035 million thanks to Carolina’s off-season contract restructuring. Next year things will get more complicated as McCaffrey is owed $11.8 million. But the 49ers don’t inherit McCaffrey’s signing bonus share, which reduces his $19.5 million cap by several million in 2023. It’s all manageable, but still steep for a running back. -Jeremy Fowler


What other teams were involved in talks?

Several competitors at least made the call, but talks were slow to develop as of midweek. Despite the hype surrounding their interest, I never felt like the Buffalo Bills were all in. Teams I’ve spoken to believe the Rams and Denver Broncos were involved to some extent but were unwilling to match the price the 49ers ended up paying.

The Panthers have also received several trade calls at their other top playmaker, wide receiver DJ Moore, according to sources, but the team views Moore as a fundamental element to the roster long-term. – Fowler

https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/34843020/christian-mccaffrey-traded-panthers-49ers-answering-biggest-questions-next-teams Biggest questions and what’s next

Emma Bowman

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