As long as you phase out what the Carolina Panthers did to get to the top of last year’s NFL draft, it’s difficult to think of a recent trade that has left more egg on the face of this franchise than their dumping of running back Christian McCaffrey.
In the middle of what was thought to be an absolutely lost 2022 campaign, the Panthers suddenly shipped off their star rusher to the San Francisco 49ers. What came back in return wasn’t too shabby of a haul—at least at first glance—as they reeled in second-, third- and fourth-round picks for 2023 and a fifth-rounder for 2024.
But what has happened with both teams since turned this deal into an inexcusable pin in Panthers history.
McCaffrey, who has now made the jump from a star in Carolina to an absolute superstar in San Francisco, just led his 49ers to the Super Bowl. Their NFC championship-winning performance was highlighted by his game-leading 132 yards from scrimmage and a pair of touchdowns.
And as for the Panthers, who could really use a fella like that for their young quarterback in Bryce Young, they’re fresh off finishing with the worst record and worst offense in all of football. Oh, and the running back they signed to a four-year, $25.4 million deal this past offseason had one of the worst seasons you’ll see from the position.
And as for the “haul” they received for McCaffrey . . .
2023 61st overall pick: Traded to Chicago for the rights to the first overall pick (quarterback Bryce Young)
2023 93rd overall pick: Traded to Pittsburgh for the rights to the 80th overall pick (linebacker DJ Johnson)
2023 132nd overall pick: Traded to Pittsburgh for the rights to the 80th overall pick (linebacker DJ Johnson)
2024 fifth-round pick: TBD
The outcome of this swap has become a painful showcase of how these two very different organizations have taken two different paths over the last handful of years. While Carolina strikes out with the wrong players at the wrong times for the wrong prices, San Francisco is picking up bargains and aggressively targeting elite talent.
With the Panthers searching for answers on offense entering the 2024 season, and the 49ers having their MVP candidate and Offensive Player of the Year favorite cruise them into to the Super Bowl, the deal represents a harsh sting in the arms of fans everywhere and a grim reality on where the franchise sits.