Shanahan can't imagine 49ers without CMC after star's huge game

Shanahan can't imagine 49ers without CMC after star's huge game originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

SANTA CLARA -- Kyle Shanahan doesn't want to imagine a world where Christian McCaffrey isn't on the 49ers.

Luckily for Shanahan, he doesn't have to. It nearly has been a year since San Francisco traded for the All-Pro running back, and the move the 49ers' coach described last season as a "gamble" certainly has paid off.

McCaffrey's four-touchdown performance in the 49ers' 35-16 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday at Levi's Stadium was symbolic of what he has become to the team since his arrival -- a catalyst playing with the urgency of a star eager to win his first Super Bowl.

"No, don't ever say that," Shanahan said after the win when asked if he has ever imagined a world where the trade for McCaffrey didn't work out. "It's real close, especially when you decide on something, and then you need a little bit more. ... It's always that huge debate. That's why usually when trades happen with lots of good players, there's usually one or two teams involved because trades are tough, and there's always a huge risk.

"When those don't work out, it's not just, 'Oh, the player didn't work out.' Also you don't get those draft picks back, too. There's always a gamble to it, but no, life has been much better [with McCaffrey]."

San Francisco surrendered four future draft picks to the Carolina Panthers in exchange for McCaffrey on Oct. 20 of last year, and while the move was seen by some as risky due to his injury history and its cost, Shanahan and 49ers general manager John Lynch knew they had just acquired one of the NFL's most exciting running backs.

The 49ers lost their first contest with McCaffrey against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 7 of 2022, but have yet to lose a regular-season game since he became the starting running back the following week. On Sunday, McCaffrey broke Jerry Rice's franchise record for the most consecutive games with a touchdown at 13. He has been just as good as advertised for San Francisco, if not better.

"You know he was that good of a player, just watching him and stuff," Shanahan said Sunday. "I think the whole league does. But then when you're around him personally, you realize how much better he is just because of the intangibles that he has, really, his whole makeup -- how he works each week and how he prepares for a season. ... He's as much of a professional as I've been around.

"In order to make trades, you usually have to give a little more to get people. And then there's always a risk that they won't work out. There's injuries in this league; there's tons of stuff. But what you like to do is know who the guy you're betting on. He's a dude that I think everyone would bet on."

When McCaffrey arrived in Santa Clara almost a year ago, it was then-backup quarterback Brock Purdy who helped him get acclimated to his new home -- and a new playbook. Immediately, the young signal-caller knew there was something different about his new teammate when it came to detail and focus.

"We'd go out to the field just him and I, walk through plays and stuff, and he was all focused in, and I'm like, 'OK, is this an act? Or is he like being for real?' " Purdy said after Sunday's win. "And then he would do it every day, then we'd sit down at the table the night before a game and do it, and he's all focused. Then he's the same guy today. He is the way he is because of, obviously, his preparation, his focus and his mindset. He's on another level."

McCaffrey has placed himself into the MVP conversation through four weeks of play, with six touchdowns and 459 yards rushing on 80 carries and one touchdown reception. But the humble star gives much of the credit to his not-so-new team for his success in the Bay.

While it feels like it was just yesterday he was traded to the 49ers, McCaffrey said, he's comfortable here thanks to the culture he walked into.

"I think the cool part, from my perspective, is how these guys took me in a year ago, and none of that's changed," McCaffrey said after the game Sunday. "Like I said, I got the call I was traded, John Lynch called me right after that, and then I got a call from George Kittle. He was the third person that called me, and that's just kind of a testament -- and he represents the whole team -- of how they took me in.

"I'm just really honored and blessed to be a part of this team."

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