With less than two weeks to go until the NFL trade deadline, the Carolina Panthers and San Francisco 49ers made the first big trade of the season. Star running back Christian McCaffrey was sent to the 49ers, with Carolina receiving second-, third- and fourth-round draft picks in 2023, as well as a fifth-round selection in 2024.
The capital given up by San Francisco to acquire a talented but oft-injured running back can be questioned. What can not, is that the move is a good one for a team not even involved in it: the New England Patriots.
The Patriots, as was mentioned before, own two of the Panthers’ selections in the 2023 draft: a third-rounder that was acquired in a draft-day trade this offseason, as well as a sixth-rounder that arrived as compensation for cornerback Stephon Gilmore last October. The McCaffrey trade is not directly tied to either of those picks, but it might help them come early rather than late in their respective rounds
McCaffrey, after all, was arguably the best offensive skill position player on Carolina’s roster. A legitimate threat as a runner and receiver, who is leading the team in both categories, he accounted for 52.2 percent of the Panthers’ offensive touches through six games (118 of 226), 39.8 percent of their yardage (670 of 1,683), as well as 42.9 percent of touchdowns scored don that side of the ball (3 of 7).
Those numbers become even more lopsided when looking at his contributions solely as a ball-carrier: he has been responsible for 70.2 percent of Carolina’s non-kneel-down rushing attempts (85 of 121) and 72.1 percent (393 of 545) of its yards on the ground.
The Panthers offense so far this season has, quite literally, run through the 26-year-old. Removing him from the equation will need some major adjustments by a coaching staff that is run by an interim head coach.
Carolina, after all, fired Matt Rhule earlier this year as a consequence for his 11-27 record since 2020. Additionally, the team traded away wide receiver Robbie Anderson — the team’s No. 3 in targets and receptions and No. 2 in receiving yards behind McCaffrey — to the Arizona Cardinals just earlier this week.
The Panthers are headed for a major rebuild, and are trading away their assets to improve their salary cap outlook and draft capital. This, in turn, might lead to some disappointing results in 2022 — a process that would very much work in the Patriots’ favor.
Every additional game lost, after all, will improve New England’s draft stock next year. The McCaffrey trade might help quite a bit with that.