NFL Analyst Floats Wild 49ers’ Strategy With Christian McCaffrey

Christian McCaffrey, San Francisco 49ers, NFL
NFL Analysis Network

Coming off their heartbreaking loss in Super Bowl LVIII, the San Francisco 49ers appear to have an excellent shot at getting back to the big game and claiming the Vince Lombardi Trophy next season.

But right now, there are some financial questions and issues facing the team.

Wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, who has emerged over the last couple of years as their top target in their passing game, is going into the last year of his contract. He has been holding out of OTAs as a result, and the hope is that he and the Niners will come to terms on an extension before training camp.

As a result, there have been rumors that they could trade either him or fellow wideout Deebo Samuel for salary cap reasons. They also have to give quarterback Brock Purdy an extension of his own relatively soon, and he will likely command a ton of dough.

Another man holding out of OTAs is star running back Christian McCaffrey, the NFL’s reigning Offensive Player of the Year. While he has a couple of years left on his contract, some have speculated that perhaps his holdout has to do with his contract as well.

Brian Peacock, the host of the “Locked on 49ers” podcast, had an interesting solution: move McCaffrey to wide receiver, at least some of the time, and have him serve as Samuel’s replacement should Samuel get traded next offseason.

“Should he be more of a wide receiver in the future?” said Peacock. “In my opinion, he should be. It’s not Ricky Pearsall—Christian McCaffrey should be the heir apparent and the replacement for Deebo Samuel if Samuel is to be traded next offseason. I think that’s how you elongate Christian McCaffrey’s career.

“If McCaffrey is going to get 20 carries a game, he is not going to last into his 30s, it doesn’t happen for running backs. But what if you take 10 of his carries away, give them to another one of the six running backs on the roster currently, and then give him five more receptions per game, more wide-back usage? Be smart, move him around, move him around in the slot. Screens. Give him the ball in space a little more. Let him create because I think that is how he can age more gracefully than a lot of other running backs in NFL history have.”

McCaffrey is coming off an incredible season in which he ran for a league-high 1,459 yards while scoring 14 rushing touchdowns. But what makes him truly unique is the fact that he’s one of only a few true dual-threat tailbacks in the league.

In 2023, he caught 67 passes, which ranked second on the 49ers, while posting 564 receiving yards and seven receiving touchdowns.

Samuel isn’t a true speed threat, and he often operates in front of the defense on short to intermediate routes. That is a role McCaffrey should be able to play in head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense.

Christian McCaffrey has been injury-prone in the past, and with him approaching his 28th birthday, it is a role that would allow him to age more gracefully.

Historically, NFL running backs have fallen off a cliff production-wise around age 30. Reducing the number of rushes he records from week to week would allow him to reduce his overall physical workload and wear and tear, which could extend his career.

Samuel signed a lucrative extension after holding out of offseason activities two years ago, and he will have a $28.6 million cap hit for 2024. Trading him could give the Niners some breathing room under the NFL’s hard salary cap and make it easier for them to retain their other key players.

In addition, it could create some room for Ricky Pearsall, a wide receiver they took in the first round of last month’s draft, to gradually get touches and carve out a role in their offense if he’s capable and deserving of doing so.

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