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Should the Rams have done more to get Christian McCaffrey?

Did the Rams get ‘cold feet’ with Christian McCaffrey

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Los Angeles Rams Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time in what seems like five years, the Los Angeles Rams came in second place during a bidding war in the trade market. While the Rams were very much “in” on Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey and involved in the trade discussions, it was the division rival San Francisco 49ers that came out on top.

The 49ers ended up sending the Panthers a second, third and fourth-round NFL draft picks in 2023, and a fifth-round pick in 2024. That’s two picks on day two of the draft that likely won’t be very high and then three picks on day three.

When talking about McCaffrey’s skillset, that’s not a lot of capital. The Rams have spent nearly that same amount on their current group running backs who have mostly underwhelmed.

  • Darrell Henderson: 2019 3rd round pick
  • Cam Akers: 2020 2nd round pick
  • Kyren Williams: 2021 5th round pick
  • Sony Michel: 2023 4th round pick
  • Jake Funk 2020 7th round pick

That’s five draft picks on running backs that haven’t necessarily worked out. Despite that investment which includes two draft picks on day two, the Rams arguably have a bottom-five running back room in the NFL.

What the Rams have invested in the running back position is a similar haul that the 49ers paid for McCaffrey. Meanwhile, McCaffrey is a huge difference-maker on offense.

We’ve seen what an elite running back can do in a Sean McVay offense. Todd Gurley won the Offensive Player of the Year in 2017 and would have likely won it again in 2018 if not for his knee injury.

McCaffrey brings a lot of those same skillsets. This season he’s on pace for 1,179 rushing yards to go with 99 receptions for 831 yards through the air.

It’s fair to wonder if the Rams backed out too early.

Maybe we wouldn’t be having this discussion if this weren’t the 49ers. However, because it is the 49ers, it is a completely different conversation. This is a team that the Rams haven’t beaten since 2018 in the regular season and needed a 10-point comeback to win the NFC Championship game.

Les Snead didn’t make an emotional decision and ramp up their price simply because another team was on the other side. The front office deserves credit for that and should somewhat be commended.

At the same time, if that team is the 49ers, should they have done whatever it took to get McCaffrey simply to make sure that their division rival couldn’t?

The Rams are a team that haven’t been afraid to overpay in the past in the trade market. They gave up multiple first-round picks for Jalen Ramsey when other teams wouldn’t. They gave up multiple first-round picks for Matthew Stafford - a quarterback who had never won a playoff game - when other teams wouldn’t.

From a cap standpoint, the Rams could have made it work. The 49ers will only be responsible for $690k for the remainder of the 2022 season. They also aren’t responsible for any of McCaffrey signing bonus.

This means that the 49ers will only pay McCaffrey $12M per year for the next three years. After this season, they could also re-work the contract. According to Spotrac, the full breakdown is as follows:

“The Niners are set up for outstanding financial value with this contract through the remainder of 2022, thanks to a simple base salary restructure that was processed on McCaffrey’s contract by the Panthers this past March.”

Cap/Cash Hits:

  • 2022: $690,000 (guaranteed)
  • 2023: $12,000,000 ($1M guaranteed for injury)
  • 2024: $12,000,000 (non-guaranteed)
  • 2025: $12,200,000 (non-guaranteed)

The concerns for McCaffrey’s injury history are fair. However, those have only come over the last two seasons. McCaffrey played in all 16 games in his first two years and has yet to miss time this season. The Rams have also not been afraid to commit to players with an injury history in the past.

Joe Noteboom and Brian Allen signed contracts in the offseason. Todd Gurley had a knee injury at Georgia before the Rams committed long-term. Cooper Kupp tore his ACL in 2018 and the Rams gave him a contract extension.

We’ll wait for the Rams to make a corresponding move. However, there’s no doubt that the 49ers got better. McCaffrey is more than your typical running back. The Panthers ranked 25th in adjusted line yards last season according to Football Outsiders and McCaffrey still led all running backs in receiving yards and ranked 12th in rushing yards before he got hurt last season. He was also fourth in rushing yards over expected. He’s not a player completely dependent on his offensive line.

The 49ers will now be able to use Samuel in a more typical role as a receiver while McCaffrey takes over the running back responsibilities. McCaffrey also gives Jimmy Garoppolo another receiver behind the line of the scrimmage that excels at making defenders miss after the catch.

The Rams can only hope that this move doesn’t propel the 49ers to a Super Bowl trophy. Last season, Kyle Shanahan sat and watched McVay win a Super Bowl with a quarterback that he didn’t go “all-in” on. Hopefully McVay isn’t doing the same thing this February and asking “what-if”.