In 2022, the Los Angeles Rams saw their bitter divisional foe the San Francisco 49ers acquire superstar running back Christian McCaffrey from the Panthers. Every play he made for the Niners at SoFi Stadium was the ultimate groin kick from hell. McCaffrey tortured outmanned LA on the ground and even through the air, having three total touchdowns in a 31-14 blowout.
The multiverse is all the rage in Hollywood. At times, that overdone storyline is often confusing and entirely incomprehensible. (Looking at you in particular Marvel Studios.) Reflecting upon the NFL is no different as the league’s history has been defined by a series of “what-ifs”, so what if the Rams had managed to land McCaffrey instead?
49ers RB Christian McCaffrey had 183 all-purpose yards yesterday. The Rams' offense, as a team, gained 223 yards.— Niners Nation (@NinersNation) October 31, 2022
Curse those damned Niners! Yet, what if there was an alternate timeline where the Rams had beaten San Francisco to McCaffrey? ESPN analyst Bill Barnwell decided to dive into that hypothetical situation in his article looking at what-if scenarios that might’ve changed the ‘22 season. The idea isn’t all that far-fetched and don’t forget how close LA actually was to landing the former All-Pro.
Source: Christian McCaffrey chose to play for San Francisco over LA. #Rams offered the #Panthers a trade package (two 2023 picks & two 2024 picks) similar to the #49ers. Carolina wanted to do right by @CMC_22 & being close to Stanford and playing for SF was his preference. #NFL pic.twitter.com/u4rE4iCsoq— 49ers & NFL News 24/7 (@49ersSportsTalk) October 22, 2022
Barnwell notes that the Rams offense would’ve immediately upgraded their offense by adding a weapon like CMC. That shouldn’t come as a surprise given how much he had boosted the 49ers’ offense despite them suffering multiple season-ending injuries at the game’s most important position.
“The Rams were 18th in the NFL in EPA per play on offense after their bye, so boosting them similarly turns them into the second-best offense in football. They were without Stafford and Kupp for most of that stretch, but if McCaffrey could have helped the 49ers without their top two quarterbacks (and Deebo Samuel for a stretch), it certainly seems like he could have made a difference for Rams coach Sean McVay and that roster, too.”
So hypothetically, his production would’ve prevented that 5-12 nightmare of a season right? Eh, not so fast.
Aside from swinging maybe a couple games in LA’s favor, the addition of McCaffrey wouldn’t have mattered all that much in the win column. The reason is quite simple as the defense often disappointed in situations when they needed to step it up.
“The big difference between the two teams after Week 7 is that the 49ers fielded the league’s best defense by EPA per snap, while the Rams were 29th. Having a better offense helps your defense, of course, but the Rams were a mess on defense because of injuries and disappointing play over that stretch.”
Injuries were of course the biggest culprit in the Rams’ lost campaign. However, there were times when LA had their opponent on the ropes only for them to blow it in the waning seconds. The pair of losses to Seattle and this utter choke job in Tampa stand out as three games that could’ve very easily gone the other way.
McCaffrey likely would’ve played similarly well with the Rams but in reality, they were no better than a sub-.500 squad. San Francisco had a stacked roster that cruised through the NFC with ease. Los Angeles couldn’t have offered that same level of excellence given the general construction of their roster. CMC landed in a dream situation while showing the Rams exactly what they were missing.
Christian McCaffrey after joining the 49ers:— PFF (@PFF) July 17, 2023
⛏️ 263 total touches
⛏️ 1,509 total yards
⛏️ 14 total TDs
No. 44 player and No. 3 RB on the PFF50 pic.twitter.com/8toE03uGKf
But Barnwell argues that LA was lucky to have missed out on him. The repercussions of a blockbuster move to acquire McCaffrey would’ve been devasting to the Rams in the long run.
“McCaffrey might have played well, but I don’t think he pushes the Rams beyond 6-11 or 7-10 at best.
In the big picture, that’s a disaster for Los Angeles. They give up more than a first-round pick’s worth of draft capital to land McCaffrey, who eats up significant cap space and doesn’t make a meaningful difference for them in 2022.”
Los Angeles wasn’t in contention at any point last year and the front office took notice as evidenced by their lack of moves at the trade deadline. Just days after the Niners had made the trade, I was asked by Ty Austin of Niners Nation how missing out on McCaffrey made me feel. My response was as honest as it could possibly be given the circumstances:
“Honestly, I’m okay with the trade, and I’ve mentally prepared myself accordingly.
I say I was okay with the trade as I wanted the Rams to be realistic with their options, and they also have more dire needs to address (cough ... O-line ... cough).
Obviously, McCaffrey was in that mix. But I figured he would be far too expensive, and the Niners proved me right.” per Ty Austin of Niners Nation
It’ll be painful watching LA getting swept by the 49ers in ‘23 with McCaffrey playing a big role in ripping the fanbase’s heart out. Hypotheticals are a fun exercise to embark on but I’d say in reality, the Rams were fortunate to have missed out on CMC.