Running back Christian McCaffrey will lead the San Francisco 49ers against the Kansas City Chiefs a week from Sunday in the Super Bowl at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. They will be playing for the Vince Lombardi Trophy, and the 49ers, with McCaffrey, are the favorites to bring home the hardware.
McCaffrey has come a long way from the beginning of the 2022 season. He was playing for the Carolina Panthers, who were toiling below mediocrity and were so bad that they were awarded another high pick in this season's NFL Draft. McCaffrey was going nowhere fast and was getting buried in an avalanche.
The Stanford graduate requested a trade from the Panthers and they granted his wish. He was traded to San Francisco for a second, third and fourth round picks in the 2023 draft and a fifth-round pick in the 2024 draft. Essentially, one of the best running backs was traded to San Francisco for the equivalent of chump change.
Not only did they wrestle McCaffrey away from the Panthers for a song, they got Carolina to absorb over 84 percent of the salary cap hit.
The contract that McCaffrey is playing under might be more valuable than he is. Keep in mind that McCaffrey is in the running for this season's NFL Most Valuable Player Award that will be awarded Super Bowl weekend.
McCaffrey has a cap number of just $3.424 million for the 49ers this season. That ranks him number 18 in cap hit rankings among all running backs in the NFL, according to Spotrac, for the 2023 season. Arguably, one of the best players in the league is conferring a benefit to the 49ers, and the Panthers are still taking the hit on the salary cap.
To give you a clearer understanding of this picture, the Buffalo Bills have a higher cap number for Nyheim Hines while the Chiefs have a higher cap number for Clyde Edwards-Helaire. The 49ers are getting a pretty good value for a player who led the NFL with 2,023 total yards from scrimmage and 21 total touchdowns, tied with Miami's Raheem Mostert for the league lead.
Sam Darnold, a backup quarterback, has a higher cap number than McCaffrey does with the 49ers. Think about that for a minute.
The trade occurred two years after the Panthers signed McCaffrey to a four-year $64 million contract. The deal included a $21.5 million signing bonus. Carolina had to account for that in the trade because when a team cuts or trades a player, the remainder of the signing bonus accelerates onto its cap for the following season. Carolina had a cap number of $18.35 million in dead cap space for McCaffrey who did not even play for them in 2023. To use complete numbers,
McCaffrey's total cap hit for the season according to Spotrac was $21,776,250, however 84.3 percent of that was on Carolina's books and counted against their cap, not San Francisco's. The cap friendly deal allowed the 49ers to renegotiate with McCaffrey and restructure his contract to make it cap friendly for future years.
McCaffrey converted $10.72 million of his 2023 base salary into a signing bonus, adding two void years to the end of the contract. Signing bonuses are spread out over the length of an NFL contract. That cleared $8.576 million of cap space for the 49ers, according to NBC Sports Bay Area.
The Niners needed to restructure the contract so they could sign their 2023 draft choices and have a practice squad. They approached McCaffrey's representatives and they were more than willing to cooperate.
"“It just gives us some room,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said after the first day of the 2023 NFL Draft. “We were pressed right up there when we were to sign our rookies. We wanted to have some flexibility and it made sense. Christian’s going to be here, simple conversion, and we did it, and we’re thankful to Christian for agreeing to do it. Good thing for him. Good thing for us.”"- John Lynch
What essentially happened was that McCaffrey had a base salary of $11.8 million for 2023. The 49ers paid McCaffrey every penny of it, but $10.72 was designed as a signing bonus, which is spread out over the life of the contract, and a base salary of $1.08 million.
Therefore, the signing bonus, spread out over the five years of the contract will only cost the 49ers $2..114 annually in cap space. The new deal put the 49ers under the salary cap by almost $11 million.
It's got to be good to be McCaffrey and even better to be the 49ers.