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Opinion: Bills were right to hold ground in Christian McCaffrey trade talks

“All in” is the opposite of discipline

Carolina Panthers v Los Angeles Rams Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images

Christian McCaffrey is now a member of the San Francisco 49ers.

Like his father Ed before him, the accomplished running back known as “CMC” will be hearing plays from someone with the last name Shanahan. First reported late Thursday, the Niners traded second-, third-, and fourth-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, along with a fifth-round pick in 2024, to acquire the now-former Carolina Panthers running back, per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network:

The topic of the Buffalo Bills trading for Christian McCaffrey had been floated around the football community since before the Panthers fired their head coach Matt Rhule. But that firing sparked a mountain of curiosity about whether or not the versatile star could be acquired. This time around, though, the Bills did make an offer to the Panthers, per John Wawrow of The Associated Press:

While Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer said the team had three hard offers for McCaffrey, a report that conflicts Wawrow’s from Rapoport says the Bills weren’t in on the deal:

Whether the Bills offered a second, or weren’t in on the deal completely, they did the right thing.

McCaffrey has been the most versatile weapon in the NFL for the last six seasons since entering the league out of Stanford as the eighth overall pick by Carolina. He’s caught a whopping 390 passes in that time, and has over 3,000 yards rushing and 3,000 yards receiving in his pro career. He’s the only running back in NFL history with two 100-reception seasons.

He has also endured five separate injuries over the last two-plus seasons that have caused him to miss 24 games since the start of the 2020 season. Two ankle sprains, an A/C joint sprain, a thigh glute strain, and a hamstring strain have hindered his availability in recent years, and those are only the injuries that have caused missed games in the NFL. That is to say nothing of the injuries in college, the numerous times he’s popped up on a mid-week injury report, and the missed plays or series during a game.

In many scouting reports of McCaffrey, the injury questions showed up.’s Lance Zierlein noted that CMC “lacks the desired size of an every-down back,” “has some tread worn off his tires,” and “was asked to grind the gears for short yardage carries,” noting also that the dynamic Pac-12 weapon “logged 300-plus touches (including returns) in each of the last two seasons.”’s Chris Burke had similar weaknesses listed for McCaffrey, saying “the 672 combined offensive touches he had in 2015-16 might work against him,” and that he had “a lot of tread off the tires for a back, and he missed games to injury.” The concerns on McCaffrey’s ability to hold up physically over a long career were well-documented—and after the 2020 season hit, they began to ring true.

The Bills have a lot of questions to answer after this season. They have long-tenured defensive stalwarts in linebacker Tremaine Edmunds and safety Jordan Poyer, who are both set to become free agents. Left guard Rodger Saffold will need to be re-signed or replaced. The backup quarterback situation may need a third face in as many years. It’s a good thing general manager Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott have done well hitting on Day Two and Day Three picks to bring in meaningful contributors to the roster. Since McDermott was hired, here are all of the players who have been drafted by the Bills in the rounds represented by the draft picks the Panthers gave up for CMC (rounds 2-5):

  • Zay Jones
  • Dion Dawkins
  • Matt Milano
  • Nathan Peterman
  • Harrison Phillips
  • Taron Johnson
  • Siran Neal
  • Wyatt Teller
  • Cody Ford
  • Devin Singletary
  • Dawson Knox
  • Vosean Joseph
  • A.J. Epenesa
  • Zack Moss
  • Gabe Davis
  • Jake Fromm
  • Boogie Basham
  • Spencer Brown
  • Tommy Doyle
  • James Cook
  • Terrel Bernard
  • Khalil Shakir

The overwhelming majority of the players picked in the rounds represented by the picks the 49ers gave for McCaffrey have been meaningful contributors and, at minimum, are the types of players who you can count on to take snaps for a team that won’t be able to keep every player signed to a market deal given their collection of talent.

Now take four of those names away at random.

You better hope the four randomly selected are Fromm, Joseph, Moss, and Peterman, because there aren’t a lot of other combinations of four that make me very excited to exchange them for one often-injured player at the sport’s most replaceable scrimmage position. Additionally, the 49ers may very well be looking at a 10-game rental of CMC—a situation where he has all the leverage over the team that gave up that capital, when this season is over.

Injured players being rented at a devalued position have an incredibly narrow path to success, and given this regime’s track record utilizing those resources elsewhere, I’m glad the Bills decided to sit this one out.

...and that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I’m Bruce Nolan with Buffalo Rumblings. You can find me on Twitter and Instagram @BruceExclusive and look for new episodes of “The Bruce Exclusive” every Thursday on the Buffalo Rumblings podcast network!