Panthers trade star RB McCaffrey to San Francisco for draft picks

CHARLOTTE — The Carolina Panthers are trading star running back Christian McCaffrey to the San Francisco 49ers for four draft picks over the next two drafts, the team confirmed.

ESPN NFL reporter Adam Schefter was first to report the news that McCaffrey would be leaving the team. The Panthers later confirmed the news, following their initial tweet up with another thanking “Run CMC” -- the running back’s affectionate nickname.

McCaffrey was drafted by the Panthers with the No. 8 pick in the 2017 draft. The trade to San Francisco will return him to the Bay Area, which is where he attended college at Stanford.

(PHOTOS: Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey)

The Panthers will receive four total picks for the Pro Bowler: a second-, third- and fourth-round pick in 2023 and a fifth-round pick in 2024.

“I’m forever grateful for all of the people who have helped make these past 5 1/2 years so special for me,” McCaffrey tweeted Friday morning. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Carolina, I will always love you.”

When the deal is completed, it will be the second time this week the Panthers have jettisoned a key offensive weapon. On Monday, wide receiver Robbie Anderson was traded to the Arizona Cardinals for two late-round draft picks.

Before Anderson, the Panthers also parted ways with former head coach Matt Rhule. It’s a lot of change for the team in just two weeks’ time.

McCaffrey’s trade will help the Panthers continue to build for the future, through a long season still lies ahead. He was the best player on the team’s roster and one of the most dynamic, game-changing players in the NFL when healthy -- which he has been through the first third of the season.

Though Carolina got some draft picks in return, they’re losing a team captain and fan favorite.

“We don’t have an offense as it is, so trading off our best option is very dumb in my opinon,” said one fan at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

“Yeah, not in favor of it at all,” said another.

Panthers General Manager Scott Fitterer has made it clear he’ll listen to trade offers on any player. The first for McCaffrey came a week ag; it was quickly rejected, but it wasn’t long before momentum built toward Tuesday’s trade.

The team didn’t land the first-round pick it wanted, but the return was enough to help the team next season and beyond, Fitterer said.

“We just have to make the right decisions,” he said. “This puts us in a position to be successful, now we have to execute that.”

As for what McCaffrey’s departure means for an already struggling offense, it isn’t looking good. Just last week, he accounted for 158 of the team’s 203 yards total.

“Christian is a great person, outstanding individual,” said Coach Steve Wilks, the interim head coach for the Panthers, at the beginning of a news conference on Friday. “We know what he brings from a football perspective but he’s just a good human being. Had the opportunity to speak with him last night, wished him well, and I know he’s going to do a great job out there.”

Wilks said he wasn’t worried about the future of his team’s offense.

“It’s an opportunity for other guys to step up and make some things happen,” he said.

He said he told his team to not get discouraged by the news.

“Don’t allow the outside noise to determine our outcome. Let’s create our own narrative,” he said.

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