49ers’ McCaffrey Trade Quickly Rises To Top Of List Of In-Season Trades

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For the second year in a row, a major in-season trade could be the key to winning a Super Bowl.

The 49ers decision to trade second-, third- and fourth-round picks in 2023 and a fifth rounder in 2024 to Carolina for running back Christian McCaffrey has been one of the keys to San Francisco surviving a series of injuries on offense, including two lost quarterbacks.

If San Francisco can string together three more victories, it would mark the fourth major trade in NFL history where an eventual champion picked up a key starter at midseason. Last year, the Los Angeles Rams picked up pass rusher Von Miller at the trade deadline and his performance was a key to winning the title. In 2006, Indianapolis picked up defensive tackle Booger McFarland and he shored up the Colts run defense on the way to a title. In 1983, the Los Angeles Raiders got Hall of Fame cornerback Mike Haynes from New England.

With that in mind, here’s a look at the greatest in-season deals in NFL history, a list that has increased dramatically since 2015 when the trade deadline was moved to the end of October.

1.Von Miller, L.A. Rams, 2021 – The Rams traded away more draft picks than any team since George Allen was leading the way in Washington. But the end result was a Super Bowl victory and Miller was crucial to that. Miller had five sacks in eight games with the Rams and then dominated in the playoffs with four sacks in four games along with a fumble recovery. Miller cost the Rams second- and third-round picks in the 2022 draft.

2. Mike Haynes, L.A. Raiders, 1983 – Haynes wanted out of New England so much that he played out his option in 1982 and then sat out most of the 1983 season before being awarded to the Raiders in exchange for first- and second-round picks. Haynes would go on to lead the Raiders to a Super Bowl win, including one interception and two other passes he knocked away in the title game against Washington. He would play seven seasons with the Raiders.

3. Christian McCaffrey, San Francisco, 2022 – This one could surpass the Miller deal in a month if the 49ers win the whole thing and is already pretty close. The 49ers are 11-1 since trading for McCaffrey and the only loss was in his first game when the 49ers took on Kansas City. In 11 regular season games, McCaffrey has 746 yards rushing, 52 receptions for 464 yards, and 10 touchdowns. It also can’t be overstated how important McCaffrey has been as an outlet receiver for rookie quarterback Brock Purdy. While the story about Purdy is stunning in its own way, the 49ers don’t get to where they are without the McCaffrey deal.

Other Trades Resembling The Christian McCaffrey Deal Impact

4. Booger McFarland, Indianapolis, 2006 – The Indianapolis run defense was porous in 2006. Despite having an outstanding offense, the ability of opponents to control the ball on the ground threatened the offense because opponents could basically play keep away. McFarland was acquired for a second-round pick and immediately made the Colts respectable against the run, which allowed Peyton Manning and company to eventually win their only title of the Manning Era in Indy.

5. Herschel Walker, Minnesota, 1989 – This is a big one, but not for the Vikings. The immense haul that Dallas and coach Jimmy Johnson received for Walker helped the Cowboys to eventually win three Super Bowl titles in the 1990s. As for the Vikings, this deal was a colossal failure because Walker simply didn’t fit in the Vikings blocking scheme. In 11 games, Walker rushed for 669 yards, caught 18 passes for 182 yards and scored a total of six touchdowns. He played only two more seasons for the Vikings before becoming a journeyman the rest of his career.

6. Jalen Ramsey, L.A. Rams, 2019 – The flamboyant Ramsey got bored playing in Jacksonville and talked his way to Los Angeles, which gave up two firsts and a fourth rounder to get him … not to mention the five-year, $100 million deal, including $71.2 million guaranteed, that the Rams gave him. It took almost three years, but the deal paid off.

Christian McCaffrey was traded to the 49ers mid-season and has made an enormous impact. (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images).

7. Eric Dickerson, Indianapolis, 1986 – If not for the Walker deal, this might be considered the biggest heist in NFL history, although it’s not like the Los Angeles Rams were able to do anything with the bounty it got from the Colts (three first-round picks, three second rounders, Greg Bell and Owen Gill). Dickerson was reunited with coach Ron Meyer, who he knew from their days together at SMU, and continued to be a star for three years, gaining more than 1,000 yards each of those seasons with the Colts. But Indy made the playoffs only once in that time and lost the only playoff game Dickerson played in for them.

8. Marshawn Lynch, Seattle, 2010 – From a value standpoint, this deal might ran as the best overall. All Seattle had to give up as a fourth rounder in 2011 and a conditional pick in 2012. After a decent half-season the rest of 2010, Lynch went into full Beastmode over the next four years. From 2011 to 2014, Lynch led the Seahawks with at least 1,200 yards each season and scored a total of 56 touchdowns as the Seattle won one Super Bowl and came within a miracle interception of winning a second.

Another 49ers Trade Makes The Top Ten

9. Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco, 2017 – The 49ers dealt a second-round pick in 2018 for the rights to Garoppolo after the Patriots decided to stick with Tom Brady. This deal was considered a steal at the time for the 49ers and the team eventually went to a Super Bowl with Garoppolo, getting to within a quarter of winning a title, and made it to the NFC Championship Game last season. That said, Garoppolo’s constant injury issues have created some inconsistencies.

10. Emmanuel Sanders, San Francisco, 2019 – After helping Denver win a title in the 2015 season, Sanders stuck around for the better part of four years before being dealt to the 49ers. In San Francisco he became a featured receiver and was an underthrown pass away from catching a game-winning touchdown.

11. Roy Williams, Dallas, 2008 – At the time, this deal was considered a breakthrough for the Cowboys, who were looking to move on from the Terrell Owens days. In addition to first-, third- and sixth-round picks, the Cowboys gave Williams a $54 million deal. Sadly, that ticked off Owens so much that he did everything he could to undermine Williams, who never did much during his three seasons with Dallas.

12. Jay Ajayi, Philadelphia, 2017 – This is one of those vastly underrated deals that didn’t look like much at the time. The Dolphins traded Ajayi to the Eagles for a fourth-round pick. Ajayi came in and led the Eagles in rushing the rest of the way, averaged 5.8 yards in the regular season and then was the team’s leading rusher in the playoffs on the way to an upset Super Bowl victory over the Patriots, Philadelphia’s first Super Bowl win.

Jay Ajayi helped the Eagles win a Super Bowl. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images).

13. Aqib Talib, New England, 2012 – Like the Marshawn Lynch deal, this was a great value deal as the Patriots got Talib and a seventh-round pick from the Bucs in exchange for a fourth rounder. The Patriots got a star shutdown cornerback for a year and a half, making the playoffs twice. They didn’t win a Super Bowl, but they made out like bandits on this deal.

14. Carson Palmer, Oakland, 2011 – Palmer had “retired” from Cincinnati in the previous offseason because he was tired of the Bengals mismanagement of his career. He came out of the retirement when the Raiders went through a series of quarterback injuries and coach Hue Jackson convinced him to play. Palmer’s days in Oakland weren’t great, but it was the beginning of a renaissance of his career that continued in Arizona.

15. Randy Moss, Minnesota, 2010 – This is actually kind of a sad moment as Moss was dealt by New England to the Vikings after getting into a snit about his contract. As it turned out, it was the beginning of the end of Moss’ career.

16. Minkah Fitzpatrick, Pittsburgh, 2019 – One of several major players to move in 2019, Fitzpatrick went to the Steelers and has been a stalwart of their defense. The Dolphins, who got a first-round pick, were rebuilding and became a playoff team this year.

Amari Cooper gave the Cowboys instant-impact after being traded. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images).

17. Amari Cooper, Dallas, 2018 – Cooper was acquired in exchange for a first-round pick and immediately sparked the Cowboys to a playoff berth. The subsequent seasons were decent but not great and Cooper was let go after Dallas drafted and developed Cee Dee Lamb.

18. Deion Branch, Seattle, 2010 – Branch stood up to the generally penurious Patriots to get a long-term deal out of Seattle, who he then helped get to the playoffs for four years before returning to New England.

19. Trent Richardson, Indianapolis, 2013 – Cleveland somehow managed to get a first-round pick from the Colts for Richardson. Indy was trying to build a running game to help Andrew Luck. Richardson wasn’t the answer.

Written by Jason Cole

Jason Cole has covered or written about pro football since 1992. He is one of 49 selectors for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and has served as a selector since 2013. Cole has worked for publications such as Bleacher Report, Yahoo! Sports, The Miami Herald, the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, and started his career with the Peninsula Times-Tribune in Palo Alto. Cole’s five-year investigation of Reggie Bush and the University of Southern California resulted in Bush becoming the only player to ever relinquish his Heisman Trophy and USC losing its 2004 national championship.

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