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Christian McCaffrey: 49ers trade comments were 'nothing against' Panthers

Christian McCaffrey's move from Charlotte to San Francisco involved a range of emotions, but by the time the dust settled, he'd realized it was nothing but good for him.

The "best thing that ever happened" to him, in fact. After realizing how that might sound to the fans of the team that traded him away, McCaffrey took a moment to clarify his comments Friday.

"I was thrown to the fire pretty quickly," McCaffrey said during an appearance on Good Morning Football of his arrival to the 49ers. "I think early on in practice when I was in the huddle with George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, Trent Williams, Brandon Aiyuk, Kyle Juszczyk and all these guys, I felt like I was on a Pro Bowl roster. It hit me that this was a special team. 

"I was very fortunate to come into a team that built a culture and had taken time to build a culture. To add on top of the roster, in my opinion, some of the best coaches in the NFL and guys who know how to use players like myself and have been doing it for so long. I just felt very fortunate to be a part of something that was already so developed so to say and like I said a culture that was established. 

"I do want to make it clear that was nothing against Carolina when I said that. I have no bad blood and I love everybody there. I still keep in touch with a lot of my teammates there and a lot of the coaches who I had the privilege of playing for there."

McCaffrey is not the type to intentionally ruffle feathers, but any time appreciation is expressed for a new destination, those left behind will feel slighted. The proof, though, is clearly in the product.

McCaffrey joined a 49ers offense that featured plenty of options across its lineup, yet lacked a legitimate top-tier, three-down threat in the backfield. General manager John Lynch saw an opportunity in Carolina and capitalized by acquiring McCaffrey, filling San Francisco's greatest need and putting the 49ers on a path that ended in the NFC Championship Game.

Considering how that run ended, it's understandable if San Francisco feels robbed of its chance to win a Super Bowl. But the 49ers have to be optimistic about their chances in 2023 precisely because of what McCaffrey said: This team is loaded.

"I think this is a part of a team that regardless of what that outcome (NFC Championship Game) was would still be so hungry for more," McCaffrey said. "The way these guys show up to work every day. Obviously, we have moved on from it now. It's still definitely in the back of your head. When you get that close and lose, it definitely fuels a fire and makes you want to get back there again. So, I think guys are hungry and guys are ready to roll despite the outcome of that game. 

"Obviously, when you lose it's a little bit more but it's been so cool to see the offseason turn out. The way guys are working and coming together. I'm excited."

San Francisco still has questions to answer, starting with quarterback. Brock Purdy's meteoric ascension from Mr. Irrelevant to starting quarterback of an elite contender has set expectations incredibly high, but he still has to make a full recovery from a UCL injury that cost him his ability to pass in the NFC title game and put him on a rehab-focused path in the offseason.

For now, the 49ers' top two options are former No. 3 overall pick Trey Lance and Sam Darnold, in no particular order. Eventually, though, this will again be Purdy's team, a future reality of which McCaffrey already approves.

"I think Brock was an exception to the rule that I had when I was skeptical of rookie quarterbacks," McCaffrey said. "I know there have been some great ones. He came in right away and he's exactly what you would have wanted. He had poise, confidence and he demanded the huddle. He did his job and he made plays beyond the X's and O's and that's all you really want in a quarterback. 

"We had a lot of good weapons around him, and he did such a good job utilizing. Obviously, we saw what he did on the field but off the field too, he's such an impressive guy. He's a guy you can rely on and a great locker room guy. Good dude. I had a lot of fun playing with him."

San Francisco expects more fun will be had in 2023. McCaffrey will again play a significant part in the party.

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