How bold trades helped Eagles, 49ers reach NFC Championship Game
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The 49ers got a jolt offensively when they made the bold decision in October to trade four draft picks to add star running back Christian McCaffrey to an already deep group of playmakers.
The Eagles made an aggressive trade of their own to supercharge their offense, when they added game-breaking receiver A.J. Brown in a draft-day trade.
The two moves by the NFC powerhouses are big reasons why the 49ers (15-4) and Eagles (15-3) are set to meet in the NFC Championship Game in Philadelphia on Sunday with a spot in the Super Bowl on the line.
"It’s what we expected, and he’s only exceeded all our expectations,” 49ers tight end George Kittle said of the trade that brought McCaffrey to San Francisco.
McCaffrey was languishing in last place in Carolina and the 49ers were sputtering a bit on offense when they sent four draft picks to the Panthers to add McCaffrey.
McCaffrey got back to performing at the star level that made him one of the league’s most dangerous players, and the 49ers turned into the NFL’s most diverse offense with versatile players like McCaffrey, Kittle, Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and Kyle Juszczyk.
“He’s a guy that if you leave him one-on-one with a linebacker, good luck: He’s going to tear you apart,” Kittle said. “You have to put two guys on him. And then if you pressure at all, you’re bringing a linebacker, and every other guy on the field has a one-on-one. Whether that’s Deebo, Brandon Aiyuk, me, Kyle Juszczyk. Those are a lot of one-on-ones where I’m going to take my guy over anybody else. And if you double anyone else? Good luck on Christian McCaffrey."
Since inserting McCaffey into the starting lineup in Week 8 against the Rams, the 49ers have won 12 straight games. During that span, San Francisco ranks second in the NFL in scoring at 30.4 points per game and second in yards per play with 6.10.
“It’s a force multiplier,” general manager John Lynch said at the time of the trade. “It makes everyone around him better.”
McCaffrey leads the NFL with 1,341 yards from scrimmage in the 11 games since he became a starter and is tied for the most touchdowns with 12, including at least one in the last eight games. But he is far from satisfied.
“What makes it so fun is that constant pursuit for perfection," he said. “I think everyone on this team has that.”
Brown has had a similar impact on the Eagles after being acquired from Tennessee during the draft for a first and third-round pick and immediately getting a four-year $100 million deal, with $57 million guaranteed.
The move helped Jalen Hurts develop into an MVP finalist, and lifted a team that got knocked out in the wild-card round a year ago as the seventh seed, into the top team in the NFC.
“I thought we had a lot of pieces to try and make a potential run," Brown said. “We’ve just got to put it together and execute. I think things are going well, of course. We’ve still got a lot of work to do. It’s not really a time to self reflect.”
Brown had 155 yards receiving in his Eagles debut and finished the season with 88 catches for 1,496 yards and 11 touchdowns. He topped Mike Quick’s 1,409 yards in 1983 for most in a season in team history.
Brown's addition alongside DeVonta Smith has given the Eagles a much more difficult offense to slow down than the one San Francisco faced in Week 2 of the 2021 season.
"The first thing is his size and strength,” 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans said. “That’s the one thing that separates him from a lot of receivers, but not only that, when he catches the ball he turns it to a different gear. His run after catch, it’s been pretty dynamic to watch this year. He’s big where he can go down the field and make plays on the deep balls, but also he’s just catching the 5-yard routes and turning it up field and turning that into an explosive.”
The Eagles see the difference McCaffrey has made on the 49ers offense as well.
“You just add in another really, really good player into your organization, and that shows up,” Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon said. “He can beat you a lot of different ways, and we’ll have to have a plan for all the ways that he’s beating people.”