Trade terms give Christian McCaffrey real leverage regarding his contract

When it comes to new 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey, there’s a school of thought that, in time, his team will squeeze him to take less. If that happens, he needs to be ready to squeeze back.

McCaffrey has $36.2 million in base salary and workout bonuses due over the next three years. Thus, McCaffrey has a simple response if/when the 49ers try to get him to take less.

“F–k you. Pay me.”

The 49ers have given up four draft picks to get McCaffrey. What are they going to do, cut him? And if they do, he becomes a free agent, unrestricted and unfettered.

While it doesn’t mean they’ll keep him for the full balance of his current deal, the chances of them trying to get him to take less in the 2023 offseason are slim, given the leverage that his contract gives him.

That said, nothing stops the two sides from a restructuring that knocks his cap number down for 2023. But he’d still get his full pay under a simple cap reshuffling. He wouldn’t be taking less.

And if he would ever consider taking a penny less, the quid pro quo should be an elimination of the balance of the deal, allowing him to become a free agent as early as possible in 2024.

Whatever the two sides do next year, his future becomes murkier in 2024. It depends largely on what he does (and whether he stays healthy) for the rest of the current season and next. With not a penny guaranteed, the 49ers have the flexibility to move on, if they so choose. And while it’s never wise to double down on a mistake, the picks used to get him necessarily become a factor if/when they’re looking at his pay and his ability and potentially making the difficult decision to move on.

Whatever the 49ers may contemplate, the fact that they surrendered a second-round pick, a third-round pick, a fourth-round pick, and a fifth-round pick to get McCaffrey necessarily gives him more leverage than he’d have if he were simply a free-agent signing.