The New Face of the Carolina Panthers: Christian McCaffrey

GM Marty Hurney sent a message to the fanbase by extending Run CMC
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Earlier this offseason, the Carolina Panthers made a conscious effort to extend star running back Christian McCaffrey. The two sides eventually agreed to a four-year, $64 million deal making him the highest-paid running back in NFL history.

Aside from the extremely generous contract, Panthers GM Marty Hurney sent a message to fans that he doesn't want an elongated rebuild. Other moves such as signing receiver Robby Anderson, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, linebacker Tahir Whitehead, and others are not signs of a team that is "tanking". 

If the Panthers were sold on the idea of a rebuild, they would have let McCaffrey's contract play out and attempted to trade their most valuable offensive talent. The team already made the mistake of waiting too long to make a decision on Cam Newton to the point where they couldn't find a trade suitor for the former NFL MVP. Hurney and company didn't want to have a deja vu moment with McCaffrey.

By signing McCaffrey to the extension now, it creates stability in the backfield and in the passing game, but more importantly, gives hope for the future. There aren't very many running backs out there that can replicate what McCaffrey can do and the fact that he is only 23 years old means he likely hasn't even hit the "prime" of his career - which is a scary thought for the rest of the NFL.

Now that the Panthers have officially moved on from Cam Newton, McCaffrey can now claim to be the face of the franchise. Ideally, having a running back as the face of the franchise is a little concerning, but if you label McCaffrey as just a running back, you're sadly mistaken. 

Last month, Panthers head coach Matt Rhule echoed that sentiment during an interview with WFNZ Radio. 

"I don’t look at Christian [McCaffrey] as just a running back,” Matt Rhule explained to Kyle Bailey on WFNZ. “We see him as a weapon. We see him as a person that can be a receiver, a running back, can be a returner. As important as anything else is the true leader [McCaffrey is] on the team and he does everything the right way. I don’t think he’s the type of player you can pigeonhole into one position.”

He's putting up the production of a No. 1 or No. 2 receiver and a No. 1 running back simultaneously. Carolina is essentially getting two elite players in one due to his versatility. Just look at his historical 2019 season. McCaffrey became the third player in NFL history with at least 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in the same season, joining Roger Craig and Marshall Faulk. McCaffrey racked up 2,392 yards from scrimmage last season - while scoring 19 touchdowns - which placed him third all-time on the NFL’s single-season yards from scrimmage list. His 116 receptions in 2019 marked his second straight season with over 100 receptions, making him the only running back in NFL history to accomplish such a feat. So yes, the Panthers are getting a No. 1 option at both running back and wide receiver.

Will he ever lift the Panthers into championship heights? That remains to be seen, but guys like LaDainian Tomlinson and Shaun Alexander are great examples of running backs who were viewed as "the guy" of their respective franchise and were a huge part of their team's success. 

The biggest knock on NFL running backs is the average "lifespan" they have in the league - which equates to an average career length of 3.3 years - and most importantly, the time in which they are in their prime. They take such a beating week after week, year after year, it's difficult for those athletes to remain healthy for consecutive years. Through his first three seasons in the league, McCaffrey has not missed a single game and has started in 42 of his 48 career games. He takes tremendous care of his body, which is why he has been extremely durable. If McCaffrey can continue to stay healthy and put out the same production, he could potentially, one day, turn into the face of the NFL. 

Do you view Christian McCaffrey as the face of the Carolina Panthers? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below!

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