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Christian McCaffrey Has Altered the Way the NFL Looks at & Pays Running Backs

Analyzing the impact of Christian McCaffrey becoming the highest-paid running back in NFL history after signing a four-year extension Monday.

Late Monday afternoon, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that running back Christian McCaffrey and the Carolina Panthers agreed to a four-year contract extension, averaging $16 million per year, making him the highest-paid running back in NFL history. The contract keeps McCaffrey under contract through the 2025 season. Ezekiel Elliot was previously the NFL’s highest-paid running back, signing a six-year, $90 million extension in 2019.

Schefter released McCaffrey’s statement regarding his contract extension via Twitter, saying, “I’m so excited to continue my career in Carolina. I want to thank Mr. Tepper, Marty Hurney, and Coach [Matt] Rhule for the opportunity to help lead this great franchise, and to all my teammates for their help along the way. And to Panthers fans, KEEP POUNDING!”

In the modern-day NFL, running backs aren’t treated as prized gold as they were in years past. They are looked at as replaceable and a position that teams don’t invest an immense amount of money due to the exceptionally high injury rate. Franchises that give running backs lofty contracts often pay the price as the player’s production drops off drastically or in most cases, they endure an array of injuries that makes the contract an extreme overpay.

We have seen this in the case of Todd Gurley, who the Rams cut last month after signing a four-year, $60 million extension back in 2018. David Johnson signed a three-year, $36 million contract with the Arizona Cardinals in 2018. The team later acquired a cheaper, younger running back in Kenyan Drake last season and eventually traded Johnson to the Houston Texans last month.

The list goes on but in recent history in the NFL, overpaying running backs have come at a costly price and at the detriment to the team. This is not the case with Christian McCaffrey, he’s in a lane of his own. He is not solely considered a running back or a wide receiver but an offensive weapon and a centerpiece you can build your team around as Matt Rhule explained last week.

“I think Christian McCaffrey is a centerpiece player that you can build around,” Rhule said. “And I think he really builds to the culture that you want to have within the building.”

In 2019, 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 places him third on the NFL’s all-time yards from scrimmage list.

The Panthers star weapon has been adamant since day one that he is not just a running back. At Stanford’s pro day in 2017, McCaffrey did not participate in any running back drills, only performing wide receiver drills to showcase his versatility and overall value as an offensive threat.

$16 million is quite the price to pay a running back in the NFL in 2020. Often times we have witnessed teams refuse to pay their own players who sit out demanding money that’s in the same sphere as McCaffrey’s new deal. Melvin Gordon and Le’Veon Bell, among others, have sat out and missed several games demanding north of $12 million per year and have failed to do so. Neither player was with the team the following season.

McCaffrey is unlike the other aforementioned running backs in that he can excel as both as a receiver and as a running back. He often lines up in the slot and torches NFL defensive backs and can run routes similar to the tops wideouts in the league, making him a primary concern for his opponents’ defense on every play. Unlike others, McCaffrey does not accumulate the perpetual impact the average NFL running back accumulates throughout an NFL season due to the fact the McCaffrey is not the type to put his head down and embrace contact, rather he looks to avoid it using a multitude of elusive moves on defenders.

In 2019, the Panthers possessed a rather incompetent offense that lacked the necessary talent to properly compliment McCaffrey, making it easier for defenses to attempt to maintain the All-Pro. Despite the team’s major deficiencies, especially at quarterback, McCaffrey still put up otherworldly numbers.

The Panthers have overhauled their team this offseason, hiring head coach Matt Rhule and bringing in offensive coordinator Joe Brady - who helped lead the LSU Tigers to a National Championship and Joe Burrow to a Heisman Trophy and likely the first overall pick in April’s NFL Draft. The Panthers signed quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and wide receiver Robby Anderson to give the Panthers the necessary tools to have a lethal offense in a star-studded NFC South division.

For the first time in his young career, Christian McCaffrey will now have the essential weapons around him on offense to enable him to continually elevate his game. The endless options around McCaffrey on offense will dilute the attention he will draw from opposing defenses and in turn, will likely decrease his chances of injury.

The Panthers have zero doubt of what their future will entail on offense. The team has secured Christian McCaffrey, Teddy Bridgewater, Robby Anderson, D.J. Moore, and Curtis Samuel on the books for at least the next few years. The future is exciting for the Carolina Panthers.

McCaffrey’s versatile impact has shifted the way the NFL view and pays running backs as he has modified what it means to be a running back - in his case, an offensive weapon. Quarterbacks are thought to be the single position that offenses can build around but the $64 million man in Carolina is starting to alter that narrative.

What do you think about Christian McCaffrey’s contract extension with the Panthers? Does he deserve to be the NFL’s highest-paid running back? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below and connect with other Panthers fans!

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