The Carolina Panthers signed running back Christian McCaffrey to a four-year, $64 million contract extension on Monday that made him the highest-paid running back in NFL history. There has been a wide range of reactions throughout the NFL world regarding the money Carolina will be paying McCaffrey especially due to the fact that many believe that inking running backs to lucrative contracts doesn’t directly result in wins.
A common argument stemming from those not in favor of paying running backs is based on the sentiment that players at that position are particularly replaceable, have remarkably high injury rates, and don’t age well. In recent history, franchises that have given running backs lofty contracts have quickly realized that the amount of money invested into the player did not directly translate to wins. Todd Gurley and David Johnson were both recently cut or released by their perspective teams after signing hefty deals during the 2018 offseason and have served as prime examples for why teams should not pay running backs top-end money.
Panthers head coach Matt Rhule went on WFNZ Sports Radio in Charlotte on Tuesday to discuss why that narrative on running backs does not apply to Christian McCaffrey and how he is fully confident that the All-Pro will be worth the $16 million dollars per year salary.
“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.”
Rhule explained that he met with key personnel on the team - that included his offensive coordinator Joe Brady and running backs coach Jeff Nixon - who all did extensive research prior to extending McCaffrey. Ultimately, they all agreed that he was not a “traditional running back” and his versatile impact on the field would be aligned with the money he’d receive in the new deal.
The immense workload McCaffrey’s carried has been a concern throughout his first three seasons, barely coming off the field in seemingly every game. A running back with the usage of McCaffrey would be at risk of serious injury if that level of responsibility were to continue. Rhule acknowledged that he wants his best players on the field as much as possible but in the same breathe he said, “when you play somebody too much it’s hard for them to be effective all the time.”
McCaffrey will not have to carry such a tremendous load for the Panthers this year as Rhule and Brady’s offense will look to rotate players. The coaching staff is devoted to alleviating some of the pressure off ‘CMC’ and the team adding several weapons in free agency serves as prime evidence.
“Over the years, we have tried to rotate players and personnel groups,” Rhule said. “I think that’s one thing we did in free agency. We went out and got somebody like Robby Anderson who’s a dynamic player, Seth Roberts who’s a dynamic player, and we got Keith Kirkwood who’s a versatile guy.”
The Panthers have addressed several offensive needs this offseason, but will look to next week’s NFL Draft to potentially plug a few more holes such as possibly adding another running back that can come in and relieve some pressure off of McCaffrey.
“I’m happy for Christian,” Matt Rhule said. “He’s a great person, a great player, and I’m ecstatic that Marty [Hurney] and he were able to work it out. I think he’s going to be a great player for us for a while.”