Christian McCaffrey is signing an extension worth $16 million per year with the Panthers. But is that a wise long-term move for the franchise?
Considering that the Carolina Panthers used the No. 8 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft to select running back Christian McCaffrey out of Stanford, it feels safe to say that the franchise has always believed in his talent. On Monday, however, they showed just how much faith they have in Run CMC as they paid him handsomely.
As first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Panthers agreed to a contract extension with McCaffrey, who his entering his fourth season in the NFL, that will pay him an annual average salary of $16 million. That total makes McCaffrey the highest-paid running back in the league, surpassing the deal Ezekiel Elliott signed last offseason.
Ian Rapoport of NFL Network later confirmed that it was a four-year, $64 million extension that the running back was signing to commit to the Panthers long term.
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In the modern NFL, there is so much emphasis placed on running back value and, frankly, how organizations shouldn’t fall victim to paying big money to a running back (or use a high draft pick on one, and so on). But with the production McCaffrey has put up and his role in Carolina’s offense, maybe he’s the outlier?
With that in mind, let’s hand out an initial grade for the extension between McCaffrey and the Panthers to see if the franchise made the right move or a mistake in inking the former first-round pick to this new deal.
Grading the Christian McCaffrey extension
As a rookie in the 2017 season, McCaffrey produced well but didn’t play a massive role in the Panthers offense. He was, however, a dual-threat running back who rushed for 435 yards and two touchdowns while also catching 80 balls for 651 yards and five scores. But in the two years since, his workload and production have gone through the roof.
McCaffrey burst onto the scene in the 2018 campaign with 1,098 rushing yards and seven scores along with 867 receiving yards and six touchdowns. Then this past season, he was even better as the heart of the Panthers offense with 287 carries for 1,387 yards and 15 touchdowns along with 116 receptions for 1,005 yards and four scores. He’s the first player in NFL history to have 2,500 rushing yards and 2,500 receiving yards in his first three seasons.
That type of production, particularly as a pass-catcher out of the backfield, is the case for why paying McCaffrey as the top running back in the league could be worthwhile. He’s not just a player who affects the offense in the rushing attack but in every facet. And with Teddy Bridgewater taking over, that can be valuable in the long term.
However, running back value conversations bring about the catch-22 of the situation. For a running back to get paid like a top player at the position, he has to get a large amount of work to produce at an elite level. But that workload also tends to take its toll on players at the position more quickly than in other areas, meaning the NFL-lifespan of a running back is short, which is why paying them is often frowned upon.
Given how electric he’s been as a true dual-threat back, there’s a chance that McCaffrey can be the exception to that. He’s bulked up since his rookie season to help withstand the punishment of the NFL and has played in all 16 games in each of his three years in the league. But for the Panthers, that’s still an expensive gamble to take, especially after watching what just happened with Todd Gurley this offseason.
It’s not a failing grade for the Panthers with the Christian McCaffrey deal — not even close. With how big his role in the offense is, they had to keep him around. The price and the history of running backs getting megadeals, however, knocks the deal down to the level of slightly above average and nothing more.
Final Grade: B-