In 2017 when Christian McCaffrey was picked eighth overall by the Carolina Panthers there were debates about his ability to be a workhorse in the NFL and to make the kind of impact that would justify picking him in the top-ten.
It didn’t take long into his rookie season for him to show what he is capable of, pulling in over 100 yards in receptions in just his third career game. During his rookie season, he wasn’t a full-time starter yet, but he still managed to go for over 1,000 yards from scrimmage. And then in his second season, he took over the full-time starting role and was able to top 1,000 yards on the ground while going for 867 yards in receptions to go with over 100 catches. At the end of the season, he was just 35 yards short of 2,000 scrimmage yards.
Then coming into his third season the question was how can he get better? He said himself that he wanted to join the 1,000 rushing yards and receiving yards in the same season club. That seemed fairly outlandish, even coming off of the season that he did have, just because he still would’ve needed over 100 receiving yards.
However, McCaffrey went out and put his money where his mouth was, running for 1,387 yards and 15 touchdowns, while also having 116 catches for 1,005 yards and four more touchdowns. This, of course, ended in him leading the league with 2,392 yards from scrimmage and 19 touchdowns.
The Carolina Panthers finished the 2019 season 5-11 and without the production of McCaffrey, they easily could’ve gone 3-13 or 2-14 with the subpar quarterback play they got.
All of this has led to Carolina making McCaffrey the highest-paid running back in the NFL, passing Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott.
Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey is signing a four-year extension, averaging $16 million per year, making him the highest-paid running back in NFL history, sources tell ESPN.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) April 13, 2020
The new deal comes just three seasons into his career and when the Panthers could’ve waited because McCaffrey still had a season left on his rookie contract and then his fifth-year option. It was never a doubt that he would get paid before playing under his fifth-year option, but for Carolina to pay him after just three seasons shows the level of production he’s had and what he means to the franchise going forward.
With this new four-year, $64 million deal that will pay McCaffrey $16 million per season, it’s clear that he is going to be the face of the franchise as they enter a new era with Matt Rhule coming in as head coach and Joe Brady as offensive coordinator.
Carolina is in a clear rebuild with the new hiring of Rhule and them deciding to move on from Cam Newton this offseason and bring in Teddy Bridgewater to be their quarterback, at least in the short-term.
This upcoming season is likely not going to be a season in which the Panthers contend for a playoff spot, even though some of the under-the-radar moves they made this offseason were sharp moves.
Once they move past the large amount of dead money they have at the moment, there’s a good chance that the Panthers can put more weapons around McCaffrey, which will make his job easier.
For the time being though, McCaffrey is going to continue to be a threat to win Offensive Player of the Year and will likely be in MVP talks going forward. With him only being 23-years old, 24-years old when the season starts he should only now begin hitting his prime.
Also, it could be argued that this is a discount for the Panthers, especially once the guaranteed money is known. McCaffrey is one of, if not the best runner in the league as a running back, but he’s also a 1,000-yard receiver and he can do damage in the passing game lining up in the backfield, the slot and out wide. That’s also not to mention that he’s greatly improved his pass blocking throughout his three seasons.
If Carolina is going to dig themselves out of this rebuild Christian McCaffrey is going to have a lot to do with that, and now one of the best offensive players in football is the highest-paid player at his position.
Top Photo: Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images