Christian McCaffrey got paid on Monday. The 23-year-old running back and the Carolina Panthers agreed on a four-year contract extension through 2024. The deal is worth $16 million a season, making McCaffrey the highest-paid running back in NFL history. Given his versatility and production so far in his career, the deal is absolutely worth the risk for the Panthers.
McCaffrey has been a machine out of the backfield for the Panthers since they selected him with the eighth pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. While he only gained 435 yards on 117 carries as a rookie, he still caught 80 passes for 651 yards. In 2018, Carolina figured out how to use him properly.
During his second season, McCaffrey rushed for 1,098 yards and seven touchdowns on 219 carries (5.0 yards per carry), while catching 107 passes for 867 yards and six more scores. In 2019 he was even better, rushing for 1,387 yards and 15 touchdowns on 287 carries (4.8 yards per carry), while snagging 116 passes for 1,005 yards and four scores. He picked up an insane 114 first downs last season on top of all that.
Another fun stat? McCaffrey is the only player in NFL history to top 2,500 rushing and 2,500 receiving yards in his first three seasons.
McCaffrey is a versatile, hybrid option out of the backfield, which is why this contract makes sense. He's not just your average running back. He can line up all over the field, but is particularly effective out of the slot. He's fast and can run through tackles when needed. He does everything an NFL team needs a modern running back to do.
Paying a normal running back this much money would be insane. The hit the Rams took on Todd Gurley's contract proved that. But while Gurley could catch passes out of the backfield, McCaffrey is a completely different kind of back. He's not a true running back, he's a multi-faceted weapon. This is the only time giving a big chunk of cash to a "running back" should be acceptable.
The numbers next to the dollar sign might make your eyes pop out of your head when looking at today's running back market. But when you've actually watched where McCaffrey thrives, it makes total sense. Matt Rhule and new offensive coordinator Joe Brady will find ways to open up Carolina's offense even more and unleash McCaffrey.
The Panthers have made big changes this offseason. McCaffrey's extension shows they're committed to keeping him as the focal point of the offense for a long time. It's a worthwhile gamble.