The Panthers are clearly going to build around Christian McCaffrey

Carolina Panthers

The Carolina Panthers will make Christian McCaffrey the highest-paid running back in the NFL, and it’s clear they will be building around him.

Entering the fourth year of his rookie contract, with a fifth-year option a formality, the Carolina Panthers and running back Christian McCaffrey were starting talks about a contract extension.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the two sides have agreed to a four-year extension worth $16 million per year. The deal will make McCaffrey the highest-paid running back in NFL history.

McCaffrey led the league in yards from scrimmage last year (2,392), with 19 total touchdowns on a league-high 403 touches. He has topped 100 catches in each of the last two seasons, while rarely coming off the field (90-plus percent snap rates each season), and in 2019 he became the third running back in league history to top 1,000 yards as a rusher and receiver in the same season.

McCaffrey is still about two months shy of his 24th birthday (June 7), so he should have a lot of useful seasons left. In any case, the Panthers are clearly building around him as a new era starts under head coach Matt Rhule.

With those two years of contract control left, the Panthers have done the same thing with McCaffrey that the Rams did with Todd Gurley. Of course that deal went off the rails quickly, as a knee issue clearly sapped Gurley in 2018 and he was cut this offseason. Bad recent deals for David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell also lead to questions about the wisdom of investing big in a running back.

But McCaffrey is clearly more than your traditional running back. He is a legit all-around weapon (266 targets over the last two seasons), and he has not missed a game in his career. Heavy deployment as a receiver also takes him away from higher impact, short area hits from bigger bodies, thus taking away some level of injury risk.

Speaking to reporters last week, Rhule pointed to making McCaffrey the Panthers’ building block.

“To label him a tailback, that’s not respectful to him. He’s a tailback-slash-wideout. He can do it all — returner,” “So I’m anxious to get him out there, I’m anxious to continue to build this thing around him. I think he’s going to be a special player for us.”

Next: 2020 NFL Draft: 5 positions the Packers should target

If/when McCaffrey signed a contract extension, on a surface level he was going to usurp Ezekiel Elliott and set a new per-year financial bar for running backs. But if Rhule’s words weren’t clear enough, the proof is now in the pudding that the Panthers will build around McCaffrey.

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