Mar 2, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey speaks to the media during the 2017 combine at Indiana Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

McCaffrey inks historic deal

With a new head coach, new coordinators and a new quarterback, the Carolina Panthers have undergone a mass overhaul in the 2020 offseason. But while their leadership, schemes and playbooks change, one thing will remain constant once football returns – Christian McCaffrey.

The All-Pro running back agreed to a four-year extension Monday worth about $64 million. With one year and a team option remaining on McCaffrey’s entry-level contract, he will earn roughly $75 million through 2025.

McCaffrey Makes NFL History Amid Skepticism

The new deal is the richest running back contract in NFL history, as McCaffrey will earn an average of $16 million per year.

The agreement comes despite the recent devaluation of the running back position by NFL experts and front offices.

Backs like Todd Gurley, Le’Veon Bell and Ezekiel Elliott, who signed a six-year deal worth $90 million last year, have been considered grossly overpaid after receiving lucrative deals.

Todd Gurley first set the mark in 2018 when he signed a historic four-year, $60 million deal with the Rams. The contract netted Gurley about $15 million a year and it seemed to be just about right for the 2017 Offensive Player of the Year.

Fast forward to 2020, and the Rams cut Gurley after deeming that his cap hit was not worth the back’s ongoing injury concerns after he accumulated 857 rushing yards, 207 receiving yards and 14 total touchdowns in 2019.

Meanwhile, Elliott’s deal remains under the microscope and skepticism looms.

Elliott played only 83.4% of the Cowboys’ offensive snaps in 2019. And while he doubled the number of rushing touchdowns from 2018 to 2019, Elliott rushed for just 84.8 yards per game.

That seems like a lot. But when you consider that he rushed for 95.6 yards per game the previous year with just three more carries, the criticism makes more sense. Especially since Elliot rushed for 98.3 yards per game on 59 fewer carries in 2017.

The NFL’s former highest-paid running back also saw a decrease in receiving production. He saw 24 fewer targets and amassed 147 fewer yards from 2018 to 2019.

With McCaffrey’s new contract, the Carolina Panthers certainly hope that he can buck the current trend of overpaid running backs.

Thus far, he’s not only proven that he can, but he’s also proven that he will.

McCaffrey’s Past Production

When looking at McCaffrey’s past stats and analytics, one thing can be determined: McCaffrey’s historic production warrants a historic contract.

McCaffrey’s league-leading 2,392 yards from scrimmage in 2019 ranks only behind Marshall Faulk and Chris Johnson all-time for single-season production.

As gaudy as that stat is, it still doesn’t properly illustrate McCaffrey’s pass-catching ability. And it definitely doesn’t reflect his importance to the Panthers’ offense.

So how about this? He also became just the third player in NFL history to amass at least 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in a single season.

That says quite a bit. He ranks with Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk and 49er great Roger Craig as the only players to reach that milestone. But it still doesn’t capture how integral he is to Carolina’s offense.

This stat does, however. The All-Pro running back accounted for 44% of the team’s total yards on offense and 51% of the team’s touchdowns on offense.

That production shouldn’t falter.

With new head coach Matt Rhule’s acquisition of former LSU passing coordinator Joe Brady, the Panthers’ playbook is expected to emulate the success that Brady, Joe Burrow and company garnered in Baton Rouge.

That’s great news for McCaffrey, as his multi-dimensional skillset could evoke greater results than he has already produced.

In fact, it’s not inconceivable to see McCaffrey featured as the building block for the entire offense.

Joe Brady’s Offense

Perhaps Matt Rhule’s greatest offseason move was extracting Joe Brady from college football’s national champions, LSU.

Brady became widely known as an offensive guru after installing a brand new system in one season at LSU, after years of stagnant offensive schemes and playcalling.

Under Brady, quarterback Joe Burrow led the nation in passing yards, passing touchdowns, completion percentage and quarterback rating. Likely the first overall pick in the 2020 Draft, Burrow won nearly every award imaginable for a collegiate quarterback. Most notably, Burrow captured the 2019 Heisman Trophy.

While Brady won’t have Joe Burrow running his playbook in Carolina, he will have a player who he’s familiar with under center.

Brady spent two seasons as an offensive assistant in New Orleans in 2017 and 2018.

Newly acquired Carolina quarterback Teddy Bridgewater signed with the Saints before the 2018 season.

The familiarity between the two likely contributed to Bridgewater’s signing, as Brady helped incorporate a Saints-like scheme at LSU. The Tigers’ 2019 offense featured a West Coast offense archetype, similar to the offense Sean Payton runs in New Orleans. Brady’s addition of Run-Pass-Option plays further diversified the playbook and revolutionized LSU’s brand of football.

Matt Rhule likely hired Brady as his first NFL offensive coordinator with a similar idea in mind.

Playmakers in Space

With Joe Burrow slinging the ball effortlessly across the field and receivers like Ja’Marr Chase, Justin Jefferson and Thaddeus Moss making plays, LSU’s Swiss Army Knife, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, flew under the radar.

The running back, who is likely an early-round pick in the upcoming draft, was nearly impossible to account for. When game-planning, defensive coordinators had to prepare for his abilities as a traditional running back. But what caused several headaches for defenses across the country was his ability as a receiver.

Edwards-Helaire averaged nearly 6.6 yards per carry.

He amassed 1,414 rushing yards and rushed for 16 touchdowns.

That production is impressive by itself.

Now add his 55 receptions and 453 receiving yards. Now you have a multi-dimensional threat capable of torturing defenses on the ground and through the air.

Brady was able to line him up in the backfield and run him between the tackles. He was able to throw it to him out of the backfield. And he was able to clear the backfield and line Edwards-Helaire up as a fifth wide receiver.

That is how we can expect Brady to use Christian McCaffrey.

As the Panthers’ primary playmaker, you can expect Brady will implement several plays and strategies to get McCaffrey the ball in open space.

As Edwards-Helaire said at the NFL Draft Combine, “The athletes they have, it’s going to be pretty fun watching them.”

About Josh Demers

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