By Jeremy Rubin
Former Cardinal football standout Christian McCaffrey ’16 agreed to a 4-year, $64 million contract extension with the Carolina Panthers on Monday. This extension, which won’t officially kick in until after the final year of his rookie contract, makes him the highest-paid running back in the NFL ever and will keep him in Panthers blue through the 2025 season.
Last season, McCaffrey compiled 1,387 rushing yards and another 1,005 through the air on 116 catches. He is just the third player in NFL history to finish with more than 1,000 yards in both categories. His gaudy pass-catching total also set a new record for running backs in a single season (the previous high-water mark was 107, which McCaffrey also set in 2018). His 2,392 all-purpose scrimmage yards were the third-highest total ever.
Panthers head coach Matt Rhule spoke with Kyle Bailey of WFNZ Sports Radio on Tuesday to discuss the player and contract. Teams are often reluctant to give running backs long-term guaranteed contracts due to the volatility at the position, but McCaffrey’s $16 million-per-year deal goes against that trend.
“I don’t look at Christian [McCaffrey] as just a running back,” Rhule said to Bailey. “We see him as a weapon. We see him as a person that can be a receiver, a running back, can be a returner. As important as anything else is the true leader [McCaffrey is] on the team, and he does everything the right way.”
McCaffrey was selected eighth overall in the 2017 draft. His dual-threat talent as a pass-catching running back made him an intriguing option and one Carolina could not pass up. However, at 205 pounds, he is lighter than a traditional “workhorse” running back, and many analysts were wary of his durability and questioned whether he could ever be a feature back for an offense.
Three years later, McCaffrey has proved doubters wrong. He has not missed a single game in his professional career. The 23-year-old played in more than 90% of his team’s snaps in each of the past two years, well ahead of other notable running backs such as Ezekiel Elliott (83.4 percent last season), Leonard Fournette (82.9 percent) and Derrick Henry (59.2 percent).
As in his current role on the Panthers, McCaffrey lined up all over the field throughout his three-year tenure on the Farm.
Following a freshman year in which he averaged more than 60 all-purpose yards, McCaffrey exploded onto the scene as a sophomore. His 2,019 rushing yards during this 2015 season eclipsed Stanford’s previous record by more than 300 (only to be broken by Bryce Love’s 2,118 in 2017). His 3,864 all-purpose yard total is the most in college football history. To cap it off, McCaffrey was named the 2015 Associated Press Player of the Year, the first in Cardinal history, while also leading Stanford to a blowout 45-16 Rose Bowl win.
McCaffrey returned to the Farm for his junior year, which would turn out to be his last, and averaged a phenomenal 211.6 all-purpose yards per game. Despite playing a full year less than many other record holders, McCaffrey’s 6,987 career all-purpose yards rank second in Cardinal history. He also has four of the top-six highest single-game yardage totals for the Cardinal, including an otherworldly 461 against USC in 2015.
After three record-breaking seasons on the Farm, McCaffrey left for the NFL with nothing left to prove. Now, another three astounding seasons later, McCaffrey received a well-deserved raise as Carolina enters a new era of football with McCaffrey as the face of the franchise.
Contact Jeremy Rubin at jjmrubin ‘at’ stanford.edu.