In the supposed era of the declining value of running backs, today’s $16 million-per-year deal puts the position back on the pay-day map thanks to Christian McCaffrey.
Earlier today, McCaffrey agreed to terms with the Carolina Panthers as he signed a four-year extension, which averages out to $16 million per year. The deal makes McCaffrey the highest-paid running back in the history of the NFL.
The $6 Million Dollar Man vs McCaffrey
Back in 1973, a new TV show called the $6 Millon Dollar Man took the country by storm. The show was about Steve Austin, an astronaut who is seriously injured when his spaceship crashes. Austin undergoes a government-sanctioned surgery, which rebuilds several of Steve’s body parts with machine parts, making him a bionic man.
When Steve recovers, his bionic parts enable him to have superhuman strength and speed. He is better, faster, and stronger than before. With these powers, he goes on to battle evil. By the way, Marvel Studios had nothing to do with this show.
The show featured his bionic running capabilities in slow motion which is what McCaffrey has been doing to defenses since his college days at Stanford.
McCaffrey who is coming off a fantastic 2019 season in which he rushed for 1,387 yards and 15 touchdowns, also added another 1,005 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns. He finished the season with over 2,300 yards and 19 touchdowns of total production without any bionic legs.
Here’s What McCaffrey said About The Deal.
“I’m so excited to continue my career in Carolina. I want to thank Mr. Tepper, Marty Hurney, and Coach Rhule for the opportunity to help lead this great franchise, and to all my teammates for their help along the way. And to Panthers fans, KEEP POUNDING!”
The difference between Austin and McCaffrey is Austin got faster and stronger as he aged, which is something that doesn’t occur for most mortal running backs. McCaffery who is just 23 years old probably has the best chance of living up to his contract because of his running style and age. Still, I would have said the same thing about Todd Gurley back in 2018.
Paying Running Backs Big Money Is A Gamble
The track record of success for running backs with large contracts has been horrific in recent years. Below is a list of deals that haven’t paid off so far.
1. David Johnson inked a three-year, $39 million dollar deal with $32 million in guaranteed money. This offseason Johnson was part of that terrible Bill O’Brien anti-master piece which sent Johnson to The Texans in exchange for DeAndre Hopkins. Injuries, lack of production and age have turned the Johnson deal into a classic Hollywood flop.
2. Le’Veon Bell who sat out an entire season signed a four-year deal with the Jets last year. The $52.2 million contract came with $27 million in guaranteed dollars. Bell who rushed for under 800 yards last season looked like a shell of his former self. At times last season Bell looked so slow, that I think I actually saw a player with the last name “Retirement’ almost tackle him. Bell averaged 3.2 yards per rushing attempt, which seems incredibly low for someone who just scored a big-money contract. Yesterday I watched Paul Pierce trying to jump in the NBA’s Horse Challenge and it reminded of Bell’s lack of performance last season. Sometimes age just catches up with you.
3. Saving the best worst deal for the last, in 2018 Todd Gurley signed a
four-year, $57.5 million extension with $45 million guaranteed. Gurley who’s fall from running back stardom came full circle just two years into his deal as he was flat out cut by the LA Rams this offseason.
The Backside of Career Mountain
Personally, I’ve always believed that a great running back can turn a 4 -12 team into a playoff contender, but the issue with large contracts for running backs has always been they seem to happen when a running back is slowly jogging down the backside of ‘career mountain.’
The reality is running backs historically take more punishment than any other position so its not surprising that their best statically years are almost always in the first four years of their career. This is why big-money deals tend to not make any financial sense for teams, even if the players’ past performance indicates they deserve the deal.