First he joined the 1K club, and now Christian McCaffrey is in the prime retail estate of the National Football League’s Millionaire’s Row.
The 23-year-old from Castle Rock, Colorado has sealed a blockbuster deal to become the highest-paid running back in NFL history.
McCaffrey is now the $64million man, with a four-year agreement with the Carolina Panthers, the franchise whom he was drafted by with their eighth overall pick in 2017.
The new contract puts him at $16million a year, edging the former Stanford man ahead of Los Angeles Rams RB Todd Gurley ($14.4 million) and the previous benchmark, Dallas Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott ($15 million).
Providing running backs with massive contracts hasn't been the best move in recent NFL history - see the injury-blighted Gurley - with the general thinking that running backs tend to get injured more than most other positions and with a notoriously short professional life-span rarely breaching 30. A franchise can tend to find a serviceable running back for cheap rather than overpay for one.
But McCaffrey’s rewards arrive as a result of proving himself the Panthers’ best RB and their best receiver, and as such an integral component of the Carolina offense that replacing him would be a hard-ask.
McCaffrey, or ‘CMC’, ended his 2019 season with 1387 rushing yards, 1005 receiving yards, and 19 total touchdowns. Thus, his three-year-spell in the NFL so far culminated in his becoming only the third player ever in competition’s history to rush for 1,000 yards and receive for 1,000 yards in a single season, making him an elite member of the 1K-1K Club.
A running back must possess keen awareness, speed, running and blocking ability and, vitally, intelligence. As one of the best conditioned players in the league, McCaffrey epitomises the elite all-American athlete. He trains like a track athlete heading to the Olympics and it shows on the field. He has the explosive, ball-carrying, bell-cow type characteristics of a great running back and the route running and hands of a wide receiver.
The Panthers are virtually paying for two players for the price of one, and preemptively investing heavily, but astutely, in the face of their franchise for the foreseeable future.
It is the quarter-back position that has long been far and away the most monetarily rewarded in the league. For the 2019 season, 34 NFL quarterbacks make at least $5 million in average salary per year (overthecap.com). 20 make at least $10 million a season. 19 make at least $20 million. The current earnings record stands at the career tally of Eli Manning, with $253.2 million, and who once earned $37m within a single year.
But the NFL is an ever evolving sport. How it is played in 2020 is very different to how it was played even since the start of this century.
It is still the perfect storm of athleticism, skill and strategy (coaching, tactics, culture) but every team in the 32-franchise league is trying to think of new and innovative ways of using those three things to gain a competitive advantage.
Some teams are obviously much better prepared than others in embracing that future facing progressive attitude and setting up for success.
The Carolina Panthers have prepared and pounced, stretching the standard into the great unknown to advance their own strategy, which satellites around their richly-rewarded running back.
As such, Christian McCaffrey is the poster child of where the NFL is in 2020.
And for the player himself, in the current isolation period, McCaffrey won’t be able to spend that wedge of $64m as frivolously as he may have liked, but it’s likely that at least Amazon are now preparing for a hefty order from somewhere in the Charlotte area.