Entering the 2019 season, the top two running backs in terms of salary were Todd Gurley (Los Angeles Rams) and Ezekiel Elliott (Dallas Cowboys). Sitting at 14th overall, however, is Christian McCaffrey of the Carolina Panthers. And yet, he has piled up more yards than Elliott and Gurley combined during the first five games of the season.
According to ESPN, McCaffrey has rushed for 587 yards and added another 279 as a receiver. This gives him 866 scrimmage yards through five games, along with seven touchdowns. Elliott and Gurley, however, have combined for a mere 816 yards.
The Cowboys' back has logged 386 rushing yards and 92 receiving in the first five games of the season. Gurley has rushed for 270 yards and added another 68 as a receiving option.
Per Over The Cap, Elliott is earning $15 million on average while Gurley is pulling in $14.375 million. The Cowboys' starting RB signed his massive deal days before the regular season while Gurley put pen to paper back in 2018. McCaffrey is still on his rookie deal and is earning $4.3 million per year in average salary.
McCaffrey has one more season left (2020), as well as a fifth-year option that could be exercised prior to signing an extension, but would the Panthers risk a potential holdout?
According to the Charlotte Observer, McCaffrey has been far more involved in the offense than any other runner in the NFL. He finished 2018 playing the highest percentage of offensive snaps by any player at his position, appearing on 91.3 percent of the Panthers' offensive plays. For comparison, no other runner reached 90 percent while only two – Saquon Barkley (83) and Ezekiel Elliot (82.6) – were active on more than 80 percent of plays.
Interestingly enough, McCaffrey was actually viewed as less of a guarantee than Elliott and Gurley due to his stature (5-foot-11-inches, 202 pounds). "Lacks desired size of an every-down back," NFL Draft analyst Lance Zierlein wrote about McCaffrey when he left Stanford in 2017.
Per league rules, a potential contract extension cannot be negotiated until he completes his third season. McCaffrey is in the midst of this critical year and is producing far more consistently than his peers. He currently leads all running backs in rushing yards and accounted for three touchdowns against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.
There is little doubt that the Panthers will pay him in the coming years, especially if he continues to outperform the top-paid options around the league.