By: Robert Bishop
Back again, and the Carolina Panthers reached an extension with running back Christian McCaffrey that will see the superstar play-maker reset the market for his position. McCaffrey’s new deal is worth $64 million over four years, a huge sum of money to commit to a running back, though if any running back is worth this level of financial commitment, it is McCaffrey. Coming off as season in which he eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing and receiving, McCaffrey—only 23 years old—is a great bet to remain a high-level talent for the duration of the extension.
However, there is a huge cause for concern surrounding the timing of McCaffrey’s extension for the Panthers. Given the franchise’s lack of talent around him, and the strength of the NFC South as a whole, there is an argument to be made that the Panthers would be better off shopping McCaffrey in an effort to rebuild the roster with multiple pieces. In the short-term, the Panthers will have to contend with sharing a division with Tom Brady and Drew Brees, a pair of quarterbacks in the twilight of their careers. Prior to the extension, the Panthers had McCaffrey under team control for the next two seasons at well below market value. Now, Carolina is voluntarily committing a hefty sum while limiting the ability to address the other glaring needs across the roster.
As the NFL draft continues to creep closer, speculation is bound to become commonplace hinting at unexpected developments. One such example came on Monday evening with news that Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm is emerging as a potential favorite for teams that miss out on the top signal callers in the pool. Fromm lacks potential, with his ceiling looking to be that of a game manager or long-term back-up. However, serviceable back-up quarterbacks have tremendous value in the NFL, and while selecting Fromm won’t sell many jerseys, it could prove to be a winning decision in the later rounds of the draft.
San Francisco was expected to pursue one of the draft’s top-tier receivers with the first-round pick acquired in the DeForest Buckner deal with the Colts. Instead, the 49ers are becoming increasingly linked to interior defensive lineman Javon Kinlaw. Obviously as a rookie, Kinlaw will be a step down from Buckner, but he will be more cost effective and boasts the upside to give San Francisco elite lineman in back-to-back years alongside last year’s first round selection, Nick Bosa. The 49ers could look to add Kinlaw as a replacement for Buckner along the defensive line with pick 13 while addressing the glaring need for receiver at 31, where Brandon Aiyuk, Jalen Reagor, Laviska Shenault, and others could still be on the board.
Like San Francisco, the Las Vegas Raiders boast possession of two first round picks. Also like San Francisco, the Raiders have a desperate need at wide receiver. Las Vegas picks at 12 and 19, putting the Raiders in prime position to potentially land one of the consensus top two receivers in the draft, Jerry Jeudy or CeeDee Lamb. There is a possibility that both Jeudy and Lamb slide out of the top ten and are on the board for Las Vegas at 12, which would be great news for the Raiders but also for the 49ers. Either Lamb or Jeudy would offer an immense upgrade to Vegas’s receiving corps, which currently ranks among the worst in the NFL.
Vegas has made some excellent moves during the off-season, but the franchise enters the draft with another glaring need: cornerback. Fortunately, like receiver, the cornerback class is fairly deep this year, setting the Raiders up to address both of its most pressing needs within the first 20 selections. At 19, the Raiders have to be hoping C.J. Henderson slides, though it is unlikely he makes it past the equally desperate Falcons at 16. Provided Henderson is off the board, Kristian Fulton, who is an excellent fit with Vegas’s press system, would be a realistic best-case scenario. There’s a very good chance Oakland emerges from the first day of the draft as massive winners.