Carolina Panthers

Free-agent Cameron Artis-Payne returns to Panthers as team seeks McCaffrey complement

The Carolina Panthers have re-signed running back Cameron Artis-Payne, announcing the move Thursday morning.

The fifth-year back returned to the Panthers on a one-year contract, extending his stay with the team that drafted him in the fifth round in the 2015 NFL draft.

Artis-Payne served as Christian McCaffrey’s primary backup last season after the team released C.J. Anderson in Week 11. While his 491 rushing yards in his first four seasons appear modest on paper, Panthers coach Ron Rivera said the team’s familiarity with Artis-Payne made them more comfortable with elevated him to second string following Anderson’s departure.

“(Artis-Payne has) got a good skill set, he’s shown it,” Rivera said at the time. “He’s good out of the backfield as well, he just hasn’t had the opportunity. From what we’ve seen through preseasons and some of the regular season play that he’s had, we felt comfortable enough to go ahead and make the move.”

The former Auburn Tiger is the second running back Carolina has signed this offseason; the team signed Charlotte native Elijah Hood to a one-year deal in February.

Rivera told reporters during the NFL Scouting Combine that Carolina is seeking a running back to spell McCaffrey, who played 91 percent of the team’s offensive snaps in 2018. He suggested the Panthers will target backs with similar skill sets as McCaffrey and praised what he called a “solid” group of running backs in the 2019 NFL draft class.

That said, whichever back earns that role likely won’t have a major workload placed on him. McCaffrey only touched the ball roughly one-third of the plays he was on the field for — the Panthers aren’t looking to lighten his responsibilities, but rather get him off the field more often.

“Understanding what Christian did last year, how many reps he played, that’s something we do have to be concerned with,” Rivera said. “Him touching the ball was no concern. It was just the extra plays. So we have to look at that and find a way to take that load from him.

“I think Christian shows you that he can carry the load no matter where he is, no matter where we run him - inside or outside, we run him out of the backfield as a receiver, that type of stuff. So really, it would be a guy who has, I would say, an almost similar type of skill set, that’s probably what we are looking for.”

Marcel Louis-Jacques covers the Carolina Panthers for the Charlotte Observer, keeping you on top of Panthers news both on the field and behind the scenes. He is a 2014 graduate of Arizona State University and grew up in Sacramento, California.