Falcons’ Freeman underpaid but determining his value isn’t easy

Falcons running back Devonta Freeman reported to training camp and is in negotiations for a contract extension. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

FLOWERY BRANCH — Devonta Freeman, who’s arguably the most underpaid player in the NFL today, made the right decision to report on time to Falcons’ training camp. It reaffirmed his intention to minimize the potential distraction of his contract negotiations.

But this never was expected to be an easy negotiation and if it drags on it won’t be a surprise. As good as Freeman is and as valuable as he is in the Falcons’ offense, his overarching value to the team’s future probably isn’t as high as he wants to believe.

That’s not meant as a shot at the fourth-year running back. He has far outplayed his rookie contract, which will pay him $1.797 million this season — a total payout that ranks tied for 31st among NFL back (barely ahead of former Falcon Jacquizz Rodgers of Tampa Bay). Freeman has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons and in the last two years has combined for 3,175 rushing-receiving yards and 27 touchdowns.

But there are some football and economic realities his camp must come to terms with:

• Football reality: Matt Ryan and Julio Jones are the Falcons’ offensive stars. In a pass-happy league where running backs have been devalued, it’s questionable whether the Falcons place as high a value on Freeman as they do No. 2 receiver Mohamed Sanu, who last year signed a five-year, $32.5 million contract with $14 million guaranteed. (That’s an important bar to remember in these negotiations). He’s also not going to be paid on the same level as Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell (who likely will play for a $12.1 million franchise tag after rejecting a five-year offer) or Buffalo’s LeSean McCoy (five years, $40.5 million with $18.25 guaranteed).

Another factor: Some consider Tevin Coleman, who shares running back duties, just as good as Freeman. Coleman is one of the fastest players on the team in the open field and his contract is up following the 2018 season (one year after Freeman). If the Falcons set the bar too high with Freeman’s contract, it’s going to be difficult to keep Coleman.

Finally, it’s worth noting the Falcons drafted a running back in the fifth round, Brian Hill of Wyoming, who rushed for 1,860 yards and 22 touchdowns last season.

• Economic reality: Jones (five years, $71.3 million) and Desmond Trufant (five years, $68.7 million) have been given big deals. Ryan’s deal has only two seasons left — as does Coleman, left tackle Jake Matthews’ and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett (who had three sacks in the Super Bowl and is an emerging leader on the defense). Ryan is coming off an MVP season and logic says he will get a bundle (again). The Falcons presumably will want to get his deal done sometime next year. So again, fitting in a big contract for Freeman won’t be easy.

It’s a delicate situation because the Falcons don’t want to lose Freeman but they also know they can’t over-commit to him. And if this deal somehow falls apart, they’ll survive.

Previously on Freeman: Falcons Freeman says he won’t let negotiations affect him

Also previously: Falcons not ‘trading’ Freeman but Tweets forecast ugly negotiations

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13 comments
Perktweety
Perktweety

Without Freeman you will see a big decline in the offense.  You don't realize that his presence on the field makes the defensive coordinator job a living hell.  He has the heart and is a beast.  Don't blame the Super Bowl lost on him, if he received the ball on the last three plays the Falcons would have their Champhionship.  Get real!!!



Perktweety
Perktweety

Freeman needs to leave Atlanta and go to Tampa Bay.  This is the team that will appreciate talent and will be the next Super Bowl Champions.   Atlanta will find money to pay Matt Ryan but can't pay the guys who are getting it done.  TB Name is Winston!!!

gfw
gfw

"And if this deal somehow falls apart, they’ll survive."

I'm not so sure there wouldn't be a significant drop-off.  Reviewing tapes a few weeks ago of each game last year, I saw in Freeman someone who can do (who did do) things no one else on the Falcons can do...maybe no one else in the NFL can do, including Bell (who, admittedly, is overall a more valuable back).  What I'm referring to is how Freeman so often made so much out of nothing.  He routinely made good yardage whether the blocks were there or not.  Talk about an invaluable skill set!  I think those who are focused on that one missed block are missing the big picture.  I think we're a much better team with Freeman. 

RashedeHageman
RashedeHageman

'TA needs to quit worrying about his money and remember the Brotherhood.  We out here to help one another - not pad our pockets with cashish!  He's getting more than $1M - I ain't crying for him.  This kind of attitude is what got Roddy White chopped!

nyctraffic
nyctraffic

Freeman's missed block probably cost the team a half-billion dollars in its current valuation.   Maybe he'll give Blank a discount in light of that little mistake?

Mickeydgd
Mickeydgd

How much would he be worth if he picked up a blitz in a Super Bowl???

Hell Horsey
Hell Horsey

No passrusher lined up against me shall be blocked.

RTPIV
RTPIV

AJC, the spammers are outsmarting you

Dis custed
Dis custed

Use him up this year and then take the option to extend a faster fresher Coleman going forward. Simple truth is he has retained the wrong management team and that he will end up elsewhere.

TOJacket
TOJacket

Make him an offer he won't refuse and lets get locked in on preparing for another great season.

Hell Horsey
Hell Horsey

@TOJacket Another season of not winning a Superbowl, as usual.  The Birds are TOAST!