Devonta Freeman and his agent, Kristin Campbell, talked about his camp’s desire for a new contract before the Super Bowl. That wasn’t popular timing whatsoever, but it was difficult to argue with the notion that Freeman had earned that new contract, given that he’s a former fourth round selection who has now been to consecutive Pro Bowls, and has become one of the better backs in the entire NFL.
There’s three complicating factors, though, that may make that less than a slam dunk in the 2017 calendar year.
A) Freeman is under contract through the 2017 season, which means the Falcons have basically an entirely calendar year to wrangle a new contract for him;
B) The Falcons have Tevin Coleman, a very good back in his own right who is under team control through the 2018 season;
C) The Falcons don’t look like they’ll be sitting on a ton of cap space this offseason.
With Matt Schaub snagging a two year, $9 million deal and a big extension coming for Desmond Trufant, the Falcons are going to need to spend a sizeable chunk of their remaining cap space on Freeman if they do give him an extension. As noted in item C, that might be an issue if the stud running back is looking to be one of the highest-paid backs in the NFL, which he almost certainly is. That has not escaped the notice of Luther Campbell, who is in Freeman’s immediate orbit.
Matt Schaub 9 mil Trufant 14 mil no money left for Freeman looking like a Trade to me. https://t.co/JL5DgIbHg6— LUTHER R CAMPBELL (@unclelukereal1) March 9, 2017
If you’re wondering what the former 2 Live Crew rapper has to do with Freeman, you need to read this excellent Vaughn McClure story, which recounts how Campbell became a father figure to Freeman and a ferocious advocate and supporter of his football career. It’s a great story, and it gives you a clue as to why Campbell and his wife, Freeman’s agent, are pushing so hard for a deal. They know the shelf life of a running back in today’s NFL is short, they know better than anyone how much Freeman has sacrificed to get here, and they feel like the team’s splitting carries with Coleman is in some ways a slap in the face. Whether Freeman feels that way, also, is a bit of an open question, but it’s almost beside the point. I don’t doubt for a second that he’ll show up this summer and train, and that he’ll pour it out on the field on Sundays in the 2017 season because he’s a professional and it only helps his leverage to do so.
The reality is that the Falcons likely haven’t closed the door on a Freeman extension, but they’re not going to be particularly happy if Freeman’s camp keeps dragging them through the mud on it. The Falcons figure to have some cap space to play with once they get Desmond Trufant’s extension settled, but the smart money was always on the bulk of that space going to needed improvements on the line, with Freeman getting a new deal if the numbers worked and the team felt they had the space left to make that work.
Here’s the thing: Unless Freeman and his camp are going to aggressively push for a trade, this isn’t going to do much more than mildly annoy the Falcons and perhaps grease his exit in free agency a year from now. The reality is that he’s under contract for the 2017 season, and short of an active holdout on his current contract, he simply doesn’t have a lot of leverage to bring to bear here. The risk is that by not extending him, the Falcons will be forced to find a trade partner (who will likely surrender less if the team is over a barrel) or simply let him walk in March 2018. Neither outcome is ideal given how valuable Freeman has been in this offense, and I don’t see any reason to assume he’ll suddenly stop being a great back just because Kyle Shanahan is not in the picture.
And what would you get for Freeman, anyways? As great as he is, teams are wary of overpaying for running backs in draft capital, and the days of first round picks being swapped for RBs may be over for now. The Falcons would be hard-pressed to get value for Freeman even if Freeman isn’t making his desire for a trade clear.
As always, this is a situation that bears monitoring, but it’s one that I hope won’t become poisonous. Given enough time, the Falcons and Freeman should be able to agree on a new deal, and Freeman should be here long enough to break some franchise records and help propel Atlanta to greater success. Anything else is going to be disappointing for both sides.