The headlines this morning will declare that Devonta Freeman is now the highest-paid back in football, which is technically accurate. His $8.25 million annual average is higher than LeSean McCoy’s, and will be second only to Le’Veon Bell’s absurd cap number when he gets around to signing his franchise tender. It’s a deserved contract for a great running back, and that’s the big takeaway here.
The structure of the contract tells a more complex story, as it so often does. Per Ian Rapoport, $22 million of this $41.25 million extension is actually guaranteed, and it looks like well over half of the dollars in the contract are coming in the first three seasons. That means Freeman’s going to get a lot of his cash upfront, which is ideal for both Freeman, who has been working with a tiny contract, and the Falcons, who won’t be tied to Freeman for five years if something goes awry.
Details on #Falcons RB Devonta Freeman's new 5-year, $41.25M extension: He gets $22M in guarantees. $26M over three years. $15M to sign.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) August 9, 2017
We’ll need to see a year-by-year breakdown, but it’s obvious that the bulk of the guaranteed money—and indeed, the bulk of the actual money—is coming to Freeman in the first two or three years. It’s possible that most of it will actually come in 2017 and 2018, which is noteworthy primarily because Tevin Coleman’s rookie deal expires after the 2018 season. That means the Falcons could be simultaneously paying Freeman a ton over the next two seasons and leaving themselves the flexibility to pivot to Coleman as their featured back if they’d like to, though the likeliest scenario remains Coleman striking out for a sizeable contract elsewhere. I’m speculating a bit here, though, until we see the full contract broken down in greater detail.
The hope for both sides is that Freeman plays up to his contract, remains a Falcon, and easily justifies the spend, and they can figure out what to do with Coleman as their cap situation and his contract demand dictate. It’s worth noting that Freeman has been durable and the team has managed to not put too many miles on his legs by having Coleman in the fold, and he’s only 25. It’s not unreasonable to expect that he would have 4-5 great years left in him, I don’t think, even if running back careers are notoriously difficult to predict.
Ultimately, if Freeman continues to play at a high level, this deal will seem perfectly reasonable, and the gifted back will likely reach the end of his contract as the team’s all-time leading rusher.