Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman signed a five year, $41.25 million extension last August. That means he’s scheduled to be a Falcon until the end of his age 30 season in 2022. (Interestingly all his bonus money is paid out by 2021, so the Falcons could cut him before that 5th year without a cap hit.) My math skills are lackluster, but if I’m carrying the 3 properly and switching the numerator with the denominator as I should, then yes, I can confirm: that’s a long time. More to the point, the front office knew what they were doing when they handed Freeman his long-term deal. They were confident in their investment.
Given the franchise’s commitment to Freeman, I’m a little shocked by some of the anti-Freeman chatter that’s been in vogue lately. I’ve seen a gaggle of fans demand an immediate trade coupled with a Tevin Coleman extension. It’s as if Freeman’s two concussions (that we know of) and two ligament tears over the last five months didn’t actually happen. It’s as if Freeman was always a lesser offensive threat than Coleman. It’s as if Freeman isn’t the same running back that earned that five year extension.
Look, I understand where some of you are coming from. A lot of drama surrounded his contract negotiations, so it’s not crazy that’d you expect him to earn his money. I’ll be honest, even I grew frustrated with his representatives last off-season. From the pre-Super Bowl airing of grievances by his agent to some of the unnecessary Twitter chatter by members of his inner circle, it was exhausting. But let’s not gloss over the facts.
So what are the facts? First, Coleman is a talented running back. According to Pro Football Focus, he was the 28th best running back in the league this season. His overall PFF grade was 76.5, which makes him “average” according to their metrics. Arguably he’d have earned a much higher grade, had offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian used him consistent with his skill set. PFF has Freeman as the NFL’s 18th best running back in 2017, with a rating (80.2) that’s only slightly better than Coleman’s. Freeman rushed 196 times over 14 games for 865 yards and 7 touchdowns. Coleman rushed 156 times over 15 games for 628 yards and 5 touchdowns. Bottom line, Coleman is a good running back, but he didn’t do anything this year to somehow permanently eclipse Freeman.
This is still the same Freeman that led the league in touchdowns two seasons ago. The same Freeman that made the Pro Bowl in 2015 and 2016. The same Freeman that was a top 50 player in both the 2015 and 2016 iteration of The NFL Top 100. What alternate universe have we landed in where throwing him under the bus after an injury-plagued season make sense?
I’m certain some of you will crucify me for calling out this anti-Freeman sentiment. And I know, you’re a fan, and you waste lots of time, money, and energy on this team. But please, have a little perspective. Is Freeman worth his contract? I have no idea; we’ll have to wait and see. Right now this trade talk is absurdly premature. So do me a favor: relax, take a deep breath, and just enjoy having both Freeman and Coleman under contract while we still can.