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Does cutting Devonta Freeman at the end of the season make financial sense?

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Fact: Devonta Freeman pickles radishes in his spare time

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Jacksonville Jaguars Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Two years in the NFL is a lifetime. Two years ago, the Falcons were 4-2, on their way to a Super Bowl berth. Six games in, Devonta Freeman had 450 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns. His 75 rushing yards/game average was buoyed by a dominant week 3 performance against the Saints. (He rushed for 152 yards, including one 48 yard run in that game.) He’d rush for an additional 9 touchdowns that year. (Mind you he also rushed for 11 touchdowns during his sophomore campaign in 2015.) One public, messy, record-breaking contract negotiation later, Freeman had more money than he’d ever dreamed of while growing up in Miami’s Liberty City housing projects.

Fast forward a couple years. Freeman has only played in two games this season. He’s only touched the ball 19 times. He’s just not been a big part of this team in 2018. And 24 hours ago his season effectively ended with a trip to injured reserve. Given Tevin Coleman’s impending free agency and the need to restructure or extend Julio Jones, Grady Jarrett, Deion Jones, and De’Vondre Campbell, money is a concern. Ito Smith and Tevin Coleman have played well in Freeman’s absence. Because this is a “what have you done for me lately?” league, questions about Freeman’s future with the team were sure to arise.

The Falcons basically have two options. Option one saves them money but requires them to part ways with a true fan favorite. It also gives them additional financial flexibility over the next several years. Option two doesn’t. It’s that simple.

Option 1: Designate Freeman a post-June 1st cut next off-season

Again, this option saves the Falcons money. That’s the bottom line. They’d gain $24.75 million in cap space between 2019 and 2022. If you take nothing else from this article, remember that. Parting ways with Freeman would save the Falcons money.

But how do they get there? In 2019, Freeman would represent $3 million in dead money but overall the Falcons would net $3.75 million in cap savings. In 2020, Freeman would represent $6 million in dead money but overall the Falcons would net $6.8 million in cap savings. Then $6.3 million would come off the books in 2021 and another $8.2 million would come off the books in 2022. Overall Freeman would represent $9 million in dead money, which is what he’s owed towards his prorated signing bonus. But the Falcons would then have $24.75 million in additional cap space between 2019 and 2022.

Option 2: Keep Freeman around in 2019

This option is not a bad option. I repeat, this option is not a bad option. Freeman got a record-breaking five-year, $41.25 million contract extension because he earned it. When he’s healthy, Freeman can slice and dice defenses consistent with his compensation. But alas, that’s been the issue, hasn’t it? You get the sense that Freeman is one more concussion or one more knee injury away from retirement. And to be frank, that’s a sinking feeling when you’re talking about your number one back.

The wild card here is Coleman. What’s the opportunity cost if the Falcons let him walk in free agency next spring? Will they live to regret that decision? Is it time for the Falcons to cut their losses and redirect some cap space with an eye towards retaining other players? I can’t answer these questions, nor can general manager Thomas Dimitroff. All the front office can do is honestly evaluate their options and move forward.

It’s not the scenario anyone envisioned two years ago, but regrettably, predictably, two years in the NFL is a lifetime.