It’s been a rough year for Devonta Freeman. A bounceback year was the best case scenario, and if we’re being honest, that just hasn’t happened. Obviously Freeman can’t be held accountable for an offensive coordinator who decided he’d become predictable and eschew creativity in favor of tired schematic concepts. And obviously he can’t block for himself, which is problematic given the current state of the offensive line. But Freeman has to shoulder some of the blame, and his lackluster 2019 begs a lot of questions.
Looking ahead, the Falcons have a hard decision to make during the off-season. (Actually, they have a lot of hard decisions to make during the off-season.) They can cut Freeman and roll with some combination of the other running backs already on the roster and a potential addition during free agency or the draft. Or they can keep Freeman around with the understanding that a new offensive coordinator and a healthy offensive line may be able fix what ails him.
So all that said, what is Freeman’s current value?
Freeman signed a 5-year extension in August 2017 worth $41.25 million, including $22 million in guarantees. When this season ends, he will have 3 years remaining on that contract. He’s due $6.5 million in base salary in 2020, $6.25 million in base salary in 2021, and $8.25 million in base salary in 2022.
If the Falcons cut Freeman, they will save $21 million in cap space while remaining on the hook for $9 million in dead money ($6 million in 2020 and $3 million in 2021). I suck at math, but I believe that’s a net savings of $12 million over the next 3 seasons.
We all know what Freeman can do when he’s healthy. He rushed for 11 touchdowns in 2015, 11 touchdowns in 2016, and 7 touchdowns in 2017. (That said, it’s worth noting that he scored his last rushing touchdown nearly 23 months ago on December 18, 2017.) He rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2015 and 2016. He’s a true receiving threat and notwithstanding a missed block during a pretty important football game the Falcons once played, Freeman remains one of the better pass blocking running backs in the league.
All that said, this league is all about what you’ve done lately, and to be frank, Freeman hasn’t done much. Head, knee, and groin injuries kept him sidelined or limited his effectiveness during the second half of 2017 and all of last season. He’s not been his normal self this season either. Through 8 games, he’s averaging 3.4 yards a carry and has only amassed 330 rushing yards. Dirk Koetter’s inexplicable playcalling is partially to blame. So is the inept offensive line. But Ito Smith has looked much better playing in the same offense behind the same offensive line.
To be fair, Freeman is only 27 years old and there’s still plenty of fight left in that 5’8, 206 pound frame, as evidenced by his decision to throw a punch at Aaron Donald in Week 7. If the Falcons cut Freeman, they will need to search out a running back that can reliably pass block, because Smith and the rest of the running back corps are still works in progress in that regard.
Honestly the outlook is not great for Freeman. Going forward, the Falcons will need to make some hard decisions to get their cap situation under control so they can retain other key players. Freeman’s contract is an albatross and it’s become the elephant in the room. Running backs are infamously a dime a dozen, and there’s a strong argument that Freeman is, in fact, replaceable.
Your thoughts, Falcoholics?