The Atlanta Falcons’ front office is slowly working to sign running back Devonta Freeman to a long-term contract extension that will likely make him one of the NFL’s highest paid players at his position. This offseason, Freeman has made it clear that he wants a big contract and feels that his performance on the field makes him deserving of a big payday. While many critics today feel that no NFL team should invest too much money into the running back position given the short shelf life of running backs combined with the emphasis on heavy passing offenses around the league, Freeman has made the case that he at least deserves some kind of bump in his pay from what he makes now.
Yes, Freeman’s current salary is based on where he was drafted in the 2014 NFL Draft. The rookie wage scales dictate how much a player’s rookie contract will be worth. The lower you are drafted, the lower you are paid. But Freeman is entering his 4th season in the NFL and players will generally begin to negotiate for their first pro-rookie contract extension around this time. While the naysayers will argue Freeman doesn’t deserve the big money, here are 3 reasons to make a case for why he does:
Freeman has been the featured back with the Falcons for the last 2 seasons. During his rookie year in 2014, he served as a backup to Steven Jackson as he became acclimated to the NFL’s playing style. In his 2 full seasons as a starter, Freeman’s rushing stats have been nearly identical. In 2015 and 2016, he rushed for over 1,000 yards and had 11 touchdowns in each season. He also averaged higher than 4 yards per carry in each of those seasons as well.
Another impressive stat for Freeman since he became a starter is his yards from scrimmage numbers. According to FalconsWire, since 2015, Freeman is second in the entire NFL in yards from scrimmage. His teammate Julio Jones is at the top of that stat category.
Freeman has put up these impressive rushing numbers all while staying relatively healthy. He has played in all but one game since he entered the NFL. While his 3 seasons in the league may not provide a large sample size for his overall durability, it should be comforting to Falcons fans that Freeman has been able to survive the physical grind of the NFL fairly well early in his career. Freeman’s durability is most likely aided by having Tevin Coleman on the Falcons roster to help shoulder some of the rushing responsibilities throughout the season. The Falcons’ system with Freeman and Coleman has proven thus far that Freeman does not appear to be overworked or overused. That lighter workload can hopefully reduce his risk of injury.
2. Dual Threat
While Freeman’s rushing numbers put him among the NFL’s best, his receiving numbers as a running back are extremely impressive. According to official NFL.com stats, Freeman had 127 receptions in his first two seasons as a starter, with 73 in 2015. He put up those numbers as a running back. There are starting receivers in the NFL who don’t put up those kinds of numbers.
Freeman also averaged a career-high 8.6 yards per reception last season, which is likely attributed to his ability to accumulate yards after the catch. While Freeman makes NFL defenses respect him as a runner, he has proven himself to be a legitimate dual threat out of the backfield that provides Matt Ryan with another weapon to use in the passing game. Freeman’s versatility makes him a more valuable player and serves as a reason he may deserve a lucrative contract extension.
3. The Need of a Strong Running Game
Despite the Falcons’ wealth of receivers and an MVP quarterback, Freeman (along with Coleman), provides the Falcons with a much needed running game that puts fear into NFL defenses each and every week. The best thing for the Falcons’ passing game is to have a strong running game. NFL defenses have been forced to respect Freeman’s ability as a rusher which has opened up the passing game for Atlanta tremendously over the last two seasons. While players like Matt Ryan and Julio Jones make the big, exciting plays in the passing game that everyone remembers, the stability that Freeman provides to the Falcons’ offense through his running cannot and should not be overlooked. If the Falcons want to return to the Super Bowl again this season, Freeman will undoubtedly be a huge part of it.