With free agency looming for a number of key players for Atlanta such as Grady Jarrett, Jake Matthews, Tevin Coleman, and De’Vondre Campbell, it’s almost certain that one or two of these guys will have new homes. Unfortunately, given Coleman’s status as the 2nd string back, he’s almost as good as gone after the 2018-2019 season. The Falcons are going to be tight on cap space for the foreseeable future, and it’s bittersweet. The reason they are tied up is because they have to retain the players that they’ve drafted. It is great they are drafting so well, but now Dimitroff has to work to retain all of these guys. With Julio Jones demanding a pay raise, the situation is even more complicated. Last season, Devonta Freeman signed a 5 year extension for $41.25 million with around $22 million guaranteed. He’s raking in $8.5 million, the highest payday for a running back outside of guys named Le’Veon Bell, who is operating under the franchise tag and is threatening to sit out half of the season until he receives a new deal. It’s no secret running back situations in the NFL are very fluid, look at guys like Priest Holmes and Doug Martin. You can be on top of the league one minute, and gone the next. It’s a sad reality, so contracts for bell cow running backs must be very carefully thought out .
Let’s take a look at Freeman and Coleman side by side for their careers:
Devonta Freeman (4 Seasons): 753 Carries, 3248 Yards, 30 Rushing TDs, 193 Receptions, 1582 Yards, 7 Receiving TDs
Freeman YPC: 4.3
Freeman YPR: 8.2
Tevin Coleman (3 Seasons): 361 Carries, 1540 Yards, 14 Rushing TDs, 60 Receptions, 734 Yards, 6 Receiving TDs
Coleman YPC: 4.3
Coleman YPR: 12.2
Both of these guys are excellent running backs, and the Falcons are truly lucky to have both of them. However, I think the front office made a mistake by extending Freeman and pretty much showing Coleman the door. As noted by the yards per reception, Coleman is much more efficient in the passing game. He’s a Le’Veon Bell/David Johnson/Alvin Kamara type of weapon out of the backfield. Running Backs who can catch and create in space are some of the most dangerous players in the league. It seems, however, the Falcons are going to ride Freeman until the wheels fall off, and are unlikely to have a backup plan if Coleman walks after this year. Devonta Freeman is a great player, but all running backs have an expiration date. Looking at the usage rate, it’s obvious Coleman is much more fresh, even with the litany of injuries he’s suffered. We also have to talk about the salary. If Freeman is franchise tagged, Coleman could have accepted a deal in the 4 year, $26 million range. That’s about a $6.5 million cap hit, about $300k more than Ezekiel Elliott (on his rookie deal), and what the Texans gave Lamar Miller a few seasons ago. Coleman would be the 7th highest paid back in the NFL. I think with Freeman’s deal, this hamstrings the running back situation. Freeman’s cap hit will be $9.5 Million in 2020 and $9.25 Million in 2021, his age 28 and 29 seasons. With Coleman gone and without the one-two punch at running back, Atlanta’s offense is nowhere near as dynamic, and puts more pressure on the passing game which will force Matt Ryan into mistakes. If Freeman starts showing signs of slowing down 2 years into this deal and Coleman is a premier running back for another team, the Falcons will have made a huge error with the most volatile position in the NFL.