Falcons running back Devonta Freeman was a year away from the franchise tag or a shot at the open market. He decided to trade that in for a $43 million deal.
Whether he did the right thing is a matter on which reasonable minds can differ. Freeman, a fourth-round pick in 2014 who never has gotten a huge payday, swapped out $1.8 million in 2017 plus the franchise tag for 2018 (which will be at least $12.5 million) for a $15 million signing bonus and a six-year commitment to the Falcons, whose commitment to him won’t nearly as long.
Ian Rapoport of NFL Media has some of the details, but not enough to allow a clear assessment (yet) as to whether the Falcons are tied to Freeman for two or three seasons, as a practical matter. He’ll make, per Rapoport, $26 million over three years — if the Falcons keep him for three years. That’s not much less than he would have made by playing out the final year of his rookie deal and spending two years under the tag. Still, there’s a good chance he’ll have to perform at a high level over the next two years to unlock the third year as written.
The difference between Freeman and Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell is obvious. Freeman had one more season of injury risk before getting to the franchise tag or the open market. Bell is already there. So Bell can expect more than Freeman expected, especially in light of the position they play.
If Freeman had walked away from a deal that would pay him $22 million if he suffers a catastrophic injury and if he then had suffered a catastrophic injury, that offer would have been gone forever. While a year-to-year approach may make more sense for quarterbacks and receivers, running backs need to take the money when they can, especially if the money is close to what they’d make if they choose to play on a one-year-at-a-time basis.