The news of a new contract for Falcons running back Devonta Freeman has sparked plenty of discussion and debate regarding whether he should have taken the bird in the hand or continued to forage for two in the bush.
Before addressing the should-he-or-shouldn’t-he-have-taken-it question, here are the actual details.
1. $15 million signing bonus.
2. $1.297 million base salary for 2017.
3. $2 million base salary for 2018.
4. $3.75 million base salary for 2019.
5. $6.5 million base salary for 2020.
6. $6.25 million base salary foe 2021.
7. $8.25 million signing bonus for 2022.
Of those amounts, $17 million is fully guaranteed. The first three years of the deal are guaranteed for injury, at a total of $22 million.
As a practical matter, the Falcons are tied to Freeman for the first two or three years. After that, the Falcons will have to decide in 2020 whether to pay $6.5 million in 2020, $6.25 million in 2021, and $8.25 million in 2022.
To get this six-year, $43 million deal, Freeman traded in $1.8 million for 2017 plus the ability to hit the open market or to get the franchise tag next year, at more than $12.5 million. It’s likely that the Falcons strongly suggested that they wouldn’t be using the franchise tag on Freeman next year, which means he’d be relegated to hitting the market.
So with the Falcons offering a five-year extension that carries top-of-market value of $8.25 million per year (if we consider only the new money), it made sense for Freeman to take the offer now, especially in light of the injury risk that comes from playing tailback.
On the other side of the coin, some are suggesting that Freeman should have purchased a $10 million disability policy (which, given that it’s paid out tax free, would be worth more than the $15 million signing bonus) and let it ride. If the Falcons definitely would have used the franchise tag, Freeman probably would have been wise to reject the offer. But if Freeman would have been required to hit the open market, it’s hard to argue that he would have done significantly better in March than he did by doing the deal now.
The real question is what Freeman would have gotten if he had become an unrestricted free agent. Although Bills running back LeSean McCoy currently is averaging $8 million per year, his initial deal with the Eagles averaged $9 million per year — at a time when the cap was only $120.6 million.
So the cap is now 38.4 percent higher, and the market for running backs is lower. Would Freeman have gotten $10 million per year in March 2018? $11 million?
It’s hard to know with eight months and, more importantly, up to 20 regular-season and postseason games to play. Ultimately, however, it’s hard to criticize Freeman for choosing to take the money — even if he only get two or three years of it before the Falcons squeeze him to take less or rip up the contract.