The Atlanta Falcons and running back Devonta Freeman have been discussing the need for a new contract for much of this offseason, and on Wednesday, the deal was finalized. The team announced Freeman signed a five-year extension, and Mike Silver is reporting the deal is worth up to $41.25 million. Ian Rapoport is reporting the deal includes $22 million in guarantees, with $26 million in total potential money in the first three years.
The average per year (APY) on the deal makes Freeman the second highest paid running back this season behind only Le’Veon Bell and his franchise tag. APY is not a particularly useful number, but it is a discussion point.
Freeman landed the deal after back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons, and more importantly 73 and 54 receptions in each of the last two seasons, respectively. He averaged 4.0 yards per carry in 2015, and 4.8 yards per carry last season, but it is his involvement in the passing game that boosted him to this pay level.
After two seasons with Kyle Shanahan, Freeman and his fellow running back Tevin Coleman will be working with Steve Sarkisian. Shanahan moved west to take over the 49ers, and gets another intriguing backfield to work with this season. Carlos Hyde is at the top of the depth chart, but veteran Tim Hightower and rookies Joe Williams and Matt Breida are expected to push him.
Hyde is entering the final year of his contract, and there have been no reports of negotiations on a new deal. It makes sense that Shanahan and GM John Lynch want to see what Hyde can do in the new offense. However, given Shanahan and running backs coach Bobby Turner’s success with middle- and late-round running backs, I would be surprised to see the 49ers extend Hyde if the bidding gets too high too quickly next offseason.
The biggest issue facing Hyde’s chances at a big pay day is health. He has averaged 4.3 yards per carry through three seasons, and is regularly among the league leaders in yards after contact. The problem is he has never played a full season. he played 14 games as a rookie, seven in 2015, and 13 last season. If he had stayed healthy all last season, it would put him on track for a sizable pay raise after this season. He did not and so it will be interesting to see what he can find on the open market after this year.
If he stays healthy all season, it will help, but I feel like any negotiations he has with any team will hinge on concerns about his health over the first three years of his career.
Freeman’s pay day came because of his well-rounded game in both running and receiving. Hyde has never been a big part of the passing game, although he did have 27 receptions on 33 targets last season. Tim Hightower will get a lot of work on passing downs, but Hyde will be expected to contribute as a pass catcher. He is having a strong training camp by most accounts, which bodes well for a solid season. He will make some good money this offseason if he stays healthy, but how much will depend on how much he adds to Shanahan’s offense this season.