Former Falcons free agent Devonta Freeman is betting on himself; so much so that he, at 28 years old, has turned down a one year, $4 million offer by the Seahawks in order to wait for a better one to come along.
Freeman’s conviction is admirable, but a better contract might not come. The NFL chews up and spits out running backs, typically without the payday they deserve as young bell cows who tote much of an offensive workload while playing on cheap rookie contracts.
Freeman knows this all too well. His two career 1,000-yard rushing seasons came in 2015 and 2016 when he earned less than $700,000 each of those years under contract as a fourth-round rookie. After receiving less than $598 per yard from scrimmage in his first three seasons — $2,181,321 in cash for 3,648 total yards — Freeman earned $9,434 per yard from scrimmage over the last three years or $22,068,114 for 2,339 total yards.
By the time Freeman signed his extension in 2017, his peak production was in the rear-view mirror. In the three seasons since signing his five-year, $41.25 million contract, Freeman has rushed for 1,589 yards over 30 total games and 394 carries; a 4.03 yards per carry pace that is approximately one-third of a yard less per carry than Freeman averaged in those two big seasons that earned him his big second contract.
But in missing 14 games over the last three seasons, Freeman finds himself out of a gig and searching for opportunities. And, this late in the game, Freeman stunned nearly everyone when he turned down a $4 million contract from the Seahawks before they eventually turned the same money over to Carlos Hyde. Now, Freeman is reportedly ready to sit out the 2020 NFL season if a better value contract doesn't come down the pipe. But what better offer should he expect to see?
A $4 million salary in 2020 would have pegged Freeman as the NFL's 17th highest-paid running back this season, trailing the likes of Tevin Coleman ($4.25 million), Jordan Howard ($4.875 million), Duke Johnson ($5.2 million) and Austin Ekeler ($6.125 million) — just to name a few. And Freeman, who appears to be showing signs of decline, finished as the NFL's 29th leading rusher in 2019. Of runners with over 150 carries, Freeman's 3.6 yards per carry was tied for the third-worst; 29 NFL players touched the ball less than Freeman did last season but still finished with more yards from scrimmage.
Freeman did bring value as a pass-catcher. He found the end zone twice as often in the passing game (four touchdowns) than he did on the ground (two) in 2019. But even when including Freeman's pass-game production, he touched the ball with the 20th most frequency of any skill player last season, and as a declining player no team is going to feel the incentive to pay Freeman significant cash. So, we appear to be headed towards an impasse. Freeman is prepared to sit the entire season if his price isn't met, according to NFL media’s Mike Silver.
“Freeman believes he is worth more than what was being offered and has insisted he is willing to sit out and skip the season if his number isn’t met,” Silver reported.
If the offer he just passed up is any indication, Freeman's bet on himself could leave him watching football from afar and out of the action. And by the time the 2021 season rolls around, Freeman will be a year older (and one year away from the magic year of 30 for running backs), will be four years removed from his last 1,000-yard season and have to knock off the rust of skipping a year. It's hard to envision anyone ponying up big money in that scenario either.
The next few months will be critical for Freeman, but he's facing long odds to see someone hit his price point in 2020.