Over the past few days free agent running back Devonta Freeman has sparked. Freeman has been the primary running back for the Atlanta Falcons since his second season in 2015. However he was released to due inability to stay healthy and his price tag wasn’t worth it for the Falcons to hold onto, especially since the team was in salary cap trouble early in the offseason.
In his time in Atlanta Freeman was a two-time Pro Bowler, listed to the All-Pro team and led the team in rushing touchdowns in 2015. His best two seasons as a pro were in 2015 & 2016 where he rushed for over 1,000 yards and rushed for 11 touchdowns. Freeman could be the next running back domino to fall now that Frank Gore is signed. Here is where Freeman can end up.
A Logical Reunion
Team: San Fransisco 49ers
Contract: 1 year, $2.5 Million
After the emergence of Raheem Mostert last season, the San Fransisco 49ers’ backfield by committee officially had too much talent. It caused the 49ers to trade Matt Breida away to the Miami Dolphins. Like Tevin Coleman, Freeman played for 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan when he was the offensive coordinator with the Atlanta Falcons. Freeman’s only 1,000 yard seasons were under Shanahan in 2015 & 2016. After Shanahan left, he failed to reach that mark and started to decline.
Right now the 49ers running back committee is made up of Mostert, Coleman, Jerick McKinnon and Jeff Wilson. Mostert and Coleman are likely going to take a majority of the snaps. McKinnon is a candidate to get cut after not being able to stay healthy the past two seasons and Jeff Wilson is just a goal line running back. Freeman can compete with the latter two for reps on offense and could potentially beat out McKinnon to be the third back in the committee. The 49ers aren’t desperate for a running back and might not be able to guarantee Freeman playing time, but if anyone knows how to get the most out of Freeman it is Kyle Shanahan.
The San Fransisco 49ers have over $14 million in available salary cap space so signing Freeman won’t be an issue. Playing in San Fransisco gives Freeman the best opportunity to prove to the league he still has a few years left because he would be in a familiar scheme where he excelled playing for in the past. At this point of his career Freeman is not a workhorse running back. However San Fransisco gives him the best opportunity to be a lead back in a committee as soon as next season.
Creating a Committee
Team: Philadelphia Eagles
Contract: 1 year, $4 Million
Philadelphia Eagles’ head coach Doug Pederson has always implemented the idea of using a running back committee on offense since taking over in 2016. This past season the Eagles rotated Jordan Howard, Miles Sanders and Darren Sproles. However right now the Eagles look like they are going to run with Sanders as the team’s feature back and Boston Scott as his backup. If Pederson wants to continue to use a committee approach he is going to need to bring in another veteran to go with Sanders.
The Eagles seem to be going all in this season after sneaking into the playoffs last year. They upgraded the cornerback position in free agency by trading for Darius Slay. They retooled their wide receiver depth chart during the draft. There is even talks of the Eagles bringing back Jason Peters for another year. Bringing in Freeman would lock up the running back position. Freeman can rotate with Sanders and be a change of pace back in this offense. There are rumors about Jalen Hurts coming in to play some running back for the Eagles, but if the Eagles want to rotate someone with Sanders on offense they should go the veteran running back route and bring in a veteran like Freeman.
Team: Seattle Seahawks
Contract: 1 year, $5 Million
Freeman’s name got brought up in the headlines because he declined a one-year, $4 million deal from the Seattle Seahawks. Seattle has been trying to bring in a veteran running back to the backfield for a while. A few weeks ago reports came out that they were trying to bring back Marshawn Lynch for another year after helping them out late last year. Now within the past few days reports have come out that the team is trying to bring in either Freeman or Carlos Hyde. The reason why the Seahawks are trying to bring in another running back is because they fear Rashaad Penny will not be healthy to start the season.
Either way, Penny has not played great to begin with and with Chris Carson’s history with injuries, Freeman is at least a reliable back up. The Seahawks can put Freeman behind Carson in case he doesn’t finish the season and Penny doesn’t play up to his first round draft selection for the third year in a row. If Freeman reconsiders or the Seahawks agree to pay him more, signing in Seattle might give him the best opportunity to play a large amount of running back snaps right away, but it is a landing spot where he could essentially get handed the back up job and have a chance to have a couple of starts next season.
Another veteran lands in Tampa Bay
Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Contract: 1 year, $4 Million
In the third round of the NFL Draft the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Ke’Shawn Vaughn to compete with Ronald Jones for the starting running back job. It is hard to be confident in either taking control of the backfield because both are raw and have not proven much. Back in Arizona, Bruce Arians drafted a rookie running back named David Johnson to eventually take over for Andre Ellington. But before Johnson showed he was ready they signed veteran running back Chris Johnson. CJ2K had a rebirth and looked like the a younger version of himself during his time in Arizona. Freeman can be the Buccaneers Johnson.
While Vaughn gets ready to take over for the Buccaneers, Freeman can come in and make sure their running game isn’t holding them back. The offense won’t get carried by Freeman, but it won’t have to because of Tom Brady and all the weapons the Buccaneers have in house. Tampa Bay would give Freeman an opportunity to win a starting job and maintain it for a chunk of the season and give him an opportunity to contend. Not to mention they play his former team, the Atlanta Falcons, twice a year.
A Shocking Reunion
Team: Atlanta Falcons
Contract: 1 year, $3.5 Million
This would be insane, and there is a chance this doesn’t happen. But if Freeman and the Atlanta Falcons can put egos aside and talk out a deal this could work. Earlier in the offseason, the Falcons had cut Freeman because his price tag did not match his production and he had struggled to stay healthy the past few years. They responded by signing Todd Gurley who was recently cut by the Los Angles Rams for seemingly the same reason. Recent reports have come out that Gurley’s health is still in question. The team does not know how healthy Gurley is going into the year. He only signed a one year deal, but the Falcons are trying to win as soon as next year or Dan Quinn will likely get fired. They need to make sure that they have stability at the running back position.
The Falcons’ offense played at its best when they have the duo of Freeman and Tevin Coleman splitting the backfield. Both could have been starting running backs on any roster, but instead split carries pretty evenly. What if the Falcons tried to do that with Gurley and Freeman? Gurley split carries with Malcolm Brown last year who is less talented as a player like Freeman and it helped Gurley stay healthy and fresh down the stretch. His problem was that the rest of the Rams’ offense didn’t play well. What if the Falcons kept Gurley to a higher snap count, but complemented him with Freeman who has been a proven starting running back in the league for years? What happened in Los Angeles shouldn’t happen in Atlanta because Matt Ryan is still one of the league’s best quarterbacks and could possibly be the first offensive unit in NFL history to have all 11 starters be former first-round picks. Some are obviously better than others, but the passing game will be a lot better this year than it was last year for Gurley’s Rams.
If the Falcons can figure out how to split the backfield between Gurley and Freeman without holding one player back they should go for it. An offense like that could potentially sneak into the playoffs. The Falcons have a rough schedule having to play every year’s Super Bowl favorite New Orleans Saints, the new and improved Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the young but talented Carolina Panthers. But having a complete and dominant offense can propel them into the NFC’s best and make the Falcons contenders again.