Falcons' Freeman underpaid but determining his value isn't easy

FLOWERY BRANCH -- Devonta Freeman, who's arguably the most underpaid player in the NFL today, made the right decision to report on time to Falcons' training camp. It reaffirmed his intention to minimize the potential distraction of his contract negotiations.

But this never was expected to be an easy negotiation and if it drags on it won't be a surprise. As good as Freeman is and as valuable as he is in the Falcons' offense, his overarching value to the team's future probably isn't as high as he wants to believe.

That's not meant as a shot at the fourth-year running back. He has far outplayed his rookie contract, which will pay him $1.797 million this season -- a total payout that ranks tied for 31st among NFL back (barely ahead of former Falcon Jacquizz Rodgers of Tampa Bay). Freeman has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons and in the last two years has combined for 3,175 rushing-receiving yards and 27 touchdowns.

But there are some football and economic realities his camp must come to terms with:

Another factor: Some consider Tevin Coleman, who shares running back duties, just as good as Freeman. Coleman is one of the fastest players on the team in the open field and his contract is up following the 2018 season (one year after Freeman). If the Falcons set the bar too high with Freeman's contract, it's going to be difficult to keep Coleman.

Finally, it's worth noting the Falcons drafted a running back in the fifth round, Brian Hill of Wyoming, who rushed for 1,860 yards and 22 touchdowns last season.

It's a delicate situation because the Falcons don't want to lose Freeman but they also know they can't over-commit to him. And if this deal somehow falls apart, they'll survive.

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About the Author

Jeff Schultz
Jeff Schultz
Jeff Schultz is a general sports columnist and blogger who isn't afraid to share his opinion, which may not necessarily jibe with yours.