With the Devonta Freeman deal done, the Falcons’ front office now plans to turn its attention to the 53-man roster.
On Wednesday, the Falcons signed Freeman to a five-year, $41.25 million contract extension, which included $22 million in guaranteed money. The deal made him the highest-paid running back in the NFL, with an average salary of $8.25 million.
“That was really important for this franchise,” Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Thursday before the Falcons faced the Dolphins in their exhibition season opener. “He’s one of a number of our pillar players on this team. We’re excited to have him on track.”
Dimitroff was pleased that Freeman didn’t hold out while the deal was being hammered out.
“He’s such a loyal guy and such a hard worker,” Dimitroff said. “Everything about him, we believe in. To have him on this team for that long. … It was vital for us to get done.”
The timing of the deal worked for the Falcons, too.
“I love the fact that we could get it done before the first game,” Dimitroff said. “His head is in it. He’s been unbelievable. Like our other guys who were in big contract situations through the (exhibition) season, he worked his butt off. Never came up short. I’m very proud of how he handled his business.”
The deal was difficult because running back salaries have decreased, and Freeman’s agent interrupted the team’s preparation for the Super Bowl by suggesting he wanted an “elite” deal.
“It was a precarious market as we all know because we have one guy, in Le’Veon (Bell) on being where he is and the other part of the market that was between $7.1 (million) and $8-plus (million), with Shady McCoy,” Dimitroff said. “For us, we looked at it all, and we were very mindful of it. We had good conversations with (Freeman’s agent) Kristin Campbell. We came out in a really good spot, we believe.”
The Falcons also have running back Tevin Coleman, who’s about to enter his third season in the league, and rarely will teams pay big money to two running backs.
“Those two guys work together so well,” Dimitroff said. “They are both very supportive of each other. Tevin is out two more years. We’re going to be focused on the next two years with both of the guys together. We’ll face that. We have other things to be concerned about right now, respectfully. We’ll be in another situation, another time, talking about that.”
The Falcons are $8.6 million under the salary cap, according to the NFLPA public listings. That number was before Freeman’s deal.
“We are in a good spot,” Dimitroff said about the salary cap. “We, I think, humbly speaking, do a heck of a job here. I think we are very thoughtful with the way that we look at it and with the help of (director of football operations) Nick Polk and (salary cap/player personnel assistant) Chip Falivene, working closely with me on the finances of it, I think we are in a really good spot.”
The Falcons are not looking at a contract extension for quarterback Matt Ryan. That’s another down-the-road project, too.
“He’s another guy,” Dimitroff said. “He’s got a couple more years. We are going to settle in after this deal and see how the season goes on everything. Rest assured our time will come with Matt for sure. He knows that and we know that.”