Devonta Freeman

Falcons To Release Devonta Freeman

Up against the 2020 salary cap, the Falcons will cut their longtime starting running back. They will move on from Devonta Freeman before the tampering period begins, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets

This previously rumored move will not be especially beneficial, though. The Falcons will eat $6MM in dead money by releasing their starting back of the past five seasons. A Freeman release would move Atlanta under the cap, however.

The Falcons will save around $3MM in cap space by releasing him outright. The Falcons have been mulling the possibility of moving on from Freeman for a while now – in October, they strongly considered dealing him to the Lions and other clubs in need of RBs.

Freeman was set to play out the rest of his five-year, $41.25MM deal. Signed in August of 2017, it made him one of the league’s highest-paid RBs. Unfortunately, it did not pan out – Freeman was unable to stay healthy and appeared in just two games in 2018. Last year, he played in 14 contests, but averaged just 3.6 yards per tote.

The Falcons are now charged with having to remake their backfield. As of this writing, they’ve got Brian Hill and….not much else. Many expect the Falcons to target their RB of the future in the draft since they’re lacking in cap flexibility.

NFC Notes: Falcons, Quinn, Freeman, 49ers

Falcons coach Dan Quinn managed to save his job by rattling off some wins down the stretch last year. If his team has a repeat performance in 2020, he won’t be so lucky. It’s the consensus of just about everyone that Quinn will be fired if Atlanta doesn’t get things turned around next year, and Falcons owner Arthur Blank more or less confirmed as much in recent comments to the media. Blank wouldn’t divulge the exact number of wins he was expecting, but he did say “yep,” when asked if making it back to the postseason was the standard he was setting, via Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com. “I can definitely say that’s right.”

Blank went on to say some nice things about Quinn and the team’s turnaround in the second half of the season, but it’s clear that Quinn will be on a short leash. Just about everyone thought he was a goner before the Falcons finished the year 6-2, so perhaps he’ll pull a rabbit out of his hat once again. The former Seahawks DC fired both of his coordinators after a lackluster 2018 campaign, and it didn’t help much right away. Matt Ryan is already 34 and Julio Jones is 31, so Blank’s impatience makes a lot of sense as he wants to capitalize on the core that took his team to the Super Bowl just a few short seasons ago.

Here’s more from the NFC as we head into the weekend:

  • We heard earlier this week that Falcons running back Devonta Freeman could be on the chopping block, and Blank certainly didn’t do anything to quash that story. “Well, I love him, too,” Blank said of Freeman in McClure’s same piece. “But this has nothing to do with love. It has to do with building a roster. The salary cap is not unlimited.” That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, and that doesn’t bode well for Freeman’s chances of sticking on the roster. “Sure, I love what [Freeman] brings to the team. I also know we’ve drafted well and we’ve got some really good backups now today. We’ll see how all that works out,” he continued. Freeman has three years left on the five-year, $41.25MM pact he signed with Atlanta a couple years ago, and he seems increasingly unlikely to be back with the team in 2020. As of right now, it looks like the team will be moving on. The Falcons can save around $3MM against the cap by releasing him, but they’d still be taking a significant dead cap hit by shedding his expected $6.5MM salary.
  • 49ers linebacker Kwon Alexander tore a pec in November, and was expected at the time to miss the remainder of the season. He improbably battled his way back with remarkable speed, and ended up being activated off injured reserve for San Francisco’s playoff run. Not only was Alexander dealing with the pec issue, he also played in the playoffs and the Super Bowl with a significant bicep injury that required surgery, sources told Ian Rapoport of NFL Network (Twitter link). Rapsheet reports that Alexander underwent the procedure on his bicep Friday, and will make a full recovery for the 2020 season. The 49ers signed him to a big contract last offseason, and he’s one of their leaders on defense. This kind of grit shows why. Alexander has been bit by the injury bug recently, as his 2018 season in Tampa was cut short by a torn ACL. Hopefully he can stay healthy this year as San Francisco gears up for another run.

Falcons Could Move On From Devonta Freeman

The Falcons are heading into a pivotal offseason. Dan Quinn managed to save his job at the last minute with some wins down the stretch, but if he doesn’t get the team back to their winning ways in 2020 he’ll almost certainly be getting the boot. 

Atlanta unsurprisingly appears ready to shake things up in the coming months, and at least one big name is on the chopping block. Running back Devonta Freeman‘s status with the team is “up in the air,” and release is an option, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network (Twitter video link). As Rapoport points out, the Falcons could save around $3MM in cap space by releasing him outright. We heard back in October that the Lions and Falcons discussed a potential Freeman trade after Kerryon Johnson went down, and Rapoport now reports they “very strongly” considered trading him last year.

Freeman is set to earn a base salary of $6.5MM in 2020 with a cap hit of $9.5MM, and the Falcons would take a significant dead cap hit even though they’d also save some money. He inked a five-year, $41.25MM deal back in August of 2017, making him one of the league’s highest-paid running backs, and so far it hasn’t worked out too well.

He has struggled to stay healthy, appearing in only two games in 2018. Freeman, who turns 28 next month, has three years left on his deal but seems very unlikely to make it to the end of the pact. If he were released, the two-time Pro Bowler wouldn’t have too much trouble finding a new home. The Falcons have Brian Hill and very little else behind him, so they could be a candidate to draft a running back early come April if they do move on from Freeman.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Injury Notes: Vernon, Falcons, Njoku, Cole

With defensive lineman Myles Garrett and Larry Objunjobi suspended for this week’s matchup against the Bengals, the Browns were hoping to invite starting end Olivier Vernon back into the lineup after missing the team’s previous two games with a knee injury. However, according to Mary Kay Kabot of Cleveland.com, Vernon has been ruled out for Sunday’s contest, leaving Sheldon Richardson as the team’s only primary starter along the defensive front.

It has been a chaotic season for Cleveland, reaching a climax in last Thursday’s on-field fight with the Steelers. Hoping to put that in the rear-view mirror the Browns will have to rely heavily on their depth to build some positive momentum.

Here’s some more injury notes from around the NFL:

  • The Falcons will be without two of their primary offensive weapons this weekend. Running back Devonta Freeman and tight end Austin Hooper are both out for this Sunday’s game alongside rotational defensive back Kemal Ishmael, according to D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitutional.
  • Browns tight end David Njoku will not return this week from the injured reserve, according to Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com. Njoku, who has been rehabbing a wrist injury, returned to practice this week, but is not quite ready for game action.
  • Texans linebacker Dylan Cole is out for the season with a torn ACL, according to Aaron Wilson of The Houston Chronicle. Cole served as Houston’s primary backup at two linebacker positions and played a major role in the team’s special teams. He played in 11 games and recorded 16 tackles on the season. Going forward, the Texans will need to sure up their depth on special teams and on the second level of their defense.

Falcons’ Freeman, Hooper Suffer Injuries

The Falcons came away with the win on Sunday, but it could prove to be costly. Tight end Austin Hooper and running back Devonta Freeman both suffered injuries in the victory over the rival Saints, according to NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport (Twitter links). 

Hooper, the league’s leader at the tight end position with 56 catches, will get an MRI on his knee. Freeman, meanwhile, will be getting a scan on his sprained foot. Hooper is expected to miss some time and Freeman’s situation is being closely monitored.

Hooper is in the midst of a breakout season. Hooper, 25, was forced out of Sunday’s game after hauling in four passes for 17 yards, including one touchdown reception. To date, he has 56 catches for 608 yards and six scores, positioning him as one of the best young TEs in the game today.

It sounds like Hooper will miss Sunday’s game against the Panthers and then some. Given the Falcons’ 2-7 record and Hooper’s importance to the team moving forward, one has to wonder if they might take the cautious approach and keep him off the field for the rest of the season, if there’s a possibility of aggravating the injury.

Freeman, meanwhile, hasn’t been having a banner year, but he remains an important figure in the Falcons’ offense. So far this year, he has averaged just 3.5 yards per carry.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Falcons, Lions Discussed Devonta Freeman Trade

The Falcons and Lions discussed a Devonta Freeman trade, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). The Lions inquired on the running back, and the two sides spoke at length, but the Falcons ultimately decided against parting with him. 

A former fourth-round pick, Freeman became the Falcons’ starter in his second season and made back-to-back Pro Bowls in 2015 and 2016. Then, in 2017, the Falcons signed him to a five-year, $41.25MM extension.

Freeman lost the bulk of 2018 due to injury and he hasn’t looked like his old self thus far in 2019. In eight games, Freeman has averaged just 3.4 yards per carry. Through the air, he’s got 35 catches for 272 yards and three scores.

Then again, the entire Falcons offense seems to be sagging. The Lions are among the many Freeman believers out there, but, ultimately, they could not come to terms on a would-be blockbuster.

The Falcons are still optimistic about Freeman, but they’re also realistic about the financial constraints. The 27-year-old’s signing bonuses are on the books through 2021 and that’s a serious barrier to moving on from him.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Latest On Falcons’ Devonta Freeman

Injuries kept Devonta Freeman out for almost all of the Falcons’ 2018 season, but the team let Tevin Coleman walk in free agency. This points to confidence in their starter re-emerging from a multi-malady season.

Dan Quinn indeed expects his starting running back to be full-go by training camp, D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes. The fifth-year Falcons coach said Freeman is set to be ready by the start of camp.

We can’t wait to get Free back,” Quinn said. “He’s having such an awesome offseason. His energy, his juice, like him being around the team, you feel what he brings.”

Knee, foot and groin injuries derailed Freeman last year. He played in just two games and gained just 91 yards from scrimmage. The 27-year-old back has been working with the Falcons this offseason. He did not undergo offseason knee surgery, Ledbetter adds.

Freeman returning would obviously boost Atlanta’s offense, which may well have two new starting linemen in the mix in first-rounders Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary. Atlanta still has Ito Smith, who averaged just 3.5 yards per carry last season (compared to Coleman’s 4.5), and Day 3 rookies Qadree Ollison and Marcus Green will vie for backup gigs.

A former fourth-round pick, Freeman became the Falcons’ starter in his second season and made back-to-back Pro Bowls. The Falcons signed him to a five-year, $41.25MM extension in 2017. Freeman signing bonuses are on Atlanta’s books through 2021, making it financially disadvantageous to part ways with the suddenly injury-prone back until that year.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC South Rumors: Coleman, Panthers, Olsen

Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff gave an indication on the future status of running back Tevin Coleman, ESPN’s Vaughn McClure writes.

“Tevin’s going to do well, wherever he is,” he said.

The stumble of words just goes to confirm what many have expected: That Coleman will not be back with the Falcons in 2019. Projected as the No. 2 free agent running back behind Le’Veon Bell, the Indiana product is due for a big payday. That wasn’t likely to come from the Falcons, who already have the league’s third-highest-paid running back on the roster in Devonta Freeman.

The Falcons also have a capable backup ready to take Coleman’s role in Ito Smith, who gained 315 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie. While it won’t be with the Falcons, Coleman is sure to command a primary back role with another team after showcasing a dual-threat skill set in his time in Atlanta.

Here’s more from around the NFC South:

  • If the Panthers are to bring in a new quarterback in 2019, head coach Ron Rivera said it is more likely to come through the draft rather than free agency, Panthers team writer Bill Voth tweets. That would take them out of the hunt for a proven veteran backup to Cam Newton, who dealt with injuries throughout the 2018 season.
  • Sticking with the Panthers, tight end Greg Olsen has met with ESPN about opportunities but that does not include the Monday Night Football post that was vacated yesterday when Jason Witten returned to the Cowboys, The Athletic’s Joseph Person writes. Those talks could eventually come, but the Panthers fully expect the veteran tight end to return to the field in 2019.
  • The Falcons view Ty Sambrailo as the team’s starting right tackle over Ryan Schraeder, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s D. Orlando Ledbetter writes. Sambrailo moved past Schraeder on the depth chart last season and started the final game at right guard. He will stay at right tackle because it’s easier to find guards and Sambrailo’s ability to pass protect, head coach Dan Quinn said.
  • The Saints have hired Declan Doyle to be an offensive assistant coach, Josh Katzenstein of the Times-Picayune writes. Doyle previously worked as an offensive student assistant at the University of Iowa.

Falcons’ Devonta Freeman Won’t Return

No surprise here, but Falcons coach Dan Quinn says the team will not activate Devonta Freeman from IR this season (Twitter link via 92.9 The Game). Two weeks ago, the Falcons indicated that Freeman could potentially play again, but it makes little sense to play him now that they are completely cooked. 

[RELATED: Falcons Likely To Fire Steve Sarkisian]

Freeman hardly saw the field in 2018 thanks to knee trouble early in the year and groin surgery later on. In his two games, Freeman had 14 carries for 68 yards and caught five passes for 23 yards.

The 26-year-old (27 in March) rarely battled injury issues through the early part of his career, as he played in 47-of-48 games between 2014 and 2016. Hopefully, he’ll be able to stay out of the trainer’s room when he returns in 2019.

Freeman is under contract through 2022 thanks to the five-year, $41.25MM extension he inked in August of 2017.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Injury Notes: Fins, Falcons, Cowboys, Browns

The Dolphins have already ruled out quarterback Ryan Tannehill for their Week 7 contest against the Lions, and the NFL is now investigating how Miami handled reporting Tannehill’s shoulder injury in Week 6, as Cameron Wolfe of ESPN.com reports. Tannehill was a full participant in both Wednesday and Thursday practice last week, but was limited on Friday before being inactive against the Bears on Sunday. The league will often look into such cases where injury designations present something of a question mark; some clubs are subsequently fined, others are cleared, tweets Tom Pelissero of NFL.com. Without Tannehill available, Miami will once again deploy Brock Osweiler, who threw for a career-high 380 yards against Chicago.

Here’s more injury news from around the NFL:

  • Falcons running back Devonta Freeman will undergo surgery on Thursday to repair his groin injury, per Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com (Twitter link). Freeman’s recovery timeline isn’t yet clear, but reports yesterday did indicate that Freeman — who was placed on injured reserve Tuesday — could return later this season. Because he’s now on IR, Freeman must miss at least eight games before coming back. Various health issues have limited Freeman to just two games this season, during which he averaged 4.9 yards per carry on 14 touches. With Freeman unavailable, Atlanta will turn to a tandem of Tevin Coleman and Ito Smith in its backfield.
  • Tavon Austin is getting a second opinion on his groin injury in the near future, and the Cowboys will wait to hear that diagnosis before deciding on an injured reserve move, tweets Clarence Hill of the Star Telegram. Austin, who Dallas acquired from the Rams earlier this year, has lined up at both receiver and running back this season, managing seven receptions and six rushes on the year. If Austin is placed on IR, the Cowboys will continue to lean on an uninspiring group of pass-catchers that includes Allen Hurns, Michael Gallup, Cole Beasley, and Deonte Thompson. Dallas would need to find a new punt returner, as Austin has handled all but one of the club’s punt returns.
  • Browns linebacker Joe Schobert will be sidelined for “a little while” as he deals with with a hamstring injury, head coach Hue Jackson told reporters, including Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com (Twitter link). Losing Schobert for any amount of time is devastating for Cleveland, as he’s played nearly every snap on defense while ranking as a top-10 linebacker league-wide, per Pro Football Focus. With Schobert down, the Browns will likely deploy Christian Kirksey and Jamie Collins as their nickel linebackers. Cleveland’s linebacker depth already took a hit earlier this week when James Burgess was placed on injured reserve.
  • Turning to the college game, Ole Miss receiver D.K. Metcalf will miss the remainder of the season after suffering a neck injury last weekend, according to Nick Suss of the Clarion-Ledger. Metcalf is a redshirt sophomore, so he could potentially enter the 2019 draft if he so chooses. But given his injury, Metcalf may choose to head back to school in order to put more highlights on tape. Per Suss, Metcalf is viewed as a potential Day 2 pick.