ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons have agreed to terms on a five-year contract extension with running back Devonta Freeman, addressing one of the biggest issues for the defending NFC champions.
The deal was announced Wednesday, on the eve of the team’s first preseason game at Miami.
Terms were not immediately available, but the extension was sure to make Freeman one of the NFL’s highest-paid running backs.
During his three seasons with the Falcons, the Miami native has racked up 2,383 rushing yards, including back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons in 2015 and 2016. His 3,175 total yards over the past two seasons ranks second in the NFL, behind teammate Julio Jones.
He was set to make just under $1.8 million is in the final year of a rookie contract he signed as a fourth-round draft pick out of Florida State.
Freeman’s agent first raised the prospect of a lucrative extension the week of the Super Bowl, in which the Falcons squandered a 28-3 lead and lost in overtime to the New England Patriots.
While negotiations carried into the start of training camp, the running back said he had no intention of holding out because he didn’t want to be a distraction.
The Falcons made it clear all along that Freeman was a big part of their plans after helping the Falcons reach the title game for only the second time in franchise history. Over the past year, the team also locked up cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford and offensive tackle Ryan Schraeder to long-term extensions.
“We are very pleased that we were able to get this extension done,” general manager Thomas Dimitroff said in a statement. “Devonta embodies everything we are looking for in a Falcon, and we are proud that he’ll be able to spend his career here in Atlanta.”
Teaming in the backfield last season with Tevin Coleman, Freeman ranked seventh in the NFL with 1,541 total yards and his 13 TDs were fifth most touchdowns among running backs. He earned his second straight Pro Bowl selection.
“This is where I’ve always wanted to be,” Freeman said. “I feel extremely blessed, but the work and grind are just beginning.”
Freeman and Coleman are one of the league’s top 1-2 threats at running back. Both players have breakaway speed, excel in the team’s wide zone-blocking scheme and fill vital roles in the short passing game. Atlanta led the NFL in scoring last year at nearly 34 points a game behind Freeman, receiver Julio Jones and quarterback Matt Ryan, the league MVP.
Coach Dan Quinn called Freeman into his office before the start of training camp to make sure he knew how badly the team wanted to get a deal done. The coach said Freeman never let it become an issue on the field.
“I didn’t have to, but I definitely did,” Quinn said. “The reason I’m saying that is it isn’t something that got sideways. It wasn’t like I had to, but for most of the guys that are in that contract time, I definitely talk it through and I want to have open lines of communication with them.”
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