Thoughts on Devonta Freemans $41.25 Million Contract

Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk just broke the official numbers for Devonta Freeman’s $41.25 million contract extension which gives us a chance to look at it and offer some thoughts. Overall I like the contract for Freeman which I think is an excellent illustration of how to use contract structures to get over the hump of the full guarantee at signing. However, it is also clear that this is not the top contract on the market, though it is very close.

From Freeman’s perspective here is what I really like about the contract- a huge signing bonus relative to the P5 values of the contract at the frontend of the contract. This is the old way that contracts were done which always did a far better job insulating a player from release than the more current system of high P5s with two years of full guarantees. A large part of that is the Falcons front office which skews towards the older style of cap management, which is both a blessing and a curse.

Freeman’s $15 million signing bonus is nearly 70% of the takehome of the first three contract years and 56% of the first three new years of the contract. Those are really terrific numbers. The next closest to that is LeSean McCoy at 48% of his three year value. The rest of the top veteran backs are extremely low percentages, basically between 10 and 30%.

That should mean that Freeman is a lock to earn the new $20.25 million in the contract from 2017 through 2019. He would have to fall so far off a cliff for a team to consider cutting him to save all of $3.75 million given the initial investment in 2019 and even if they did that P5 is so low that he would likely earn $1M as a free agent if it ever came to that. So I think this is very solid and will now be a fundamental starting point for Le’Veon Bell next year when working off percentages to try to maximize his signing bonus with the Steelers.

Now immediately when I saw the numbers the name that came to mind is McCoy of the Bills. It’s pretty clear from the structure that they followed the Bills model with him very closely, but Atlanta more or less used a classic trick of throwing some backend money in the deal to inflate the APY. This allows Freeman to be considered the “highest paid” but realistically he won’t be.

PlayerYear 0Year 1Year 2Year 3Year 4Year 5
Devonta Freeman$14,500,000$16,500,000$20,250,000$26,750,000$33,000,000$41,250,000
LeSean McCoy$0$16,000,000$21,050,000$27,300,000$33,625,000$40,050,000

For the most part Freeman will trail McCoy by about $600,000 each year in total earnings.  It’s rare for players to reach the 5th contract year, especially running backs, but Freeman needs that season to surpass McCoy in earnings. So while the Falcons were willing to budge on the APY they negotiated the contract in a way that was more beneficial to them and one in which they feel they are not the real market setter at the position.

Still the contract blows away the likes of Doug Martin and Lamar Miller who would be the next set of veterans. It’s a strong deal and probably far stronger than he would have found in free agency where interest in running backs has been lukewarm at best.  This is the right fit for his skillset and for the Falcons as well which is why its worth making the deal rather than dealing with the uncertainty for the year and ending up with someone else next year.

His cap hits are generally manageable until 2020 which is the first real uncertain season. By then the team should have its core locked up for the future and will be able to move away from some of the higher ticket items that might clog their cap. If they can get two very good and one decent year out of Freeman they should be happy even if they have to cut him in 2020.