Paying running-backs in a passing league elite player money no longer makes sense and the Atlanta Falcons are stuck with one of the worst contracts in the NFL.
There is a saying in football – The game is won and lost in the trenches. While the Atlanta Falcons have done their part over the last few years to strengthen the defensive line, not much can be said about their efforts on the offensive side. It is not rocket science to know that a team can not win consistently if they don’t have the line to protect the QB and open lanes for the running game.
Outside of the signing of center Alex Mack, the porous line has struggled to find an identity. Now, there are many theories out there as to why Thomas Dimitroff is unwilling to spend early draft picks on linemen. Regardless of the reasons, the root of the offensive line issues as of late can be traced back to one key moment. No, it isn’t Matt Ryan’s fault. It all comes back to Devonta Freeman’s contract extension.
Despite how the 2016 season ended, the Falcons looked like a team who had finally turned the corner and poised to compete each year at a high level. A solid defense, good receiving core, a future hall of fame QB and a nice one two punch at running back. When the off-season came, the only real glaring problem with the team was the offensive line play. But, instead of addressing that problem, the front office chose to pay Freeman, who still had one year left on his contract.
Fast forward two seasons, Freeman has totaled just 963 yards since the extension with only 68 yards last season due to injury. It might seem like a case of bad luck, but it’s actually a trend. Looking at the 20 top paid running backs last year, only six cracked the top 20 in rushing yards on the season with only three eclipsing the 1,000 yard mark. Running back production rarely lives up to the money spent and Freeman’s case is no exception.
This is not a knock on the guy, but from a business standpoint it doesn’t make sense to tie up so much money in a position that can be interchangeable. If you need Evidence to back that up, look no further than the production last season. After Tevin Coleman took over the workload, he racked up 800 yards to Freeman’s 865 and averaged 4.8 yards a carry, almost half a yard better than Freeman the previous season.
This team has an abundance of talent top to bottom. Going forward, more emphasis has to be put on solidifying the front line if Dimitroff wants this team to rebound and flourish. It does seem like steps are being taken to make that a reality after two key signings at the end of March. The question is, will it be enough?