In 2014 the Atlanta Falcons used a fourth round selection on RB Devonta Freeman. At the time it was a fantastic pick and the Falcons got a steal as Freeman was a solid contributor as a rookie.
During the Atlanta Falcons 2015 and 2016 season, Free was able to elevate his game with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and a total 22 rushing touchdowns in both seasons.
Freeman looked like a premier running back after the 2016 season but his career has started to fall downhill. Freeman only missed two games in 2017, however, his numbers started to decline. During the 2018 season he only played two games before suffering a season ending injury.
The Falcons gave Freeman a contract extension after the 2016 season making him the highest paid running back at the time. So far, the Falcons did not receive the return on investment they were looking for. Freeman has been a huge disappointment after the extension. If he is going to be paid like a top running back he has to produce and so far he has not been able to do so.
As of right now the only running backs that have a bigger contract are Le’Veon Bell, Todd Gurley, and David Johnson. Even before the contract Freeman was nowhere close those guys in terms of talent and production. The running back market will reset once Ezekiel Elliot signs a new deal.
Another factor that makes Freeman’s contract terrible, is he has been one of the reasons the Falcons have lost big games. The most painful one that everyone points the finger at is his missed block on Patriots linebacker Donta Hightower in Super Bowl 51. Having a mental error like Freeman did is so much worse than a physical error in a game.
During the 2017 season the Falcons lost an ugly game to the Saints in New Orleans. Deion Jones made a game changing play in the game by intercepting Brees and running it back inside the five-yard line. The Falcons run the ball with Freeman and he fumbles the football on the one-yard line. For a running back that is paid top five at his position he cannot make these types of mistakes.
Freeman could bounce back in 2019 but he has to prove himself. So far re-signing Freeman is one of the worst contracts in Falcons history based on the return on investment. Teams are starting to find capable running backs in the later rounds of the draft, which makes his contract look even worse.