Tevin Coleman was let go by the Atlanta Falcons after four seasons with the team. He has now helped lead the San Fransico 49ers to an NFC Championship game in his first season with the club.
Did the Atlanta Falcons make the right choice to let Tevin Coleman go in free agency after the 2018 season?
In short, yes. The team had to let Tevin Coleman go. However, the decision to stick with Freeman over Coleman was made two seasons prior to Coleman being let go.
After only carrying the ball 65 times in 2014, Freeman solidified the starting role in both 2015 and 2016 by going over 1,500 total yards both seasons and nearly 30 touchdowns combined.
It was well established the Freeman would be the future of the Atlanta Falcons
Before allowing Freeman to play on the final year of his rookie contract, the Atlanta Falcons gave Freeman a five-year extension worth more than $41m in the offseason heading into the 2017 season.
The Atlanta Falcons 2017 season saw an expanded role for both Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Freeman only dipped below 60% of offensive snaps twice (53% in Week 17 and 3% due to an injury against Dallas in Week 10).
There is no way Freeman doesn’t eclipse 1,000 rushing yards for the third consecutive time in his career if he doesn’t miss three games that season. The last time this happened in Atlanta was Warrick Dunn from 2004 – 2006.
Freeman ended 2017 with 865 rushing yards and over 300 receiving yards.
Week 10 through 12 saw Tevin Coleman reach over 60% of offensive snaps for the second time in his three year career up to that point. Both times were due to injuries to Freeman.
Even with an increased role and his flashes of starting material, there wasn’t a need to dethrone Freeman as the number one guy on the roster. Freeman was head and shoulders the top guy.
More so, it was becoming clear that fans had to accept the fact that it would be hard to keep both players and that most likely it would be Coleman who would be the one to go. No real reason to believe that Freeman isn’t the guy.
However, 2018 would be the true start of the conversation about Tevin Coleman not leaving the Falcons.
The opening week of 2018 saw Freeman start the trend of injuries for the Atlanta Falcons that would plague the 2018 season. After missing the next three games, Freeman returned against Pittsburgh and left the game again due to an injury that would sideline him for the rest of the season.
There wasn’t a true concern about his health, because while he had only played in 16 games once in his first five NFL seasons, he never missed more than two games in a season. 2018 was the first.
Because of Freeman’s injuries, Tevin Coleman saw an increased role, but it was shared alongside rookie Ito Smith and Brian Hill. Both Smith and Hill are still on the Falcons roster and competing for the starting role for 2020.
Coleman’s percentage of offensive snaps never amassed to what Freeman typically accounted for, even with Coleman being the designated number one guy for the rest of the season.
Even so, Coleman still continued to impress and a decision that should be accepted by fans has now turned into a question of did the Atlanta Falcons make the right choice before the 2017 season by paying Freeman that much.
There was no way the Falcons would have paid Tevin Coleman what he wanted or deserved. There were too many key players that needed to be paid (Julio, Grady, Deion, and a couple more this coming offseason).
If Atlanta pays Coleman what he wanted, then the Falcons probably wouldn’t be able to scramble up the funds to sign one of our high profile players. Imagine the outrage if the Falcons couldn’t resign Julio, Deion, or Grady.
Because of what? Giving a back up running back a new contract in case Freeman gets hurt again?
The Falcons were struggling enough as it was to resign those players. There were even reports that Julio would sit out Week 1 if he didn’t get a new deal.
Julio shot those rumors down, however, in an era where guys will sit out a full season if they don’t get a new deal, it’s easy to assume that Julio would do just that.
The Atlanta Falcons rushing attack would suffer greatly. There are a number of reasons for this. Whether it’s the carousel that was the offensive line and the poor blocking or Freeman coming off an injury season, a number of factors resulted in the poor performances week in and week out.
The defense made it worse by forcing the offense to play from behind right from the start. That point has been beaten to death though.
While 2019 was a horrible year for running the ball for the Atlanta Falcons, the rushing attack in San Francisco was the best in the league.
Raheem Mostert finished as the teams leading rusher with 772 yards and was followed up by Breida (623) and Coleman (544). No player averaged more than 10 carries a game. The 49ers had a true three head monster in their backfield.
One of the main areas in 2019 where Freeman was more effective with the ball was through the air. Coleman only amassed 180 yards through the air, whereas Freeman accounted for over 400 yards. Coleman only caught more than three balls once all season.
Tevin Coleman was impressive in 2019 with the 49ers. That impression is not lost with Falcons fans who have to witness Coleman slice up the Minnesota defense for 105 yards and two scores. It took Freeman 14 weeks to finally score on the ground, let alone not reach 100 yards rushing all season.
Since the start of 2016, Freeman has only had four games over 100 yards on the ground. This could also be in large part due to both splitting time with Coleman and the Falcons being a pass-first team.
It is also important to note that Tevin Coleman is in a much better offensive system as the Atlanta Falcons have had to endure a failed college coach in Steve Sarkisian and a failed NFL head coach/coordinator in Dirk Koetter (who is sadly returning for 2020).
Freeman’s only seasons over 1,000 yards rushing were while Kyle Shanahan was calling plays in 2015 and 2016.
So the question isn’t did the Atlanta Falcons make a mistake by letting Tevin Coleman go, because that wasn’t a mistake. I would much rather resign who we did resign than resign Coleman.
The real question is did the team make a mistake in giving Freeman a huge contract in 2017? Were 1,500+ total yards in both seasons and almost 30 combined touchdowns worth $41m?
I believe the team made the right decision. There was no reason to believe there would be a post-Super Bowl free fall because the Falcons still have one of the most talented teams in the league.
They gave a guy a contract (albeit, I think just a bit overpaid) that he rightfully earned, and things just didn’t pan out. Sometimes that happens in the league and unfortunately, you have to eat those bad contracts.
Hindsight is always 20/20 though.
2020 will be an important year for Freeman and if the team made the right decision in 2017 because it hasn’t been looking good since.