By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Devonta Freeman might be better off just avoiding the media for the rest of the week.
The star Atlanta Falcons running back made headlines around New England last week when he told Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio that the Falcons can “do whatever we want” on offense. The comment was likely taken out of context, as he probably meant that the Falcons offense can beat you in a number of ways rather than that the Patriots couldn’t stop them. But when written out and ripped from its context, his comment sounded worse than it was.
Now, with the Super Bowl just five days away, Freeman is talking about money. He told Michael Silver of NFL.com in a new interview that he is hoping for a contract extension with the Falcons in the offseason. The former fourth-round pick made $600,000 in 2016 and is due $690,000 in 2017, the final year of his rookie contract.
In fairness to Freeman, Silver probably asked him several questions about his contract and was basing the entire story on it. The story also started with comments by Freeman’s agent Kristin Campbell and he probably wouldn’t have been asked in the first place if the agent didn’t speak up. But instead of quelling contract talk and keeping the focus on the Super Bowl, Freeman decided to answer the questions.
“Patience and timing are everything,” said Freeman. “I’ve got a family to feed, and I don’t want to struggle anymore. Now, I can see it, feel it, taste it. But I’ve got to finish strong and not think about the money this week – we’ve got too much to play for. After that, well, I feel like I’ve done my part. Now, hopefully, I’ll get rewarded.”
Freeman is obviously focused on preparing for the Super Bowl more than anything else. He didn’t make any comments like these at Super Bowl Opening Night; the interview happened before then. But clearly, Freeman is not ignoring the noise about his contract.
While the “I’ve got a family to feed” quote isn’t completely out of line, it’s not the kind of comment that will sit well with fans or anyone not earning anything close to his $600,000 salary. Former NBA player Latrell Sprewell infamously said “I’ve got my family to feed” in 2004, when he demanded a raise over the $14.6 million he was making at the time. Freeman better hope that this similar comment doesn’t stick with him like it did for Sprewell.
Freeman makes a salient point about the lifeblood of NFL players and their contracts. Most pro football players’ careers are relatively short and can end quickly and unexpectedly, especially that of running backs. If they can’t really cash in, they ultimately do not make as comfortable a living as you may believe when you space their earnings out over the course of their lifetimes. For most, being a pro athlete doesn’t automatically set you for life. As you may have seen in the 30 for 30 special Broke, many former athletes learned this the hard way.
“When you get the opportunity to get some money, you want to put yourself in position to max out, to get as much as you can, because the lifespan of a running back is not long,” said Freeman.
It’s also fair to note that Freeman is quite underpaid by NFL standards, making $600,000 despite being one of the most dynamic, productive backs in the NFL over the past two seasons. If recent deals for backs like Adrian Peterson and Jonathan Stewart are any indication, there’s a good chance that Freeman cashes in with a contract north of $20 million guaranteed within the next two years.
So when Freeman says that he doesn’t want to “struggle” and needs to feed his family, when he is set to earn $690,000 in 2017 and is likely to earn a major payday after that, he is sure to raise questions of exactly what kind of lifestyle he is living.
It’s also fair to ask where Freeman’s priorities are ahead of the Super Bowl. He has said multiple times that he’s only focused on the game, and maybe he is. But answering any questions at all about his contract, even if they came before he went to Houston, only serve to bring his focus into question. He could have dismissed contract questions with “I’m just focused on the game,” but he did not. He’s not necessarily wrong about what he’s saying, it’s just questionable timing and not the best look with the biggest game of his career on the horizon.
Falcons head coach Dan Quinn insisted to the Atlanta Journal Constitution that Freeman’s contract is not an issue for him or the team right now as they get ready for the Super Bowl.
“That’s a great topic for a week from today,” said Quinn. “Honestly, the team is so focused on this game, this matchup that it’s not a distraction.”
Exactly how focused is Freeman on winning the Super Bowl rather than his contract? The answer to that question won’t come until Sunday night.
Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.