FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons general Thomas Dimitroff didn't rule out the possibility of keeping running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman together into the future, although the financial ramifications would seem to indicate otherwise.
The Falcons rewarded two-time Pro Bowler and 2014 fourth-round pick Freeman in August with a five-year, $41.25 million extension that included a little ore than $22 million guaranteed. Coleman, a 2015 third-round pick, is going into the final year of his rookie deal and is to make $791,268 in 2018.
Although Freeman and Coleman talk publicly about their "brotherhood" and willingness to share carries, it only makes sense for the backup Coleman to desire a lead role and lucrative deal, particularly with his big-play ability. His agent, Adisa Bakari, is known for being aggressive and securing such lucrative deals for his clients, including Matt Forte and Maurice Jones-Drew in the past. Bakari also represents the Pittsburgh Steelers' Le'Veon Bell, who could be the league's top paid back soon.
Still, Dimitroff left the window open to signing Coleman to an extension.
"I believe you could realistically do it," Dimitroff said. "I think, again, it comes back to an earlier question when you're talking about looking at all the different spots on the roster and what you can do to create the space."
The question Dimitroff made reference to was how comfortable he felt about the salary-cap situation and the ability to fill holes going into the next season. Although Dimitroff didn't get into specifics, he said "I think we're in a good spot" regarding the salary cap. He said the first priority is signing quarterback Matt Ryan to an extension and indicated that could create some immediate cap relief.
"And again, we do a really good job here, I think, about being creative," Dimitroff said. "Luckily, we have an owner [Arthur Blank] that's allowing us to spend the money, and he doesn't want to leave a whole bunch on the table, so everyone should be happy about that. I know Q [Dan Quinn] and I definitely are. It makes it a lot more manageable when you're putting it all together."
It still will be interesting to see how the Coleman situation plays out. One would think he carries some trade value, but NFL executives believe a strong running back draft class would discourage teams from inquiring about trading for Coleman.
Back to the financial aspect, Freeman leads all running backs going into 2018 with an average salary of $8.25 million per year. The highest paid tandem at running back in terms of average per year is Jacksonville's Leonard Fournette and Chris Ivory. Fournette, the No. 4 overall pick in 2017, signed a four-year deal worth $27.15 million fully guaranteed and Ivory is in the second year of a five-year, $32 million free-agent deal that included $10 million guaranteed and isn't expected to be back next season. It's not really a comparison regarding which tandem is better, with Freeman and Coleman right at the top of the league along with Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram of the New Orleans Saints. Still, it will be interesting to see how much the Falcons would be willing to pay Coleman, if that indeed is their intention.
This past season, Coleman tied Freeman for the team lead with eight touchdowns. Freeman led the Falcons with 865 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns on 196 carries, and Coleman rushed for 628 yards and five touchdowns on 156 carries. Freeman caught 36 passes for 317 yards and a touchdown, and Coleman caught 27 passes for 299 yards and three touchdowns.
Coleman is known for his breakaway speed and has overcome the fumbling issues he had as a rookie. If his future is elsewhere, he'll have to prove his durability and show better vision.
Coleman certainly left a strong last impression, rushing for 79 yards on just 10 carries against the league's top run defense in a 15-10 playoff loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. His production, which also included one reception for 14 yards, had many wondering why the Falcons didn't utilize him more at the end of the game.
Even the opposition was impressed.
"I think he's a dog; I like Tevin Coleman," Eagles running back LeGarrette Blount told ESPN following the game. "I like him a lot. They've got two of the nicest running backs in the league. Obviously, they're not nicer than ours -- you know I'm going to ride with my team every time -- but they have two of the nicest. I think 100 percent, Coleman can be a starter in this league."