Jeff Schultz

This AJC sports blogger takes things seriously when he has to, but he really would rather not

Falcons should be thankful Freeman keeping negotiations a non-story


FLOWERY BRANCH -- Devonta Freeman's next contract is a big deal for the Falcons because it will impact what the team can do in future negotiations with other veteran players and potentially impact personnel decisions.

But the Freeman talks are not nearly as major of an issue as it could for one reason: Freeman is in camp, and he's not complaining.

The negotiations are not manna for media constantly looking for news because he's not letting it become that. He's honoring the fourth year of his rookie contract ($1.797 million salary). It's a stark contrast to the situation in Pittsburgh, where running back Le'Veon Bell rejected a five-year, $60 million extension and has so far refused to sign a $12.12 million franchise tender for this season.

Freeman is under contract, unlike Bell, but it's common for players like him to hold out of camp when they've outperformed their contracts because of injury risk and the fact NFL deals are not guaranteed. (Freeman reportedly has purchased a $10 million insurance policy against injury on the chance a new deal is not reached, according to the NFL Network's Michael Silver.)

Freeman spoke to the media for the first time in training camp Friday. (Running time of news conference: 3 minutes, 5 seconds, before he was whisked away. So he won't get a sore throat.) When asked if he would consider leaving camp if a deal is not finalized, he said, "For what? I’m under contract."

Welcome to NFL front-office nirvana.

It's difficult enough to keep a roster of players on the rails, particularly when the team has become a major national story, like the Falcons have. If Freeman wasn't in camp -- or left camp -- it would become a daily obsession for some.

Coach Dan Quinn said he spoke to Freeman about the situation, but not because he's somebody "who got sideways.

"For most of the guys who’ve been in contract talks, it's important to have open lines of communication with them. If there’s something that’s jamming them up or something I can assist with, that something I should do."

Freeman remained reserved with his  comments even when his agent Kristen Campbell or her more-famous husband Luther Campbell, ratcheted up the rhetoric.

He called the football field his "happy place," adding, "There’s no need to have my head down because I’m happy. I’m still here in Atlanta."

Asked how he's able to shut out negotiations, he said, "It’s just like when I have family issues or any issues at home, I just pour it in the garbage. When I come into work I handle my business. It’s all about football. When I leave the field then I might think about family issues, contracts and things like that. But it don’t ever let it get to me. I understand the process. I understand the business."

When told that attitude makes him unique among some pro athletes, Freeman said, "This is what God blessed me with. So I won’t let the contract situation take away from that. This could easily be taken away from me. So I just try to understand that, focus on God, myself and my family and when I’m here it’s all football."

This story could be so much bigger than it is.

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About the Author

Jeff Schultz is a general sports columnist and blogger who isn't afraid to share his opinion, which may not necessarily jibe with yours.