Falcon's Freeman keeps spirits up as he awaits new contract
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) Devonta Freeman doesn't know how much longer it will take to get a new contract with the Atlanta Falcons.
The two-time Pro Bowl running back isn't fretting, though. He reported on time for the start of training camp and has no intention of making his contract negotiations a distraction for the team.
''I won't hold out,'' Freeman said Friday. ''I love football. This is what I love to do. I wouldn't want to do nothing else in the world but play football.''
Freeman and his agent, Kristin Campbell, seek a deal that would make the fourth-year veteran one of the NFL's highest-paid running backs.
Buffalo's LeSean McCoy will make in excess of $10 million this season and currently has the top salary, but Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell can surpass that number if he signs a franchise tag deal worth at least $12 million.
Freeman, in the last year of a rookie contract he signed as a fourth-round draft pick, will earn just under $1.8 million. He and Campbell first brought up the issue publicly during the week of the Super Bowl, a few days before the Falcons blew a huge lead and lost to New England.
Campbell tried to get a deal done before the start of camp, but he left Atlanta last week after speaking with general manager Thomas Dimitroff.
Campbell has told Freeman to be patient. Freeman, who ranked fifth in 2015 and seventh last year in yards from scrimmage, has taken some comfort in speaking with teammate Julio Jones, a two-time All-Pro receiver who had to wait until late August two years ago before signing a lucrative deal.
''I just take it one day at a time,'' Freeman said. ''She's enjoying the process. We're all enjoying the process. It's an exciting moment. There's no need to have my head down because I'm happy. I'm still here in Atlanta. I'm still under contract. I'm still happy no matter what.''
Freeman spoke briefly on the practice field Friday with team owner Arthur Blank, who has said publicly that the running back's contract is a top priority.
It's easy to see why. Freeman is paired with Tevin Coleman to comprise one of the league's top 1-2 threats at running back. Both players have breakaway speed, excel in the team's wide zone-blocking scheme and fill vital roles in the short passing game. Atlanta led the NFL in scoring last year behind Jones, Freeman and quarterback Matt Ryan, the league MVP.
Coach Dan Quinn called Freeman into his office before the start of camp to make sure he keeps his emotions in check and knows the team wants to get a deal done, even though there seems to be no immediate timetable.
''I didn't have to but I definitely did,'' Quinn said. ''The reason I'm saying that is it isn't something that got sideways. It wasn't like I had to, but for most of the guys that are in that contract time, I definitely talk it through and I want to have open lines of communication with them.
''If there's something that's jamming them up or something that I can assist with, that's my responsibility, too.''
NOTES: WR Devin Fuller, who missed last season with a shoulder injury, took some snaps with the first-team offense before hurting his knee and leaving practice. Quinn expects to have an update Saturday. ... The Falcons will be in full pads Saturday for the first time in camp. They spent much of Friday's workout on third-down and 2-minute situations. ... Quinn said WR Taylor Gabriel will get a long look as a return specialist. WR Andre Roberts signed during free agency to handle kickoff and punt return duties, but Gabriel will have a chance, too, after the Falcons decided not to bring back Eric Weems.
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