The Atlanta Falcons are releasing two-time Pro Bowl running back Devonta Freeman with three years and $21 million remaining on his contract, his agent, Kristin Campbell, told ESPN on Monday.
The move saves $3.5 million against the salary cap ahead of free agency, with the Falcons lacking cap space. It leaves $6 million in dead money.
The Falcons hinted at the move when coach Dan Quinn did not fully commit to Freeman as the primary back during a postseason news conference. Then owner Arthur Blank told ESPN that, although he loved what Freeman brought to the team, the Falcons had to be mindful of the salary cap not being "unlimited" while making crucial roster decisions.
One of those decisions was whether to re-sign two-time Pro Bowl tight end Austin Hooper, whom they let reach free agency. Hooper told ESPN's Adam Schefer on Monday that he is "definitely leaning" toward signing with the Cleveland Browns.
The Falcons also released offensive lineman Ty Sambrailo on Monday. Sambrailo appeared in 44 games for the Falcons after they traded for him from the Denver Broncos at the start of the 2017 season. Releasing Sambrailo saves $3,718,750 against the cap.
Atlanta, with pressing needs along the offensive and defensive lines, likely will have to address the running back void via the draft or free agency. It has drafted a running back each of the past three years, with Qadree Ollison (fifth round), Ito Smith (fourth) and Brian Hill (fifth). Ollison and Smith remain under contract, while Hill is scheduled to become a restricted free agent. The last significant free-agent running back the Falcons signed was three-time Pro Bowler Steven Jackson in 2013.
Freeman was a vital part of the Falcons' 2016 Super Bowl run, as he accumulated 1,541 total yards and 13 touchdowns. He rushed for back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2015 and 2016 as the starter under then-Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, now the coach in San Francisco.
However, injuries started to mount for Freeman. He missed two games with a concussion in 2017 and battled a knee issue during the 2017 postseason. In 2018, Freeman played in just two games due to multiple injuries and eventually underwent season-ending core muscle surgery.
Freeman returned healthy in 2019 with big expectations but managed just 656 yards on 184 carries with two rushing touchdowns as the Falcons' 30th-ranked rushing offense struggled as a whole under pass-oriented offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. Freeman caught 59 passes for 410 yards and four touchdowns. He missed two games with a foot sprain.
The Falcons reportedly had discussions with the Detroit Lions regarding Freeman before last season's trade deadline, although nothing materialized.
Freeman, 28, was a fourth-round draft pick of the Falcons in 2014 out of Florida State. In 77 games with the Falcons, he accumulated 5,987 yards from scrimmage on 1,208 touches with 3,972 rushing yards, 2,015 receiving yards and 43 total touchdowns.