Thu May 23 5:15pm ET
By CHARLES ODUM
AP Sports Writer
Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman takes a handoff from quarterback Matt Ryan as offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter looks on during NFL football practice Thursday, May 23, 2019, in Flowery Branch, Ga. (AP Photo/John Amis)
Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman walks off the field after NFL football practice Thursday, May 23, 2019, in Flowery Branch, Ga. (AP Photo/John Amis)
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) passes during NFL football practice Thursday, May 23, 2019, in Flowery Branch, Ga. (AP Photo/John Amis)
Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman runs drills during NFL football practice Thursday, May 23, 2019, in Flowery Branch, Ga. (AP Photo/John Amis)
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) The highlight of the Atlanta Falcons' first week of organized team activities has been Devonta Freeman's return to the field.
''It's been a long time,'' said coach Dan Quinn.
Freeman looked explosive in Thursday's practice, the first OTAs session open to reporters. Having Freeman again flash his dual-threat skills at running back is good news for the Falcons' hopes of returning to the playoffs.
Knee and groin injuries limited Freeman to only two games last season . The Falcons had a long list of season-ending injuries, including both safeties and both guards, but losing Freeman had perhaps the biggest impact on the team's fall to a 7-9 finish.
Without Freeman, the Falcons' ground game was stagnant , ranking only 27th in the league. The Falcons' other top running back, Tevin Coleman, signed with San Francisco as a free agent, so it was important to see Freeman in his No. 24 red jersey lining up beside quarterback Matt Ryan this week.
''It's awesome,'' Ryan said. ''Free is such a dynamic player. ... He looks great.''
The Falcons are still waiting for starting safeties Ricardo Allen (torn Achilles tendon) and Keanu Neal (knee) to complete their comebacks from 2018 injuries. Both worked on a side field with trainers but could be ready for training camp.
Freeman, 27, emerged with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2015 and 2016. He had a combined 127 catches those two years, making him even more valuable.
Freeman has struggled to stay on the field since signing a five-year, $41.25 million contract before the 2017 season. At the time it was the NFL's richest contract for a running back. The deal's total value still ranks third for his position, behind Todd Gurley ($57.5 million) and Le'Veon Bell ($52.5 million).
The big contract brought great expectations, making two straight years of injury woes even more frustrating. He missed two games in 2017 following his second concussion of the year, including one in the preseason, and also was slowed by a knee injury. He was limited to 68 yards rushing in two games in 2018.
Freeman's trademark smile was back on Thursday, when he said the joy in football has returned.
''It felt good just to be out here running around and having fun,'' he said. ''This is fun. Just having fun running around brought back memories of when I was a kid, playing in the middle of the field. It was fun.''
Football wasn't fun for Freeman last season. He suffered a bruised right knee in the season-opening loss at Philadelphia, forcing him to miss three games. Then he landed on injured reserve with the groin injury.
''It was tough,'' Freeman said. ''At the time I couldn't see the blessing that God had for me. But it was definitely tough not being able to go out there and compete and battle with my brothers. Just seeing all those guys, every time I watched a game, it was like `Man, that was a missed opportunity for me.' I definitely took it to heart. I learned a lot from it, though.''
Freeman has not been restricted this week but said ''I'm still getting better.''
Freeman's grin made his coach also smile.
''It's been awesome having Free back on the field and be back to having him look like himself,'' Quinn said, adding ''to see the energy that he brings has been good.''
NOTES: OTAs are voluntary. Among players not participating: WR Julio Jones, DT Grady Jarrett, OLB Vic Beasley Jr. and LB Deion Jones. Quinn said he has been in contact with each of the four. He said Julio Jones and Deion Jones ''are still working on some rehab.'' He said Beasley is training on his own and is expected by minicamp. Jarrett signed his $15.209 million franchise tag which prevented him from signing elsewhere as a free agent. He set career highs with six sacks and three forced fumbles last season. Julio Jones missed OTAs and the mandatory minicamp last year before reporting for training camp with a promise from the team his contract would be reworked this year. Those talks are ongoing.
July 5th: Tightend Preview
Updating previous reports, New England Patriots QB Cam Newton can earn $7.5 million next year if he hits all the incentives and wins the Super Bowl. He has a $1.05 million base salary, which $550,000 is guaranteed. He can earn $43,750 per game in roster bonuses, up to $700,000. He can earn a maximum of $3.75 million in playing-time incentives with $500,000 in Pro Bowl and All-Pro bonuses. He can earn a maximum of $1 million from $250,000 bonuses for each playoff win with above 50 percent playing time.
Fantasy Spin: Newton is in the best spot he could have wished for, but the team still lacks proven weapons around him. He'll be a midrange QB2 in fantasy, but he could ultimately outplay that draft status if he's finally healthy.
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott has been negotiating a long-term deal with the team but the two sides still differ on the length of the contract as the extension deadline looms. The Cowboys have a contract offer on the table, but it is reportedly longer than Prescott wants. Prescott is scheduled to make $31.4 million under the franchise tag this year, but both sides have expressed desire to keep the Mississippi State Bulldog in Dallas long term. Franchise tagged players have until July 15 to work out a contract extension. Only two quarterbacks have played under the franchise tag, Drew Brees and Kirk Cousins, and both signed with new teams in their ensuing free agency which could affect Prescott's dynasty value if the sides cannot agree on a new deal by next week.
Baltimore Ravens running back Mark Ingram II is ready to get back to playing football, but he also wants to make sure it is in a safe environment. In a short interview clip that aired on NFL Total Access on Wednesday, Ingram said, "I'm basically just listening to the updates from the team, from the [players association], from the league and, I want to play ball, but I think it needs to be in a safe, effective and efficient way. I know there's standards and protocols and guidelines and all that to make sure everybody's healthy and safe. And we're doing everything to make sure nobody's at risk. I'm hopeful that we'll be playing." The concern for safety has been shared by several of Ingram's colleagues of late and will be a frequent topic of discussion as training camps are scheduled to begin at the end of July. Ingram faces increased competition for backfield touches with second-round rookie J.K. Dobbins in the fold, rendering the veteran as more of a flex option in fantasy for 2020.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers LB Jack Cichy (elbow) is expected to be play primarily on special teams in 2020 after missing most of last season with an elbow injury.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers LB Kendell Beckwith (ankle) was activated from the Reserve/Non-Football Injury list in February, but he is not a lock to make the 53-man roster in 2020.
Indianapolis Colts FS Malik Hooker is expected to be one of the starting safeties this upcoming season.
San Francisco 49ers running back Raheem Mostert requested a trade on Wednesday, per his agent, Brett Tessler. Mostert and his representation simply want to bring him in line with the highest-paid running backs on the team. Tevin Coleman will make $4.55 million in 2020. Mostert has two years left on his deal, which initially paid him as mainly a special teams player. He became the team's lead back down the stretch last year, helped lead the team to a Super Bowl appearance and led the NFL in yards per carry. It's likely that the two sides work something out, but if not, Tevin Coleman would become a lot more interesting. Even though he's set to be San Fran's lead back in 2020, Mostert could lose touches to Coleman and Jerick McKinnon, making him more of a low-end RB2/high-end RB3.
New England Patriots QB Cam Newton officially signed his contract with the Patriots Wednesday, July 8. Official terms of the contract were not disclosed.
San Francisco 49ers RB Raheem Mostert has requested a trade, according to his agent.
Fantasy Spin: Mostert is coming off the best season of his career with 772 rushing yards and eight touchdowns but has not received the new contract he is looking for this offseason. Fantasy players should monitor the situation to see where Mostert will play this season because he can be at least a flex option in leagues.
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs tweeted on Tuesday that he'd "be lying if I said I was comfortable starting back up" amid the coronavirus pandemic. The NFL has plenty of questions to answer regarding safety protocols for player health before training camps and the regular season begins, and it's possible that players will decide to opt out of playing altogether. If Diggs ultimately decides to play in 2020, he'll be the No. 1 wideout in his first year in Buffalo, but his fantasy ceiling might depend on how much Buffalo throws the ball and whether quarterback Josh Allen can make strides as a passer. John Brown and Cole Beasley will take targets away and give Diggs a lower ceiling as more of a low-end WR2 in fantasy.
Tennessee Titans general manager Jon Robinson said the team will consider free-agent kicker Stephen Gostkowski. A left hip injury cost Gostkowski most of his final season with the Patriots, but his .874 field-goal percentage is the fifth-best all time. "We certainly have confidence in Greg Joseph, I thought Greg did a great job for us, came in there at the end of last year and did a great job for us and helped us," Robinson said. "Itd be his job to lose but we want as competitive a position there as possible." Joseph has only attempted four field goals in the NFL, and they all came in 2018 with the Browns. He did make all nine of his extra points in two games with Tennessee last year, but if the Titans signed Gostkowski and he proves to be fully healthy, the veteran could easily take over and become fantasy relevant once again.
Tennessee Titans general manager Jon Robinson has continued discussions with running back Derrick Henry's representation on a long-term contract extension with just one week left to reach an agreement before the July 15 deadline. If the sides can't agree, Henry will play 2020 on the $10.278 million franchise tag. Henry led the NFL with 1,540 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns in 2019. He led the team to the AFC Championship game and added 446 rushing yards in three playoff games. The former Alabama star had six 100-yard rushing games in the regular season and two more in the postseason. The bruising 25-year-old back will continue to be featured in this run-first offense, which makes him a top-five fantasy football running back that will come off the board in the first round.
Tennessee Titans general manager Jon Robinson said that he would like to see free-agent defensive end Jadeveon Clowney in-person before he would consider signing him. However, the Titans still can't bring Clowney in for a physical after the pass-rusher had core muscle surgery in the offseason. With the Browns likely out of the running for Clowney's services, it could be just Tennessee, Seattle and Las Vegas in the running. The oft-injured Clowney will have to settle for a one-year deal before testing free agency again next offseason, but he'd definitely bring an added pass-rushing dimension to the Titans Defense. Clowney would prefer to sign with a team before training camps get underway later this month.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Jalen Hurd is expected to play the big-slot role for the 49ers this season. Hurd was a third-round pick in last year's draft, but he never saw the field in his rookie season because of an injury. But the 24-year-old out of Baylor is one of those weapons that head coach Kyle Shanahan loves to utilize all over the field and at different positions. With Deebo Samuel (foot) potentially missing the beginning of the season, Hurd could make even more of an impact in the passing game. Hurd played running back in college, and it's clear that the Niners would like to get him involved as a playmaker in 2020. He's certainly a name to keep an eye on as we approach training camp this month.
Knowing that Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is under contract with the team for the next 12 years, 62-year-old head coach Andy Reid isn't even considering retirement anytime soon. If Reid were to stick around until the end of Mahomes' extension, he'd be 74 years old. Bills great Marv Levy and Bears founder George Halas coached when they were 72 years old. The combination of Reid and Mahomes could be great for a long time to come, and some are discussing their names with the likes of great coach/quarterback couplings such as Belichick and Brady, Payton and Brees and Walsh and Montana.
Free-agent PK Stephen Gostkowski (Patriots) could be an option for the Tennessee Titans, according to general manager Jon Robinson.
Tennessee Titans RB Derrick Henry is not close to a long-term contract extension at this point. Henry's representatives have been talking with the Titans this offseason about a new deal.
Fantasy Spin: The two sides have a week to reach a deal or Henry will play on the one-year contract he signed. Henry is one of the top running back in the NFL and should be a first-round pick in all fantasy leagues.
Free-agent DE Jadeveon Clowney (Seahawks) has received interest from the Tennessee Titans this offseason, but general manager Jon Robinson said he would like to meet with Clowney and have the team doctors examine him before working on a contract.
Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, 62, said he's not close to retiring soon.
Free-agent WR Chad Johnson (Patriots) tweeted that he was preparing for a workout with the Las Vegas Raiders. A Raiders spokesman said he wasn't aware of any scheduled workouts with Johnson, who last played in the NFL in the 2011 season with the New England Patriots.