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Devonta Freeman, Falcons agree on five-year contract extension

The Atlanta Falcons and two-time Pro Bowl running back Devonta Freeman have agreed to a five-year contract extension that makes him the NFL's highest-paid running back, a source informed of the situation told NFL Network's Michael Silver. The extension pays out $41.25 million.

The Falcons confirmed the five-year extension on Wednesday morning.

The former Florida State standout will take home an annual average of $8.25 million over the life of the deal. That's more than any other running back, pending Le'Veon Bell's anticipated acceptance of a one-year, $12.1 million offer from the Pittsburgh Steelers. (The Steelers used their franchise tag on Bell, but he has thus far declined to sign and remains away from training camp.)

The extension includes $17.3 million fully guaranteed and $22 million in guarantees, a source informed of the situation told NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport. Freeman also receives a $15 million signing bonus, per Rapoport.

"We are very pleased that we were able to get this extension done," Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said in a statement. "Devonta embodies everything we are looking for in a Falcon, and we are proud that he'll be able to spend his career here in Atlanta."

A fourth-round draft pick in 2014, Freeman has scored 27 touchdowns over the past two seasons and had vastly outperformed his rookie deal, which was due to pay him $1.8 million in 2017. The new contract will be tacked onto the final year of Freeman's rookie deal and runs through the 2022 season.

"Everybody's happy," said Freeman's agent, Kristin Campbell. "I'm so excited for him. He's excited to be a Falcon for life. He loves the city. The organization's been great throughout the process. To have him be the highest-paid back after only three years is a testament to his achievement. Everyone's thrilled."

Six days before Super Bowl LI, Freeman expressed a desire for a new deal, which became a major story during the days leading up to the game. The dual threat backed up his words with a strong performance in the Falcons' heartbreaking Super Bowl LI defeat to the New England Patriots, scoring the game's first touchdown and gaining 121 yards from scrimmage.

Last month, as negotiations with the Falcons stalled, Freeman was prepared to play out his rookie deal and test the market -- or have the franchise tag placed upon him by the Falcons -- following the 2017 season. He spent $50,000 on a $10-million insurance policy to protect him in the event of a career-altering injury, all of which is now moot.

Freeman, 25, will now command an annual average salary second only to Bell (unless Bell declines to sign his franchise tender and elects to sit out the season). For now, Freeman has the NFL's most lucrative deal among running backs, surpassing that of the Buffalo Bills' LeSean McCoy, whose average annual salary is a reported $8 million.

Last January, Freeman admitted that he was "struggling" with his role in Atlanta's offense, which had him sharing the workload with Tevin Coleman, a third-round pick in the 2015 draft. Though Coleman remains an integral part of the Falcons' attack -- now under the guidance of offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, who replaced Kyle Shanahan after Shanahan was hired as the San Francisco 49ers head coach following the Super Bowl -- it's clear that the organization regards Freeman as its marquee back.

Two seasons ago, the 5-foot-8, 206-pound Freeman made the Pro Bowl after gaining 1,056 yards on 265 carries and catching 73 passes for 578 yards. Last season, he ran for 1,079 yards on 227 carries and had 54 receptions for 462 yards, again earning a Pro Bowl selection.

With Freeman's deal done, the Falcons can now turn their attention toward negotiating an extension for star quarterback Matt Ryan, the NFL's reigning MVP. Before February's Super Bowl, Falcons owner Arthur Blank told ESPN he expected to reward Ryan for his stellar 2016 season, saying, "He needs to be compensated well, certainly. And he will be."

Ryan, 32, has two years left on the six-year, $103.75 million contract he signed in July 2013, a deal that included $59 million guaranteed.

Follow Michael Silver on Twitter @MikeSilver.

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