The Falcons are preparing to part way with backup running back Tevin Coleman.
“This is one of those moments where football and business intersect,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said Wednesday at the NFL scouting combine. “There are lot of scenarios that take place.”
Coleman, who was selected in the third round of the 2015 draft, should draw interest on the open market when free agency starts March 13. His representatives are hopeful that he will attract a deal similar to the one that San Francisco signed Jerick McKinnon to last season. McKinnon received a four-year, $30 million deal.
That would be too high for the Falcons to match. The Jets, Colts and Lions are teams looking for running backs.
The Falcons are holding out hope that the market is depressed and they can make a competitive offer. That’s the grass isn’t greener on the other side of the fence scenario the Falcons are embracing.
“We will take it all the way through that to see if we have a chance to bring him back or not,” Quinn said. “We certainly have lots of respect for him for the way he competed. No more so than this year where although it was a lost season for us, to see him demonstrate the leadership at the position where he was not part of his normal tandem with (him) and (Devonta) Freeman. I thought he really handled that well.”
Coleman has been more productive that McKinnon, a former Sprayberry High and Georgia Southern star.
McKinnon, 5-foot-9 and 205 pounds, was selected in the third round (96th overall) in the 2014 NFL draft. He played in 58 games and made 14 starts over his first four seasons.
Coleman, 6-1 and 210 pounds, was drafted 73rd overall. He’s played in 56 games and made 20 starts.
With Freeman out last season, Coleman rushed 167 times for 800 yards and four touchdowns behind a line that ranked 31st in the league in stuffed runs of no gain or losses. He also caught 32 passes for 267 and five touchdowns.
Running back Ito Smith played behind Coleman last season as a rookie.
“He certainly took a larger role this year due to the injuries that took place with Devonta,” Quinn said. “I thought he responded for us. He’s got excellent hands out of the backfield.
“In our offense that’s a big part of what we do.”
Smith, who was a fourth-round pick from Southern Mississippi, rushed 90 times for 315 yards and four touchdowns.
“He certainly has the ability to change direction,” Quinn said. “He would be somebody that I would call a slasher as a runner. He can get through the line of scrimmage and then try to break you off laterally.
“He’s got an excellent spin to him. He’s a mature guy. (He) really picked up our system quickly. In the zone system you better learn your tracks and be ready to go.”
Quinn stopped short of naming Smith as Coleman’s replacement.
“He’s certainly has shown that he’s capable of that, but if that (Coleman leaving) takes place, there will definitely be other guys that we put into the mix to compete with (Smith),” Quinn said. “I don’t like going into it saying that you’re automatically here and you’re automatically here unless your name is (Matt) Ryan or (Julio) Jones. They are not competing with anyone else for their spot.
“At other spaces, you better believe that we are going to try to create as much competition as we can in lots of spots, running back being one of them.”
The Falcons are expecting a full recovery from sports-hernia surgery for Freeman.
“What I can say is that I’m looking forward to Devonta coming back,” Quinn said. “We really missed his energy, his style and slashing ability. He’s doing well.”
The Falcons had kind words for Coleman.“One of the things that I really admire about Tev is his ability to have the explosive play,” Quinn said. “To have the speed to get on the edge. He’s another one out of the backfield that can make plays catching. He’s done an excellent job through his time here.”
Coleman won’t be the only Falcon headed to free agency.
Left guard Andy Levitre, defensive end Derrick Shelby, long snapper Joe Condo, defensive tackle Terrell McClain, guard Zane Beadles and guard Ben Garland are all headed for free agency.
In addition to Coleman and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, the Falcons are waiting to see if they can work out deals with quarterback Matt Schaub, special-teams player Justin Bethel, defensive end Bruce Irvin, tight end Logan Paulsen, linebacker Kemal Ishmael, safety Jordan Richards, wide receivers Justin Hardy and Marvin Hall.