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Saints sign RB Devonta Freeman to 1-year deal

Devonta Freeman, Saints, Falcons

The rivalry between the New Orleans Saints and the Atlanta Falcons is one of the especially spicy and nasty confrontations in the NFL. It just received another injection of emotion. New Orleans signed former Atlanta running back Devonta Freeman to a one-year deal on Saturday, completing a very quick courtship and changing the dynamics of the NFC South.

The Saints might not be getting Freeman in his prime, but it’s obvious that Freeman is not being acquired as a No. 1 running back. He will back up Alvin Kamara and reduce the superstar’s workload in spots during the 2021 season.

It will be interesting to see how the Saints and Sean Payton use Freeman in their offense. This is the beginning of a new era in New Orleans, where Drew Brees is no longer the quarterback after retiring in the offseason. Jameis Winston is the likely Week 1 starting quarterback, with Taysom Hill — Payton’s favorite Swiss Army knife change-of-pace option — serving as the backup. Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book is also part of the QB room in the Big Easy.

Devonta Freeman was part of the Atlanta Falcons’ Super Bowl team in the 2016 NFL season. He was a significant cog in Atlanta’s roaring offensive engine that year, helping offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan maximize Matt Ryan’s talents and giving Shanahan the springboard he needed to become an NFL head coach with the San Francisco 49ers. Though Freeman is a tested, seasoned veteran, he is not yet 30. The 29-year-old will give the Saints a chance to reimagine their offense.

One wonders how much the absence of receiver Michael Thomas for the first few weeks of the NFL regular season (due to injury) affected the thought process used by the Saints and Payton. It could be that New Orleans will try to emphasize a ball-control, run-first approach in the early weeks of the season, keeping the defense fresh and trying to play low-scoring games until Thomas comes back.