While the offensive line could be decimated by free agency, Falcons running back Jason Snelling may also be a hot commodity in free agency.
With just four years needed to reach unrestricted status, Snelling would be free to negotiation with all 32 teams if that proposal is ratified in a new collective bargaining agreement.
Snelling has served as Michael Turner’s main backup for the last two seasons. Snelling talked with Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk on Wednesday and left the door open for a possible return to the Falcons.
“I’m going to talk to the Falcons,” Snelling said. “They are the team that drafted me. I love the organization. I love my teammates and my staff. But I have to explore my options. But they’ll definitely be on the top of the list.”
Ironically, Turner was a backup in San Diego for four years before he signed with the Falcons as a free agent.
Snelling was a seventh round pick in 2007 and he’s out-performed his draft status. Some teams, as Florio points out in the interview, could view him as a No. 1 back or a No. 1 back in a rotation.
Snelling has made just three starts, but has played in 51 games over four seasons. He’s rushed for 1,042 yards on 257 carries (4.1 yards per carry) and scored seven rushing touchdowns.
Snelling has also caught 82 passes for 651 yards and four touchdowns. Last season, he was the team’s third-leading receiver behind Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez, with 44 catches for 303 yards and three touchdowns.
He is valuable for the Falcons because in addition to backing up Turner, he backs up Ovie Mughelli at fullback and is a special teamer.
The Falcons did draft running back Jacquizz Rodgers in the fifth round of the 2011 draft and could wait to see if Norwood recovers from knee surgery. They also have Antone Smith and Gartrell Johnson on the roster.
When Snelling’s agent is shopping his services to teams, he can point to last season’s game against Arizona. Snelling ran for 129 yards on 24 carries and scored two touchdowns in the 41-7 rout of the Cardinals. He also caught five passes for 57 yards, including a touchdown reception.
In the 2009 season finale against Tampa Bay, he rushed for 147 yards on 25 carries to help the Falcons earn their second consecutive winning season for the first time in franchise history.
–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog