Even though re-signing Brent Grimes is the biggest off-season priority, one that figures to be very close in nature is whether or not the Falcons will be able to hold onto backup and extremely versatile running back Jason Snelling. Falcons resident stud writer D. Orlando Ledbetter just posted a topic on whether Snelling can start for another team. Since almost all of Falcon Nation believe that the Birds should re-up him (some even think he should become the feature back), the question will be “how much should they pay” to keep #44.
No, they won’t be able to pay him “quite” as much as they paid Michael Turner when they snagged him away from San Diego, but if they treat Snelling as the next in line ready to pick up after Turner hits his expected slow down, the transition for the next generation at running back in Atlanta will seamless and superb.
Turner Running to the 30 Curse
Turner is still the current unquestioned starter and stud for the Falcons rushing attack, but several things come into play here that gives every indication the Birds HAVE to re-sign Snelling almost at all costs. Even though he’s made the Pro Bowl in 2 out of 3 years and still has a good amount of gas left in the tank, Turner has seen an amazingly heavy workload the last three years, racking up almost 900 carries in less than 3 seasons (missed 5 games in 2009 due to high ankle sprains). The most loyal Turner fans will even admit that he’s definitely slowed down a good bit and doesn’t seem to have the same burst he once had. He’ll be 29 this year, but the following season will see him hit the dreaded 30 year old curse that even the most productive and fit of backs, such as Ladanian Tomlinson, haven’t been able to escape. They basically have the best of both worlds with Snelling. Not only did he have just 28 rushes before 2009, but he also knows the playbook and offense very well and has been drafted and developed by the Falcons.
All Backfield Passing Would Be Gone
Second, Snelling may not have the numbers that Turner has, but he definitely has more versatility in the passing game. Snelling has had 550+ receiving yards the last two seasons with 4 TDs. Compare that to a pitiful 23 receptions and barely over 100 yards receiving for Turner in 3 years, you have to see that the Falcons backfield would take a huge step back with him out of the picture.
Rodgers Not Ready Yet
Third, yes Jacquizz Rodgers was taken in this year’s draft, but he has not seen one page of the Falcons playbook, nor spent anytime with the voluntary workouts in Atlanta. Anyone expecting him to be able to come in and immediately pick up Snelling’s workload would asking entirely too much. He may have promise, but Rodgers would have some big shoes to fill with Snelling gone. Throw in the fact that Jerious Norwood can’t stay healthy for more than a few quarters and the other running backs, Antone Smith and Gartrell Johnson, have shown they are incapable of meaningful contributions and the Birds are only a sprain away from catastrophe in the backfield.
Do Falcons Really Need to Stock Another Position?
Finally, the Falcons will find themselves in a very precarious situation very rapidly. Michael Turner has been an awesome workhorse for the Falcons and still has some left, but the Falcons have to build for the future and signing Snelling at almost all costs is a necessity. The new trend in the NFL is a two-back system, and even though Snelling isn’t extremely complementary to Turner, one could argue he has more long-term value both in the running and passing game going forward. Snelling may be offered money to be a starting running back elsewhere, and frankly the Falcons may simply be out priced, but Dimitroff should do everything in his power to keep the Falcons future starting running back. With so many other positions aging quickly (Gonzalez, Abraham, White, McClure) aging rapidly, they can avoid this one by keeping it in house. A six year, $21 million dollar deal shouldn’t be out of the question to solidify the Falcons backfield for many, many years.
Yes, it will be painful to let Jason Snelling go somewhere else and the Falcons should do everything they can to keep him, but they shouldn’t overpay to keep Snelling with the fear that he will replicate what Turner did with the Falcons when he got his first starting job with the Falcons. Even though Turner is one of the best examples of a backup hitting the market rich and finding instant success, there are many more backups that floundered or had mixed results when they got their starting spot. It is true that Snelling has done extremely well, but the Falcons are simply committed to Turner since he has 3 more years left on his contract and has made the Pro Bowl in 2 out of his 3 years in red and black.
Rodgers Is More Complementary
Jacquizz Rodgers may be young and inexperienced, but running back has proven to be one of the best positions where rookies can come in and make an immediate impact. And if anyone can take up Snelling’s slack, Rodgers definitely can be that guy. In just three years at Oregon State, Rodgers had 3,790 rushing yards, 46 TDS, 1,036 receiving yards, and 4 TDs. All while fumbling only one time. Yes, that’s correct ONE TIME! Sure, they may be some initial growing pains, but Rodgers has a ton of upside and is a true complementary back to Turner. Signing Snelling to long contract would essentially take away touches from the extremely talented Rodgers.
Handcuffed in Future Drafts
Locking up Snelling to a long-term contract would also completely prohibit them from drafting a running back essentially for the next 3-4 years, depending on how much his contract would be. Talented running backs are usually always in high supply and the Birds could really add an element of explosiveness to the backfield they currently lack. Turner and Snelling are grinders and Rodgers is shifty more than a true burner. You never know when the Falcons will be in a position to take the next Chris Johnson or Arian Foster.
Market Will Dictate a Reasonable Offer
Finally, the Falcons will be in an excellent position to know how much is too much when it comes to signing Snelling to a new deal. Although Atlanta fans love Snelling and want to keep him, he represents something of a second tier running back that will likely be available when free agency hits. Running backs who have proven they can be productive starters such as Deangelo Williams, Ahmad Bradshaw, and Ronnie Brown among several others will likely get the first wave of big deals and that will determine a reasonable market for Snelling. If teams like the Denver Broncos, Washington Redskins, Seattle Seahawks, or and Arizona Cardinals, just to name a few, who need a frontline starter and think Snelling is their man, its going to be almost impossible for the Falcons to match what they could offer. After all, Turner is their current starter for the foreseeable future and they can’t pay for two starters. Snelling may represent potential, but Turner has made two Pro Bowls in three years and its hard to argue with that. Most of it will just come down to what Snelling wants. Does he want a max contract and a chance to start for a rebuilding team? Or does he want to get paid very well and possibly be the Falcons future starter?