Falcons’ question No. 1: Should Michael Turner be kept? (UPDATED)

Falcons may need to sacrifice Michael Turner to fill other needs. (AP photo)

The Falcons may need to sacrifice running back Michael Turner to fill other needs. (AP photo)

(UPDATED)

(This is the first in a series of blogs in which I’ll  focus on some high-profile Falcons’ veterans and their respective uncertain future with the team.)

The Falcons need some fixes. They’re not a wreck. (Wrecks don’t make the playoffs in three out of four seasons.) But they have problems — offensive line, secondary and defensive line, for starters. They may need to fill holes during free agency, and that means they’ll need to create salary space. Some players will have to go.

Which brings me to Michael Turner.

This should not be taken as the start of a “Dump Michael Turner” movement. The guy finished third in the NFL in rushing with 1,340 yards. But the question of whether to keep him, cut him or trade him (if possible) for a mid-round draft pick is a legitimate one.

Because the Falcons don’t have first- or fourth-round picks this year (see: Julio Jones trade), they will have to plug more holes in free agency. That will mean salary-cap space. Turner is scheduled to make $5 million in salary next season, but has a cap hit of $7.5 million (factoring $2.5 million for his original signing bonus). He turns 30 years old next month. He has 1,189 carries in the past four seasons, which would wear down even a younger guy. (Technically, Turner is an eight-year back, but he had only 228 carries in his first four seasons in San Diego.)

At the very least, Turner is headed for a reduced role next season, as the Falcons want to give more touches to Jacquizz Rodgers, particularly in the screen game. Not integrating Rodgers into the offense was one of former offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey’s failings.

Understand something: The NFL has changed a lot over the past five years. It’s a pass-driven league now, and marquee running backs are not in great demand. Several teams, including New Orleans and Green Bay, now have gone the running back-by-committee route. If the Falcons made the decision to part with Turner, that committee would include Rodgers, Jason Snelling (a free agent) and Antone Smith, unless another back is drafted or signed in free agency.

Despite his production this season, Turner showed signs of wear. He had rushed for over 100 yards once in a span of eight games until gaining 172 in the regular season-ending blowout against Tampa Bay, a team that had clearly quit. The accompanying chart illustrates how his monthly average yards per carry dropped from 5.57 in September to 3.38 in December. His average yards per game (78.8) also was the lowest of his four seasons in Atlanta.

Does this mean Turner is toast? No. He can still be productive. He ran behind a weak line. He played with a lingering groin strain. But the Falcons’ line isn’t going to suddenly morph into the Hogs up front, and injuries are common with older running backs. The move from Mularkey to new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter was made with an expansion of the passing attack in mind.

So should Turner be sacrificed? There’s no absolute right or wrong answer. But if the Falcons truly want to fix their holes on the offensive and defensive lines — and this game is still about blocking and tackling — cutting or dealing Turner may be necessary.

The thought of saying goodbye to a 1,340-yard rusher may seem like a strange one, but it’s a new league — and the Falcons need the money.

Below is a chart showing Turner’s yards per carry and average yards per game by month in each of his four seasons. Remember too that the final game this season brought up his final 2011 averages.


YEAR          SEPT. OCT.  NOV.   DEC.  JAN.  TYPC  TYPG
2008 (YPC)  5.48  3.43  4.04  5.22   --   4.5    106.2
       (YPG)  105.5 77.7  110.6 122.8  --
2009 (YPC)  3.48  3.34  7.81   7.0*  --   4.9    79.2
       (YPG)  75.3  59.0  115.3  7.0   --
2010 (YPC)  3.98  4.88  4.21  3.51  3.94  4.1    85.7
       (YPG)  77.0  89.0  96.8  82.5  67.0
2011 (YPC)  5.57  4.03  4.04  3.38  10.12 4.5    78.8
       (YPG)  78.0  96.8  81.8  55.0  17
(*Turner played only 11 games in 2009 because of injuries, including 1 carry in December.)

And now, the floor is yours.

By Jeff Schultz

Follow me on Twitter (@JeffSchultzAJC). Friend me on Facebook (Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC).

697 comments Add your comment

Word

January 19th, 2012
8:55 am

Find a Trent Richardson –strength plus speed equal yards

unbiased dawgfan

January 19th, 2012
8:56 am

Turner is a tip toe running softy, get rid of him.. he shows up in meaningless games and is meaningless in the big ones.

Jarrett

January 19th, 2012
8:57 am

What the He&% is the point of a blog if you can’t put your thoughts down and discuss. I’m fairly certain none of us think Dimitroff is searching through our comments and making decisions. Come on.

Mo

January 19th, 2012
8:57 am

Jarrett I’m no football guru but if the RB has to run over people starting at the line of scrimmage then the offensive line is probably more of the problem than the RB. 5 million dollars is not exactly an outlandish amount of money to pay a guy who has put up the numbers Michael Turner has over the last 3 or 4 years. If this O-line can be as physical as it has been in the past Turner can still get the job done. I love having Julio Jones but how in the hell you get this guy and don’t even have your O-line solidified is the mistake of an inexperienced, impatient GM IMO.Turner produces for his paycheck now the problem lies in these high priced free agents that think in their minds they are very good but actually are very average. I don’t want to mention any names Dunta Robinson but these guys know who they are Ray Edwards. The way things are looking right now the Michael Turners and the Tony Gonzalezs and the John Abrahams are not gonna be around if and when this team finally makes significant forward progress in the playoffs. Heck if Smitty comes out next season looking crazy and studdering his way thru the season like he did this one a new Head Coach will be the next order of the day. So who knows anymore with this team. The Falcons are like that pretty girl in school who asks you for your number then never calls….a tease. By the time she comes around and is ready to produce there is a new pretty girl in town and her name rhymes with Pam Hewton.

Birdman of Alcahol

January 19th, 2012
8:57 am

Continue the franchise swap theme with Jacksonville, send him to Mularkey for Maurice Jone Drew.

Cowbell Hell

January 19th, 2012
8:58 am

hey bob, that back was not from ole piss, Jerious Norwood MISS STATE

SimpleDawg

January 19th, 2012
8:58 am

I say let him go. He runs into the pile too much…..head down, right into the back of an offensive lineman when a cut back lane was open. Slow to the hole when quickness is required, and too quick to run into the mass, when patience would allow the play to develop. He’s lost his feel for the game.

Besides, history says we can find a diamond in the 5th or 6th round…..

But, without a dominant offensive line, the ball carrier doesn”t matter.

oldmike

January 19th, 2012
8:58 am

If we can turn him into a first round pick somehow then let him go. We might be able to get an impact player for the o or d-line with the pick. Cut losses early rather than late.

lanier

January 19th, 2012
9:00 am

the absolute stupidest question ever from a so called sportswriter

Hey, wait a minute

January 19th, 2012
9:02 am

lanier — I’ve heard worse, seriously.

John R White

January 19th, 2012
9:02 am

@Jarrett and @Bob, the reason that we did not use Jerious Norwood more is because he was injured too much that it limited the amount of time he was on the field. His record of problems with injuries is why we got rid of him(he spent more time during his last season here on IR than he did on the field) and drafted Jacquiz Rodgers. Now if Jerious could have stayed healthy, drafting Quiz wouldv’e been a mistake, but when a back can’t stay healthy, you have to let him go and then either draft or sign a replacement which is what they did. Yes, we need to use the speed more and hopefully Koetter will use Jacquiz more but players have to stay healthy to be useful.

Birdman of Alcahol

January 19th, 2012
9:03 am

30 year old RB’s dont get turned into 1st round picks. 3rd at best.

joe white

January 19th, 2012
9:04 am

We have to keep turner for sure, and just have a better scheme period we have to use all or our weapons period. The second half turner with a better line can wear down a team then we can have options and find other ways to get the ball around. And teach matty icy not to look for a primary wr, who ever is open is the man you want to hit.

kd

January 19th, 2012
9:05 am

He isn’t going to garner a 1st rounder. He isn’t “scared of contact”. The poster that said that is completely delusional. He runs into the pile because backs are taught to get low and get what they can in a pile. It isn’t Madden football. Turner doesn’t move as well as he used to, but check out his YPC, and his runs over 20+ compared to the rest of the backs in the league. Are you sure we can get the same production with a 5th rounder like some are saying? Are you willing to make that gamble instead of paying a pretty average NFL salary? The grass isn’t always greener. He’s got one year left. Why take the risk?

JImmy T

January 19th, 2012
9:06 am

To employ a running back by commitee approach ala the Aints, you have to have the passing game like the Aints have. They pass (very effectively) to set up the run, which is the opposite of the Falcons current offensive philosophy. Letting Turner go would be a huge mistake. There’s no proven back (or backs) you can just plug in and expect to similar results. Love Snelling, but don’t see him as Turner’s replacement. Keep Turner and improve the O Line.

Mikefalcon63

January 19th, 2012
9:06 am

I believe this was Turner’s last season as a Falcon, though I am not sure what the cap impact of cutting him will be. Snelling, Rodgers, and a back to be named later would be fine. I like Turner, but the carries have really slowed him down the past couple of years. I also think we have to look into trading Roddy White. He had way too many critical dropped passes last season, but his value is still way up as a playmaker. I am sure I am in the minority here, but I think we can find a suitable replacement for White, and we may even have the person on the roster already. Obviously, the fans don’t know what Dirk Diggler is going to see when he watches film. He may think Roddy and Turner are both too importent to let go of.

Adam

January 19th, 2012
9:11 am

@ Mikefalcon63 ….

That’s what I’ve been saying all along

Jacket21

January 19th, 2012
9:12 am

Its about time someone suggested this. Turner may have been the 3rd leading rusher in the NFL this year, but I swear I’ve never seen a guy stuffed repeatedly for no gain or a loss, especially when a drive is on the line. Snelling is just as effective, a better blocker, gives way more effort, and costs substantially less. Schultz is on the money with this.

mark

January 19th, 2012
9:15 am

KEEP HIM !!!

A Fan

January 19th, 2012
9:15 am

Let’s see now. Must be the flavor of the day. We needed OL / DL / Secondary earlier this week, and now we’re needing RB. Last Week it was the OC / DC. According to what I’m seeing, how did the Falcons win any games? Turner, or no Turner, And let’s see. What is GB and NO doing today? I think we compare to them okay today…. Nothin from Nothin leaves nothin. Fix the lines. Coaches are good to me. I approved this message.

AlpharettaGuy

January 19th, 2012
9:15 am

Let Turner go, use the money elsewhere. I remember Antone Smith in preseason–he was getting the job done & could be a nice surprise if he gets a shot. A committee approach will work fine. Not a bad idea to move Roddy if you can get help on the O or D line. Douglas just needs more touches.

GTT

January 19th, 2012
9:15 am

I think it depends on Koetter’s system. Snelling has proven he can handle a lot of carries. Rogers needs more carries. And, if Koetter really does plan to use screens more, then Snelling and Rogers will be better at that than Turner will.

I like Turner. He’s a good guy, hard worker, talented player. But, if sacrificing him would help upgrade the O-line, then maybe that’s the way to go.

SirReal

January 19th, 2012
9:16 am

This one is hard for me…..I like Turner a lot. As of late though it does seem like injuries are catching up. My belief is that they’ll keep him for one more year and then it’ll be a wrap. I still think with a better O-Line and having Mughelli back will help him tremendously. We do have other good RBs but I think we’ll keep him for at least one more season. If they dont, I understand its a business and I wont be sad for Turner because he’s made good money over the last 3-4 years so if he manages it right, he’s set for life anyway. I never get sad about these things because I know these guys make SO much more than us average fans do.

cdog

January 19th, 2012
9:17 am

mike turner doesn’t run north and south. he thinks he’s a scatback. he’s out of shape.if he loses weight and rededicate himself to winning, maybe.if he carried the ball 20 or more one game, the next game he’s out of it because he’s never got in shape.

Jarrett

January 19th, 2012
9:17 am

@Mo. I agree with most everything you said. The main problem is our O-line. However, Turner just seems to go down so easy to me. And to the people who keep bringing up Turner’s great numbers, look at the teams he did it against. He got almost all of his yards against soft Defense.

freddy

January 19th, 2012
9:18 am

Let DK make the decision…But as for me I would love a younger ,faster, mobile runner like Richardson.
Trade White!

ole richie

January 19th, 2012
9:18 am

my thing is, who’s better. If we trade him, who are we getting thats better. IMO he’s our best bet right now. Maybe try to trade up next years draft and get montee ball

Big Crimson 75

January 19th, 2012
9:18 am

I see no reason to keep Turner.
The birds will be fine without him.
I respect what the guy has done in the ATL , however how many carries = no gain, 1 yard gain, 1 yard loss??
The Falcons need to get more explosive at the position. Quizz is not a every down back yet.
It’d be very nice to see Matt Forte wearing a Falcons jersey next year!!!

Big Crimson 75

January 19th, 2012
9:18 am

I see no reason to keep Turner.
The birds will be fine without him.
I respect what the guy has done in the ATL , however how many carries = no gain, 1 yard gain, 1 yard loss??
The Falcons need to get more explosive at the position. Quizz is not a every down back yet.
It’d be very nice to see Matt Forte wearing a Falcons jersey next year!!!

Big Crimson 75

January 19th, 2012
9:18 am

I see no reason to keep Turner.
The birds will be fine without him.
I respect what the guy has done in the ATL , however how many carries = no gain, 1 yard gain, 1 yard loss??
The Falcons need to get more explosive at the position. Quizz is not a every down back yet.
It’d be very nice to see Matt Forte wearing a Falcons jersey next year!!!

Matty Slush

January 19th, 2012
9:19 am

Jeff,

You fail to mention that Turner, as a supposed “Power running back”, leads the league in rushes for losses. We’ve got to get rid of him. For as many 10 or 15 yarders that he’ll break off, the drive killing three-yard losses are what consistently put the offense into second and long or third and long situations. Can’t have an immobile QB like Ryan having to pick up seven or eight yards on third down every single drive, an obvious passing situation. Defenses can and will continue to tee-off on him.

freddy

January 19th, 2012
9:24 am

75 I see no reason to post three time

Sargent Carter

January 19th, 2012
9:24 am

We are at the point where we are going in two different directions. Michael Turner is a power back and if that is our offense, we surround him with power blockers and a power scheme, as predictable as it is. On the other hand, we have quality receivers like Gonzalez, White, Jones and Harry Douglas(we haven’t seen the best of him yet). Geezy golly, who in this league has a set of receivers this good? And if Matt Ryan doesn’t break out this season and show us the money, when will he? I take the passing game and a versatile back over Turner. He can go somewhere else and make a few more million. That being said, we don’t have a versatile back of real quality, unless Rodgers is, and we don’t know for sure. Snelling…NO. This season, it was the coaching on offense, probably a confusion over what to do with the talent and a habit(which every defensive coach could read) of doing the same old thing time after time. The problem, however, may be Smitty, coz he likes that three yards and a cloud of dust 1960’s thing. Of course, the defense, if you could call it that, needs rehabilitation. We go for it 4th and 1 in our own territory to keep their offense off the field? Going back to the 60’s, Lombardi would not have done it, coz he knew he had a defense. Damn, sounds like I am predicting another first round playoff loss. Rankin Smith…Arthur Blank..toss a coin….since 1966, the atlanta falcons

kurtis

January 19th, 2012
9:24 am

I say cut Turner. Way too many times, he’s been stopped either for no gain or for a loss. He’s too freaking big and we’re too dependent on the run for that to happen. You look at other running backs in the league and you see a bunch of them who run with anger, run with the mentality that no one is going to deny them That ain’t there with Turner. He takes the handoff, tiptoes to the line, and unless there’s a gaping hole, he’s stuffed. He’s padded his numbers against the scrubs of the league, but when he’s needed to help “balance” our attack, he’s AWOL. Cut him, sign someone who’s wants to inflict some pain on anyone who tries to tackle them.

freddy

January 19th, 2012
9:26 am

JEFF…You need a Poll.

Treeofwoe

January 19th, 2012
9:27 am

The main question is this:

Can he catch the ball out of the backfield? IF the answer to that is no, then we need to get another back or use Snell & Quizz more. I say this because when Turner’s in the game that’s one less thing the defense has to worry about making them more aggressive. I don’t know if it was Mularkey NOT WANTING to throw the ball to him or if it is that Turner can’t catch or if our OL can’t block in space for screens. If the answer is he can’t catch the ball then we have to get a 3 down back imho. Productivity isn’t a question for him…it’s is he productive against good teams? Again is that a function of the OL or of Turner? The coaches will have to make that determination.

Another question to ask is…if we aren’t going to have a “power based” running attack, do we need to keep Ovie when Snelling can fill the dual-purpose back for far less money?

ole richie

January 19th, 2012
9:27 am

we all say cut him and sign somebody better….name to viable options that are better that Turner?

ole richie

January 19th, 2012
9:29 am

Fred Sanford

January 19th, 2012
9:29 am

The man can’t catch a football. Sell high while you can! RB by committee is becoming the norm for now as we are in a pass heavy league anyway.

Treeofwoe

January 19th, 2012
9:30 am

Forte, Lynch, and Hillis are all free agents so there’s three.

SawThat1nce

January 19th, 2012
9:30 am

With a better OLine, Turner’s production would have been higher.
With better play calling, Turner’s production would have been higher.

The Falcons need to improve the OLine, however they have to do it.

Treeofwoe

January 19th, 2012
9:31 am

I would have named Ray Rice and Foster but I doubt they leave their respective teams as both are playoff contenders.

ole richie

January 19th, 2012
9:34 am

do the falcons have forte, lynch, or hillis money? Doubtful after the free agents we are going to resign (curtis lofton, abraham, ect)

Birdman of Alcahol

January 19th, 2012
9:37 am

If Ovie is coming back at full strength then we can survive with a Snelling and Quizz comittee.

North FLA Falcon

January 19th, 2012
9:37 am

anotherdawg … eugene robinson was trolling in miami, not NO … but yeah same difference….

ole richie

January 19th, 2012
9:39 am

IMO if the falcons roll with quiz and snelling at RB next season, we won’t have to trade up to get montee ball well be picking in the top ten

BREW

January 19th, 2012
9:41 am

Turner is fairly fast, but he is not quick, can’t make the first guy miss and then goes down way too easy for a guy his size. Sometimes your #1 back needs to be able to get 1 or 2 tough yards on his own by hook or crook. Turner can’t. He’s good when everthing goes right. So can grandma. Snelling and Rogers would be very good behind an improved line and a better scheme. With a line and scheme in place, Turner will still be Turner. He has thighs as big as an old oak tree but can’t run over a dime if he was driving a Buick. Snelling and Rogers both run harder. In case I haven’t made my point, I think we should call the head coach in Jacksonville and make a trade happen. That coach, who’s name we won’t mention, seems to like MT enough to bet his job on him.

Me Too

January 19th, 2012
9:41 am

Michael Turner occupies TWO rooster spots: his spot and Ovie Mughelli’s spot. Let him go; cut him; trade him; do anything to get him off the rooster. With him goes Ovie Mughelli.

The Falcons don’t need either of these two dinosaurs. So Michael Turner’s departure means two roster spots are freed up for more cap money to have better players at running back and elsewhere.

We have not won any big games with him and his blocking assistant, and in the big games his yardage is almost always less than 50 yards total. Do you really want the same offense as last year which FAILED? Why would you want to keep a running back who requires an assistant to run ahead of him every time he runs the ball. The Falcons need running backs who can score touchdowns not those that block.

Delbert D.

January 19th, 2012
9:42 am

I’m down the middle on this one too, Mark, so why am I commenting?

JB

January 19th, 2012
9:43 am

Boy, just came back from a meeting and see I was attacked for Attacking Richt and UGA. I believe my comment was a compliment…… Thanks Jarrett for watching my back…..Geez.