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

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697 comments Add your comment

DC Dirty Bird

January 19th, 2012
11:16 am

Funny, folks are trying to bring Ryan into a blog about Turner. The topic is “Should Turner Be Kept”, not is he the #1 problem, not if Ryan should be replaced. Those that think Ryan is the problem have very little football acumen. 60+ percent completion rate and limited interceptions. What more do you want out of your QB if you’re a run first team?

Speaking of which, we need to be more of a pass to set up the run team with the aim at getting more explosive plays out of the run game. Thus, Turner has to go. 5 million for a back who can’t break a long one (Bucs game non-inclusive) or make someone miss in the secondary is a bit much.

Fidlin1

January 19th, 2012
11:16 am

Wait a minute… I’ve read some of these comments and if you think anyone could have done a better job as running back to get a 1st and one up the middle with 1200 lbs of muscle saying no, you can’t blame a Brahma Bull like Turner.You blame the play call or the offensive line.

Statick

January 19th, 2012
11:17 am

@ Fidlin: Yeah he shows some wear, but damn, he’s wearing down the defense to a nub trying to bring him down. He gives 100% , why not give him the same support?

Yeah, he does cause havoc when (and if) he gets past the LBs, but he shows a penchant for going down too easily when he can’t get that head of steam. I will admit that it was the fault of bad 0-line play, but to NOT get short yardage with all of that bulk? I dunno…

Najeh Davenpoop

January 19th, 2012
11:18 am

“Does anyone think Alex Smith is more talented than Matt Ryan? Not on your life. He’s in the championship now. Build a line around him, create a scheme to maximize the talents and you will feel differently about Ryan. He is not a Brees or Rodgers, but he can win a Superbowl in the right scheme.”

This is true. There are probably 20 starting QBs in this league, maybe more, who are capable of winning a Super Bowl on the right team. But the 49ers have better players than Alex Smith at nearly every other position on the team. That’s how you win with a less-than-elite QB. The Falcons have to do something similar if they want to make a playoff run with Ryan, in my opinion. Easier said than done to find multiple top-tier players at other positions, like the 49ers have in Davis, Staley, Justin Smith, Willis, Bowman, etc.

No Way Norway

January 19th, 2012
11:18 am

The OC loves screens and screens are tailor-made for Snelling & Rodgers. Trade Turner for a top 2012 1st round draft pick and draft a young beast DE like Clay Matthews (Packers). Put Abraham out to pasture.

Randy

January 19th, 2012
11:18 am

From what I’ve seen so far I am not a big fan of J Rodgers. What was his avg yards per carry this season? What did he do to deserve this promotion?

No Way Norway

January 19th, 2012
11:19 am

Rodgers was the 3rd down back primarily. He probably didn’t have 40 carries all year.

SteveW

January 19th, 2012
11:20 am

As weird as this sounds, 5 mill per year is not alot for a very good RB. And he wasn’t running behind the greatest line either. I say keep him – we’ve got bigger problems to fix.

And I’m definitely not sure how Snelling and Rodgers hold out over 16+ games. They may be done after 8-10 tough games. Right now, I like them better backing up “The Truck” Turner.

Mike Fr

January 19th, 2012
11:21 am

That’s a tough one …. Even though he has been a great player for us the last years, I think we can’t ignore the fact that he turns 30. Turning 30 for a RB is like a madden curse.. It’s the beginning of the end of your career, and specially a guy like Turner, who has had tons of carries.

Also, he clearly has lost a step.. he’s no longer the burner he once was, he doesn’t break a lot of tackles and it seems to me as if the coaches don’t trust he can gain a couple of inches (twice 4th and none of them with him).

Given our situation with the picks, we could definitely use the money to help us build a better o-line.. and, we can get good production from a backfield committee… We have the guys to do it in Rodgers and Snelling..

SirReal

January 19th, 2012
11:21 am

Wow….surprised at the lack of love for number 33.lol He’s still a good back. Can he lose a few lbs? Definitely….but I dont think we should part ways with Turner just yet. One more year at least.

The Real Falcon

January 19th, 2012
11:22 am

” That committee would include Rodgers, Jason Snelling and Antone Smith, unless another back is signed in free agency or drafted”

So that means using a guy who is pretty good but does not have carrying a team on his resume, a 5′6″ second year man, a special teams player, a 2nd round pick (no first or fourth this year), or a high priced free agent.
Yeah sounds like a really good plan!

QB/DB

January 19th, 2012
11:23 am

Why are you doing this, it creates tension of course they should keep Turner! The Falcons are about to play it!!!!!! They were only a few more players and a good draft away. Now they are blowing up the whole thing! The Saints are going hard for the 2013 SUPER BOWL and Charlotte is just a few good Free Agents and a good Draft away. I don’t understand some fans just seem to want to sling the ball all over the field thinking that is exciting. But you have to be able to run the ball and play great defense. Rodgers is NO Sproles and that Offensive line has no PRO BOWLERS or mean nasty guys.

Walker, Texas Ranger

January 19th, 2012
11:24 am

Falcons need a Dexter McCluster or Spiller to go along with Turner. Some speed like New Orleans added. J. Rogers is small but that doesnt equate to speed.

No Way Norway

January 19th, 2012
11:24 am

There’s a lot more good qbs that are currently backups. Matt Flynn & Tyler Yates come to mind. Remember Aaron Rodgers sitting on the bench 3 years behind Brett Favre & Matt Schaub sitting behind Vick ?

Matt Ryan has flaws not attributed to the O-Line,receivers,etc. Flaws like throwing the wrong route receivers run,can’t make a play after being flushed out of pocket,throws the ball where receivers have to stop to catch it instead of catch & run for a td. These are problems Brees,Rodgers,Rivers,Flacco,E.Manning,etc. don’t have.

Birdman of Alcahol

January 19th, 2012
11:24 am

Najeh, well said on the 9ers talent. I believe its easier to find all 3, a good right guard, corner back and maybe even a DE than it is to find a top talent qb like Brees, Rodgers. Ryan is who we have, lets build around him for now until proven it cant work, which 3 playoff losses in your first 4 years in the league in no way signals you go the wrong guy. If that is the case many Hall of Famers would have been given up on long before they reached the top.

Statick

January 19th, 2012
11:25 am

Sir Real: Wow….surprised at the lack of love for number 33.lol He’s still a good back. Can he lose a few lbs? Definitely….but I dont think we should part ways with Turner just yet. One more year at least.

It’s not due lack of love shown toward the guy, but, as the article attempts to frame the problem ,of having to make the tough decision of sacrificing a veteran RB in order to make the team better.

FalconsFan4Life

January 19th, 2012
11:26 am

Isn’t the average “lifespan” of an NFL RB 2.5 years? That’s what I have always heard… Turner sat behind LT in SD and the Falcons have been a GROUND AND POUND since he’s been our FEATURED BACK… I say, we need to part ways if it benefits the Falcons since he’s way beyond the “life expectancy” of an NFL Starting RB…

Mike#1

January 19th, 2012
11:27 am

Turner just isn’t special anymore. Pretty much any average NFL back can produce comparable numbers if he gets the ball 300 times. Plus, he has no ability in the passing game. I think they need to get an impact back. Not sure where the FA market is going to be at, as far as RBs go this year, but if anyone significant is made available, they should pursue him. Do what they have to do, as far as Turner goes.

DC Dirty Bird

January 19th, 2012
11:27 am

Najeh,
One thing you have to note when comparing us to the Falcons is that they have been highly successful with their 1st round draft picks and free agent pick ups. I would count that as a knock on Mike Smith and TD.

Fidlin and Statick, its not just the short yardage plays. You only get a few opportunities for big plays in a game. If we hold Ryan accountable for overthrowing recievers open down field, we have to hold Turner accountable for getting 10 yards instead of 40 and 30 yards instead of scoring. He gets walked down too often on plays where other backs (even the non 4.3 backs) score.

Saint Hater

January 19th, 2012
11:27 am

I think this year showed us all that Ovie is the star of our running game. Not only is he an excellent blocker, he has great hands and vision. Turner ran well behind Ovie, but so could Snelling/Quiz/Smith. If you weren’t paying attention to special teams, let me remind you that Smith is Fast and Tough. This the NFL, not MLB; you don’t get paid for what you did, but for what you’ll do. Look at Indy this year. Dallas Clark, arguably the 2nd best TE in the last decade, was clearly losing a step in the blocking department. Everyone knew if he was in it was a pass play, bring your LB down to cover him up, problem solved. It will be the same with Turner. He’s great at running through Gaping holes, but has no other real skills. He’s a good pass blocker, but he’s nothing special. He has no hands, can’t turn the corner unless he gets lucky on a Toss against a blitzing DB, and can’t make a cut when the play breaks apart. He does have value to our team, but only as trade bait. I wish him the best, but what’s best for the Falcons is to part ways now. Give Snell another 1 year contract to see if he can do it, but he’ll probably be in the 5 Mil range as well. Forte, Lynch, Hillis are all out of our league, but you really have to develop RBs in this league sue to shelf life issues. RISE UP!!

tmc

January 19th, 2012
11:28 am

Time to move on from tip-toe Turner.
If you can trade him, do it. If not, cut him. Not worth the 5 million salary that could be used elsewhere.
Running backs do not speed up @ 30 years old. And Michael has already shown severe signs of slowing down. If the Falcons wait, they will not get anything from him… including production.

No Way Norway

January 19th, 2012
11:29 am

Snelling could run it just as well as Turner. He just needs 25 carries in a game to show he can be a 100 yard back.

Paddy

January 19th, 2012
11:31 am

I believe MT has lost a couple steps. He will not be the rb savior for this team any longer. It was great while it lasted. He was fun to watch. He just can’t get to hole quick enough like before. Many runs for no gain places the offense in a hard luck situation.

Sid

January 19th, 2012
11:35 am

bob January 19th, 2012 8:23 am
Just the same thing they said about the running back they had from Old Miss. that they never worked into the offense. Turner’s been good but is too slow.
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Norwood got hurt too easily, Yes, I would also have liked to seen him get more touches but he spent a lot of time injured.

Turner’s not that slow, he ran a 4.49 40 yard dash coming out of college. Adrian Peterson ran a 4.40 at his combine. Just for a comparison Roddy White ran a 4.45, Jullio ran a 4.39. Has Turner lost some speed…….yeah probably but not that much.

DHD

January 19th, 2012
11:36 am

Try to get a draft pick for him. We are short on draft picks!!

Mitun

January 19th, 2012
11:36 am

time to move on from Turner. I feel we need an RB that has too more versatile with speed, good catching ability, and vision such as an Arian Foster, etc. but if we do keep Turner then I put him as an 3rd down back.

Mick

January 19th, 2012
11:37 am

Turner is a good player. His problem is he wants to runa round people instead of over them. He tries to cut back and find holes even when they aren’t there. He isn’t physical anymore and most of the team has become that way. They shy away from contact. Snelling would be better because he isn’t that way. If they would have handed the ball to him on fourth and short I bet he would have made it.

Bird

January 19th, 2012
11:38 am

Forget AJ! JJ had more TD’s than him, and that’s with missing 3 games. We traded for the right WR.

SirReal

January 19th, 2012
11:38 am

@Statick I understand. I also agree that tough decisions witll have to be made. I just didnt think as many of us would be in favor of letting him go.lol but if it would work out for the team then hey, we gotta do what we must. I’m quite sure he’d go somewhere else quickly. Someone eluded to it earlier that he’d be a good fit for a team like the Jets. I agree. If he is released, I appreciate his time in Atlanta and he’ll be fine….as in millions of dollars in the bank fine.LOL

Statick

January 19th, 2012
11:40 am

@ Sid

Has Turner lost some speed…….yeah probably but not that much.

Turner’s still has some speed, but he has no vision. He can’t see the hole, make a hole or even hit the one he has fast enough to be effective like like his first year here. My biggest thing with Turner is, as one poster pointed out, is that he’s like a battleship trying to turn. HE CAN’T. He gets going in one direction and won’t (more than likely, CAN’T) change direction for a positive gain.

Gwinnett Fred

January 19th, 2012
11:41 am

KEEP HIM

Neither Rodgers nor Snelling is a every down back, so we’d still have to sign somebody, and would have to pay close to the $5 million to get anybody worth a damn.

Also, seems like I heard on a radio talk show that even cutting him would not reduce our cap by the whole $5 million. If this is true, then cutting him would be totally ridiculous.

He was missing his prime blocking back for half the year and the OL proved it needs improving. Turner is not the problem. Throwing the ball downfield to get 8 men out of the box might just work wonders.

BTW – isn’t a pass play on 4th & 1 even in the Falcons playbook? If not, hopefully the new OC will put one in there and we won’t lose 2 games again because of it.

petebabcock

January 19th, 2012
11:43 am

R U Crazy? Get rid of the burner, how about git rid of Ryan?

No Way Norway

January 19th, 2012
11:44 am

Falcons need an impact player on defense. A defensive end like a Clay Matthews to disrupt the qb is mandatory.

Sid

January 19th, 2012
11:46 am

duronimo January 19th, 2012 10:19 am
If they would mix a few screens in we wouldn’t be talking about this. It’s the entire reason for so many tackles for losses. Screens will stop the bull rushes, take pressure of the O line, and allow them to create better running lanes. Turner is still quick to the hole when there is one.
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Turner got some of his best runs when he would shake outside. Unfortunately Mularkey had never heard of a screen pass. Turner needed a few steps to get motoring but he seems to lack vision to cut to the hole. Too many times (previous years too) I have seen him just run his helmet into one of our O line’s butt and go down. But if he gets thru the hole he can turn those burners on.

No Way Norway

January 19th, 2012
11:46 am

Since Abraham plays the run so well but can’t sack qbs put him at DT. He ain’t the sack specialist the Falcons really need.

Just saying..

January 19th, 2012
11:49 am

Love everything about the guy. But with our other needs, not $5M Love.

No Way Norway

January 19th, 2012
11:49 am

I’ve never understood the lack of the quick slant pass in high school,college,and NFL. If the db is off the receiver by 5 yards or more then there’s no way to stop the quick slant pass. Then if the db is up on the receiver run a middle or deep pattern. I remember watching UGA run the slant pass to A.J. green one game for 3 tds then they didn’t even throw a slant pass the next 3 games. Stupid.

Sid

January 19th, 2012
11:54 am

Statick January 19th, 2012 11:40 am
@ Sid

Has Turner lost some speed…….yeah probably but not that much.

Turner’s still has some speed, but he has no vision. He can’t see the hole, make a hole or even hit the one he has fast enough to be effective like like his first year here. My biggest thing with Turner is, as one poster pointed out, is that he’s like a battleship trying to turn. HE CAN’T. He gets going in one direction and won’t (more than likely, CAN’T) change direction for a positive gain.
***************************************************
Yep, I have been lamenting his vision or lack of since he got here. I do think he can make the sharp cut physically (seriously, we’ve all seen it….hmmm, blue moon seems to fit here), he just doesn’t seem to feel it or see it.

PaulCrieder

January 19th, 2012
11:57 am

Turner has lost more than a step. He’s lost so much foot speed and talent that Mike Smith doesnt even go to him anymore on third and short yardage situations. Mike Smith calls matty “Ices” number for quarterback seaks on short yardarge situations, and by the way, those plays keep failing and failing all the time. We couldnt use turner on those plays because turner is even WORSE than ryan since turner keeps getting stopped cold in the backfield on those situations. If ryan is going to continue to be our feature player on third and shorts and fourth and short yardage situations, matt ryan will need to gain 100 pounds during the off-season.

Eaassyy

January 19th, 2012
11:58 am

No Way Norway

January 19th, 2012
12:00 pm

I agree. Falcons need a kicker that can put the ball out of the end zone. especially when playing against Bears Devin Hester,Packers Randall Cobb,etc.

Sid

January 19th, 2012
12:00 pm

Saint Hater

January 19th, 2012
11:27 am
******************************************
Great handle……!! Can only imagine the avatar…..!!

Big ED

January 19th, 2012
12:01 pm

Have said this the last two years. You have to have the ability to make at least one guy miss and Turner is not that guy anymore. This line is not built to blow everyone off the ball 3 yards. He at least needs a head start to be effective. What value he has left needs to be used in draft picks this year before no one wants him. Too many good teams still playing with so so running games. just my opinion.

Eddie L. Baker

January 19th, 2012
12:01 pm

Just remember, if the line don’t block, the runner don’t run. We need a better OC play caller. I don’t know for the life of me if you have one yard to go, you have to bunch all the guys togather, spread them out and make every body play earnest.

Big C

January 19th, 2012
12:01 pm

My two cents…With the shift in offensive philosophy – Michael Turner does not catch the ball well in screens and he does not have the ability to shift his position quickly or spin. Also decreasing the number of carries defeats the reason why we got him. He was and is the feature back that was signed to get 1,000 plus yards a season for $7 million a year. If he is only going to carry the ball for 700 yards for $7.5 million, what is the point? His contract for 2012 is $5 million in salary and $2.5 in signing bonus. If we cut him, we would still have to pay him the $2.5 signing bonus for 2012 and 2013. Nevertheless, I say cut him and take the $5 million dollars and give it to Carl Nicks for 4 years-$20 mil total. Ovie will be back so – keep Snelling or Antone Smith. If we can’t upgrade the offensive line with a Carl Nicks type, then take Turners money and go after Chris Polk or Isaiah Peay in the second round. If that doesnt work out I would like them to get Chris Rainey or Jeff Demps, if available in the third round. Both run at least a 4.3 second – 40 time. They would be good Xfactor players like Percy Harvin, Chris Jackson, Darren Sproles for cheap, being third rounders. Or take his $5 Million and get Courtney Finnegan FA CB-Titans or Michael Griffin – FA Safety- Titans.

No Way Norway

January 19th, 2012
12:03 pm

I can’t wait to see the genius offense from our 32 ranked new OC Koetter. It will probably be worse… If a team knows you are running a screen then you will likely lose between 5 & 10 yards…Screens have to be a surprise play to work.

Jerome Jones

January 19th, 2012
12:03 pm

NO, he has no escapability, slow starter, lacks change of direction skills, victim of past play calling of his number on every first and ten. Should be kept as fullback only with the knowledge that he will get no more than 12 carries per game.

By the way who scouted Jacquizz Rodgers? Ten high school backs in the City of Atlanta Metro who are much better.

woeismesince66

January 19th, 2012
12:03 pm

No back can gain yds if the OL can’t block. Even A Petrerson couln’dt run behind the Falcons line against a good team. The OL has been a problem for more than this year. Keep Turner.

john

January 19th, 2012
12:08 pm

Just remember the team that beat us is still playing–we may not be as bad as we think.—And we lost to the Super Bowl champs last year—-not bad.

Cool 1

January 19th, 2012
12:08 pm

There is nothing wrong with Turner. They (O-line) have not been opening the hole for Mike to run through. There is something wrong with the O-line. When an O-line can’t get 4th and inches 5 times in 5 tries, there is a big problem. The Corners are too short to defend against the giant receivers of the Saints and Giants of this league. Jump balls killed them agaist the Saints, Giants, and other teams. The Safeties are slow and can’t cover anyone. VanGorder rotated the D-line and did not blitz! They we one and done and it was not a surprise.