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

No Way Norway

January 19th, 2012
12:08 pm

Falcons need 2 new OL,a young fast DE,and a cover DB or safety or nothing will change next year.

PaulieOldschool

January 19th, 2012
12:09 pm

I am of the opinion, sitting here today, that the reason MT was perceived to be not as effective off the line is that there are serious problems with the O-Line. I thought Coach Boudreau started out well, but he didn’t finish well at all. We need to have people in their proper places, cross-training is all well and good, but that’s for injury purposes and rest purposes, not full-time work at that position. I think we need to move Sam Baker to a new position or a new team. Period. I think we should have signed both Clabo and Dahl last year. And we need a solid replacement for McClure, who is still working hard, but obviously slowing and tiring. He’s not Jim Otto, and never will be. But I would keep MT, I think, at least one more year.

Buckeye

January 19th, 2012
12:09 pm

Perhaps Isaiah, The Annointed One II, can declare early and save the day. Turner can last a couple more seasons, don’t you think?

Mixitup

January 19th, 2012
12:12 pm

Dump Turner and pick up Tebow as a running back. Remember what that hoss Riggins did for the Redskins back in the 80s? Tebow could be another Riggins

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

January 19th, 2012
12:19 pm

That gurgling sound was me on my knees choking on Mike Vick. Mmmmmmm :o

1eyedJack

January 19th, 2012
12:20 pm

Deminishing returns

Kenny D

January 19th, 2012
12:21 pm

Are you kidding me ! The question is, should the Falcons Keep Matt Ryan. Matt Ryan is a BUST !

Chris

January 19th, 2012
12:23 pm

That is the dumbest question i have ever heard. Turner is a BEAST. He is the atl offense. Get a better line to block for him. They couldnt even pust the D line back one yard on MANY diff occasions.Also White is one of the top WR in the game. Give Jones a break it was his rookie year. Our biggest problem is our SORRY CORNER BACKS and SECONDARY. They suck. Best plan get rid of GRIMES. Is he our best corner, Can he cover Calvin Johnson. I think there is a foot diff in height, so no. Get a better secondary and we will win a super bowl. Stop putting down Turner. How bout putting down Matt Ryan when he quit on us when his big toe hurt. For 6 or 7 millions dollars cut the toe off and play. Man up Ryan!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Alan

January 19th, 2012
12:30 pm

I think Turner still has shelf life and we can’t just react to his YPA or carries in December. Everyone needs to remember that the running game slowed down ever since we lost Ovie to the season ending injury and the offensive line was shuffled and didn’t seem to have any continuity throughout the year. Turner needs to come back, albeit, have a reduced role!!!

Sid

January 19th, 2012
12:31 pm

Falcons’ question No. 1: Should Michael Turner be kept?
8:05 am January 19, 2012, by Jeff Schultz

The guy finished third in the NFL in rushing with 1,340 yards.
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Jeff, don’t know where you got your stats from but Turner finished the year 7th in rushing. The 1340 yards is correct though. And if you only include the NFC, not the entire NFL, he finished 2nd.

Also Turner’s average yards per game was 83.8, not 78.8. Turner had 11 carries for 20+ yards, 4 for 40+ yards and 11 touchdowns. All of these numbers rank him in the top 4 or 5 of all NFL running backs.

Not really important but Turner finished 19th in all purpose yards

Should we keep him………………I’d say we would be crazy to cut him loose with stats like those. And also “assuming” we are going to see improvement in our O line and some damn imagination in our offensive philosophy and schemes………..which we will. You damn crazy to sit on the fence on this one Jef, you’re likely to get a splinter.

Otha

January 19th, 2012
12:32 pm

Two words: Trent Richardson. Make it happen.

Techbuzz

January 19th, 2012
12:38 pm

CUT HIM!!!! He has NO BURST whatsoever getting through the line and he has NO SPEED once he is in open field. I saw four times this season where he got ran down by LINEBACKERS…LINEBACKERS, 45 yards down the field.

If your a starting RB and you get chased down by a LINEBACKER 45 yards down field…time to hang it up. As much as I hate to admit this, we need a Sproles type back. When we played the Saints in N.O., I saw him bust through our line like we weren’t even there, and technically we weren’t..haha. Nobody on our defense could even grab him, let alone catch up with him. THAT is the type of back we need. Keep Snelling b/c he, at least, hits the line with speed a nd force but he is getting a bit older too………my two cents anyway.

DawgDad

January 19th, 2012
12:39 pm

Keep Turner and see what Koetter can do with him. The guy is one of the top RBs in the league, and the O-line was not-so-good this past year. He has been “one-dimensional” in terms of not being a receiving threat out of the backfield but some of that is attributable to scheme.

I remember when living in St. Louis in the mid-90’s the Rams and fans were VERY down on Jerome Bettis for not hitting the holes hard and his overall lack of production. So they traded him to the Steelers who were obviously very pleased with Bettis running behind (and through) a real NFL-caliber o-line. We have a similar situation here with Turner.

The Falcons made a huge mistake letting Harvey Dahl walk.

ChiFalcon

January 19th, 2012
12:44 pm

Sid…

You need to check your stats my friend. Turner’s 1340 rushing yards did place him 3rd overall in the NFL this past year.

I’m a huge Turner fan, and agree that the Falcons would be crazy to let him walk. However, it’s foolish to ignore the transition the NFL is undergoing right now. Games are now won through the air, not by having to rely on a power running game. In no way am I diminishing the importance of being to able to establish the run (especially for this team), but I think the first major change coming to this offense, is going to be a reduced role for Turner. If anything, his past work load and age would suggest that anyway.

Should he be cut to save $5 mil? Absolutely not. But this team can no longer afford to rely on Turner churning out 100 yrd games in order to win.

Jarrett

January 19th, 2012
12:46 pm

You guys talking about Mike Vick are about as cool as cancer.

BigTimeTECHFan

January 19th, 2012
12:48 pm

Can the Falcons get Jones-Drew? that would be sweet

BigTimeTECHFan

January 19th, 2012
12:49 pm

Are you kidding me ! The question is, should the Falcons Keep Lofton. Lofton is a BUST !

Jarrett

January 19th, 2012
12:50 pm

Are you kidding me ! The question is, should you guys be allowed to watch football !

CrαZy

January 19th, 2012
12:51 pm

I don’t know how much money it would free up, but if it was enough to help us get better in the secondary and in the trenches then I say cut him. I think Snelling and Rogers could get the job done!!

Dan

January 19th, 2012
12:52 pm

The biggest problem with the Falcon offense has been the line. They have been coached that on the snap stand up and hope nobody runs over you. That has adversely affected the ability of the qb, rb, and passing game. The new OC has to change that thinking, and I believe he will. These same players will welcome a chance to be aggresive, and will produce a much better offense

SirReal

January 19th, 2012
12:57 pm

@Jerome Jones Your assessment of Rogers is silly. HS? Seriously? This guy may be small but Ive already seen him run over a couple defenders. Quizz is the real deal…dont count him out because of his size. the guy’s a baby horse!! lol

Steve-O

January 19th, 2012
1:00 pm

$5MM is a relative bargain for a 1,000+ yard running back. Everyone’s frustration comes from his lack of flashy runs, something that people in this town attach way too much value to. The SAME people that want to jettison Turner will lament his departure and call Dimitroff an idiot as soon as we split carries between 2-3 backs and none have 1,000 yards, ala New Orleans this year. Some people ONLY want to criticize and play internet GM.

JEB

January 19th, 2012
1:02 pm

We get rid of Turner
Then we will be crying for
another like Turner.
Where you gonna find the 3rd best rusher?
Why we already have him!!

DC Dirty Bird

January 19th, 2012
1:05 pm

Anytime you pay a RB $5 million a year, you shouldn’t have to say “but the offensive line” or “but the play calling”. A $5 million dollar a year RB makes an avg line look great. Lasean McCoy, Marshawn Lynch, and Stephen Jackson all ran behind lines that were below avg but somehow they ended up going over 1100 yds.

We need a home run hitting back!

SirReal

January 19th, 2012
1:05 pm

@Techbuzz I hear ya but NO team has a Sproles except for N.O.lol Even if we did, we wouldn t use him like Payton does with Sproles. He doesn’t have the all purpose yards record for nothing. What do you think though? Would we be more dynamic? Sure. I just dont think we need to immediately become like the Saints.

Steve-O

January 19th, 2012
1:07 pm

BigTimeTECHFan

January 19th, 2012
12:49 pm

Are you kidding me ! The question is, should the Falcons Keep Lofton. Lofton is a BUST !
__________________________________________________________________________________

You sir, are an absolute tool. What part of Lofton’s game do you have an issue with? His 146 tackles, 87 of which were solo and 5th overall in the NFL? His 9 passes defensed, tied for 5th in the NFL for linebackers? His 2 interceptions as a middle linebacker, also tied for 3rd? Thank God YOU are not in charge of personnel. Think before you call someone a bust, if you are capable of seeing beyond your hate for the team.

Jarrett

January 19th, 2012
1:10 pm

Thank you Steve-O. That was the stupidest comment I have ever seen on here. Lofton is a work-horse.

DC Dirty Bird

January 19th, 2012
1:16 pm

We don’t have to continue to compare our RB situation to other teams still in the playoffs. At the end of the day, Frank Gore (similar numbers to Turner) caught 7 balls out of the backfield against the Aints. Can we see Turner doing that? Can he run a wheel route and beat a LB down the sidelines (like Quizz did)? Can he catch a swing pass, make a backer miss and get 8-12 yds?

gman

January 19th, 2012
1:19 pm

I would get a draft pick for him. Maybe a 2nd? I don’t think he would bring a 1st. Snelling and Rodgers can carry the load.

Die Hard Falcon

January 19th, 2012
1:22 pm

Ultimately I say if we can get good trade value, we should trade him now instead of letting him walk by cutting him this year or waiting for the contract to expire next. Thing is, I don’t see anyone giving us what he’d be worth due to his age, if we can get 1000+ yds from him again, it’d be worth keeping him unless we can get something of value in a trade 3rd pick or higher. I like that he’s been a workhorse for us, if he can get to the 2nd level he’s a load to bring down. I wouldn’t be heartbroken if he leaves, but we’ll need someone else if he does, we don’t have any other workhorses, I could see him staying and having less of a role. Jonathan Stewart might be available from the panthers, they have serious cap issues and just gave a contract to deangelo williams, I think we could get him relatively cheap and he’s been splitting carries, lots of tread left if the panthers need to unload cap space at the position.

Email Profiling Is Wrong

January 19th, 2012
1:24 pm

Not sure we should jettison Turner. Granted, his stats were inflated against weak competition this year and his YPG average was low this December. Perhaps that is a trend indicating that his skills are diminished. But Ovie missing from the lineup probably had something to do with that as has been often mentioned in other posts.

I hate to see us attempt to emulate pass-first playoff teams like New Orleans, New England and Green Bay given that our QB is nowhere near elite status – as clearly Brees, Brady and Rodgers are. Ryan needs a staunch support system in order to be effective. A clock-chewing running game being a key component of that support.

At the risk of sounding like a blog troll – ah who cares – you can’t discuss Turner and his continued value to the team in a vacuum The elephant in the room is the highly-compensated Matt Ryan – and more specifically, his many limitations as a pro QB.

Trading MT for draft picks sounds like a reasonable tack for the Birds to take. Then lets hope Koetter can scheme up an effective offense with the remaining backs – and our stable of receivers – which hopefully will include Harry Douglas.

And I will say that all the best Falcon QB’s had their moment of truth where the franchise challenged them to produce at a higher level. Leeman Bennett benched an ineffective Steve Bartkowski for June Jones. Bart met the challenge. Mike Vick squandered his opportunity here, but clearly the hiring of Bobby Petrino was in part an admission that Vick was not improving.

I’m one fan who’s waiting for the organization to issue a challenge to Matt Ryan to move his total game to the next level. Based on the spin coming from Flowery Branch – even their new OC – it doesn’t appear the brain trust sees Ryan as part of the team’s problems. Their incessant references to Matty as “elite” and a “top ten QB” contradict the reality of his job performance – particularly in the playoffs.

And if a QB is truly elite (i.e. Brees, Rodgers, Brady, Manning) you don’thear their respective organizations trying to sell them as such. It’s clearly evident.

So who are the Falcons trying to convince – the fans or themselves?

Aziz Jiwani

January 19th, 2012
1:28 pm

Jeff: If you’re talking about cutting Turner solely to save money and use it on other players, then you should look at every player and see what we can do by replacing the player and using the salary with free agents. How about cutting 10 or so million that we are paying dunta robinson?

Sid

January 19th, 2012
1:28 pm

Rick Harrison January 19th, 2012 8:44 am
We need to sign a right guard, a left tackle, a safety and cornerback a punter and somone who can kick the ball out of the endzone. I was crazy that our punter who also kicked off for the Falcons couldn’t even reach the endzone and
he was a terrible punter. I would like to see them draft Brandon Boykin with a 4th round pick and sign Butler as a free agent.
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It is possible that for reasons over our heads that the kicker was instructed to kick shorter and directional………….??

As far as punting Bosher was really green in the beginning of the season but he finished strong and I believe he will eventually be a Pro Bowl punter.

Also, unfortunately we don’t have a 4th round pick this year but as far as Boykin is concerned he could be available in the 2nd round but the Falcons priority shuld be the lines, or corners….!!

Sign Butler……………Butler who?

No Way Norway

January 19th, 2012
1:29 pm

John Abraham couldn’t sack potatoes at the grocery store…

Richard

January 19th, 2012
1:29 pm

Cut him. Turner brings nothing to the table that Snelling doesn’t do as well or better.

Michael M.

January 19th, 2012
1:29 pm

You keep him and add another running back to the roster, around 205 pounder with speed and use both in the game and use Rodgers in it to mix it up.

Die Hard Falcon

January 19th, 2012
1:31 pm

@email profiling:

I would respectfully disagree, when looking at the # of 4th qtr comebacks, the continued statistical improvement from year to year, and the toughness of taking many hits this year, despite the relatively low # of sacks, he took a beating and had to constantly rush the throws and could almost never do any 5 or 7 step drops. Matt Ryan is a top 10 QB right now, elite, no, but top 10, I feel confident that we’re set at QB, we do need OL help and if the D improves like I think it will w/ coach Nolan, we can be great. I know he’s not done anything in the playoffs, but he’s been matched against SB teams every time, look at Peyton Manning in the playoffs and how long it took him to win. I wouldn’t trade Matt for anyone except the top tier guys and obviously that’s not going to happen.

IlliniDawg

January 19th, 2012
1:31 pm

“Turner the Burner” has become “Turner the Burned-Outer”.

Cue the sappy, sentimental song and wave bye-bye.

Richard

January 19th, 2012
1:32 pm

Email Profiling Is Wrong

Dude, for you and all other Matt Ryan haters. Go check the stats of your so called “elite” QBs that you listed for their 4th year. Then comback and tell me that they are so much better than Ryan. Check your facts or STFU.

IlliniDawg

January 19th, 2012
1:33 pm

@BTTF: Uh… virtually every NFL analyst thinks that the most impressive part of the Falcon’s D is the LB tandem of Lofton and Weatherspoon. The guys are legit.

No Way Norway

January 19th, 2012
1:36 pm

The reason the other qbs are better than Ryan is Ryan can’t beat the good teams (Packers,Saints,Giants,Steelers,Patriots,etc.). But he looks like Joe Montana against the hapless Jaguars & Bucs… Drew Brees,Aaron Rodgers,Tom Brady,Eli Manning,etc. looks good against all teams ! There’s your difference.

No Way Norway

January 19th, 2012
1:37 pm

And the ESPN experts also said Abraham wasn’t earning his money as a sack artist. They didn’t even mention Dunta’s lack of coverage. They figured everybody saw how awful he played.

joe white

January 19th, 2012
1:38 pm

we have too, how many cats has average at least 1300 yards in four seasons in a row, yes he slows down some but very effective for sure and with new oc who mangaged to have the nfl best running game with on one but mjd, yes sir turner is a keeper for sure.

Sid

January 19th, 2012
1:39 pm

Adam January 19th, 2012 8:50 am
If you package the Turner and White in a trade, you could really scoop up some picks from a team desperate for help.
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You just traded away 44% of our team offense. Way to go.

No Way Norway

January 19th, 2012
1:41 pm

Matt Ryan is like Alex Gonzalez. Against bad Mets & Cubs pitching he hits .300 with power. But against the Phillies & Giants he hits .140 no power. Drew Brees is like Albert Pujols. He hits .300 with power against the Mets & Cubs but also the Phillies & Giants.

Sid

January 19th, 2012
1:44 pm

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.
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Really? Cut the best fullback in the NFL………..??

FalconFan

January 19th, 2012
1:45 pm

If you can clear salary cap room, let him go. He is surely showing that all those carries over the past 4 years has taken a toll on him, and when you cannot depend on your back for a 4th and 1, time to move on.

football falcon

January 19th, 2012
1:45 pm

Package Turner and Ryan to jacksonville for Jones-Drew and their first round pick!!!

FalconFan

January 19th, 2012
1:46 pm

Give up on the Ryan talk. If he had been calling the plays all year we would have won at least 2 more games.

Big C

January 19th, 2012
1:46 pm

@ Jerome Jones: Thomas Dimitroff scouted Jacquizz Rodgers. His tapes and combine showed that he had the speed to be a Darren Sproles type back. He is not as fast as Darren but he has the same skill set as a Warrick Dunn. That element of elsuiveness without blazing speed will be a return of that dynamic in our offense.