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

Jarrett

January 19th, 2012
8:16 am

JB

January 19th, 2012
8:17 am

JB

January 19th, 2012
8:18 am

Jarrett who?

Jarrett

January 19th, 2012
8:18 am

I am a big fan of Turner but I just don’t think he has gotten it done lately. He seems to have no push until he gets past the line. That is the only time he can run anybody over. As soon as he hits the line he just falls. I say go for the younger and faster Rodgers and Snelling combo. Snelling does nothing but produce.

NoShamSam

January 19th, 2012
8:20 am

I say keep him…but cut down on the 1st and 10 run and a cloud of dust for 1 yard.

JB

January 19th, 2012
8:20 am

Roster management is the key. Looking at New England, New Orleans and the Packers, you see very little weaknesses. The Falcons have to many.Appears they didn’t trust Mark Richt. If you’re gonna mortgage the farm, they should of taken AJ.

Jarrett

January 19th, 2012
8:22 am

Who knows what we would have given up to take AJ. We would probably not have a 1st round pick until 2015 if that had happened.

Sarge1

January 19th, 2012
8:23 am

Wrong question #1. It should be should we keep Jeff Shultz. Answer: no. Trade him for a dog and let #7 hang the dog.

bob

January 19th, 2012
8:23 am

That was one of Malarkey’s failings. He kept saying they needed to get Rogers more touches and then didn’t. Just the same thing they said about the running back they had from Old Miss. that they never worked into the offense. They need a back like McCoy at Philly, or Thomas with the Saints who can explode to the line and change direction. Turner’s been good but is too slow.

NoShamSam

January 19th, 2012
8:24 am

Turner runs better once he gathers a good start…the screen would be great for him and he might burst for longer runs.

Nate

January 19th, 2012
8:24 am

No he is slow and easy to take down. Just look at the other rbs in the league. Turner runs like he is scared to get hit and he is. He doesn’t care about yards unless they are easy to get. He cares about his body and contract. Cut him. He brings nothing to the team anymore and that was clearly evident this year.

Trojan

January 19th, 2012
8:24 am

JB: What? Can’t you comment on the Falcons without taking shots at UGA. Wow! Get a life.

GoldJacket

January 19th, 2012
8:25 am

Turner at $5M is still a great deal. They can’t replace his production for that price. Didn’t Snelling get $4M last year? I’d take Turner over Snelling all day

Mike D

January 19th, 2012
8:27 am

turner gets his yards against crap teams that give up. against average and playoff teams, he stinks. so how is that any good? any one of our rbs could have had major yards against jax and tb.

Jarrett

January 19th, 2012
8:28 am

@ Bob. I believe the running back you were speaking of was Jerious Norwood and he was from Mississippi State. I always wished we got him the ball more. That was also a big mistake.

Jarrett

January 19th, 2012
8:29 am

@ Trojan. Where is JB’s comment do you see a blow to UGA? Way to jump to conclusions.

SA

January 19th, 2012
8:32 am

Actually JB, If you knew anything you’d know we had a deal with Cinci to move up to get AJ and then they backed out at the last second, then we offered the same package to Cleveland to get Julio. They are both beasts and I still love Julio.

abby normal

January 19th, 2012
8:32 am

Keep Turner. Fix the offensive line and get Ovie back in the lineup. TD should try to find a speed back (not Rogers) who can take at least. a third of the snaps. With the proper rest, Turner still has plenty in the tank.

MightyQuinn

January 19th, 2012
8:32 am

Unless we’re saying we want Matt Ryan to throw the ball 35-45 times a game, moving Turner would be dangerous, if not downright foolish. Now if they could package him in a trade to recoup draft picks, and if the draft looks like we could net some great position players/fill some needs/replace Turner, maybe. But as a salary dump, extremely risky.

tfalcon

January 19th, 2012
8:32 am

I think the run game is only as good as the blocking the line is giving
him,I say keep him get a good center,top natch guard i think will syvatec can get by one more year with alittle help at times and see what they all can do(new oc,ryan ,turner).I really believe our game had become stagnant with mm calling plays

Willie Coyote

January 19th, 2012
8:37 am

There will be a lot of key guys not back next year for cap space considerations. If the O-Line isn’t improved significantly, it doesn’t really matter who runs the ball.

JC

January 19th, 2012
8:37 am

See ya, MT. The screen pass, nor any other pass to the RB, is an option the opposing defense has to worry about when MT is in the game. I would think this makes our offense much easier to defend.

Birdman of Alcahol

January 19th, 2012
8:38 am

Unless the OLine is seriously improved it wont matter either way. If we can sign Carl Nicks and maybe even another lineman I would say cut your losses now, before we find out Turner is done for and worth nothing. Turn him into a 3rd round pick from Chicago who will need a running back. With holes, Snelling will be a feature back, not a bruiser like Turner, but more versatile and therefore more effective in what we hope is a more creative offense from Dirk Digler. Mularkey’s offense needs a bowling ball, maybe Koetters will be better with a pass catcher who can also run between the tackles 10-12 times a game. He said he does not like to work hard for 4 yards, well with Turner it was work hard for 2.5. I appreciate what he has done, and will not begrudge him staying, but that money could go toward a Carl Nicks or a Mario Williams.

Let's Be Honest

January 19th, 2012
8:38 am

You need a bigger, fatter OL regardless. 5M is a good deal, but if you still plan to be run-first, you’re better off finding two more RBs (free agency and the draft) because Turner wears down and had proven that he can’t be counted on in January.

Rick Harrison

January 19th, 2012
8:39 am

The Falcons tried to get AJ, he was their first choice. The Bengals would not trade the pick. Turner may be finished, the Pats have shown you cut the player a year early not a year late.

Jarrett

January 19th, 2012
8:40 am

JC. Agreed. When Turner is in the game the Defense never has to worry about him catching a pass. It is definitely a rare occurrence.

Let's Be Honest

January 19th, 2012
8:40 am

30 year old RBs are like 35 year old WRs. Cut your losses and start fresh.

JC

January 19th, 2012
8:44 am

Rather than pay MT 5 million – Let’s just grab TJ Duckett for the league minimum. Same running back, really.

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.

El Bravo

January 19th, 2012
8:44 am

I think this is an easy decision: let Turner go. He is getting old, has lost a step and injuries are beginning to creep in. He has never been an effective receiver or pass blocker. Divide the touches between Snelling and Rodgers (both are better than turner catching the ball). Draft a running back late in the draft to compete for a job…

Lee

January 19th, 2012
8:44 am

Why talk about turner, Get rid of gut less ryan

Adam

January 19th, 2012
8:45 am

I have been a proponent of packaging Roddy White and Michael Turner for years now. My exact comments in last year’s offseason was to sign Snelling and then trade Turner. Snelling is much more of a threat coming out of the backfield on screens, flares, or circle routes. Turner does not always fall forward and rarely makes the first tackler miss. And while yes….Turner rushed for over 1300 yards, remember; Turner has not gotten that production…the O-line’s run-blocking against weaker opponents got that production. He was completely incapabable of breaking out against defenses without LARGE holes being opened up. He has no maneuverability and does not break tackles. Snelling, behind the same line for a full season would have a more productive season in the pass game and run game.

Jfreak13713

January 19th, 2012
8:46 am

Cut Turner? Ummm…. Yes, if it makes the team better. I like Turner but this is a different league now where teams throw more than they run. I certainly wouldn’t mind if Turner returned but not at the expense of other needs like both lines and secondary. The only untoucables are probably Ryan, Jones, and White. Hopefully, management can figure out a way to fix problems and keep Turner??

ramguy68

January 19th, 2012
8:46 am

He had his run and now it’s time for him to go. The Falcons still need a big back but it would be better if they had one in the 220-225 lb range. Someone who can get to the line quicker and make cuts when needed.

WS

January 19th, 2012
8:47 am

I would let Turner go, save 5M, and there are plenty of running backs. Turner has slowed down and has regressed in last two years. I know alot has been because of play calling.He is not a good pass receiver and for a big man he does not hit the hole hard. He picks his way.
DK use back in passing game, Turner doesn’t fit.Look how he used MO-JO. Rodger and Smith will fit in his system better that Turner.
Look at Texans, with Foster and Tate, I bet both of them together does not make half of Turners Money.
In Gaint play off game, Smith shows how much he thinks of Turner, fourth and half yard, had Ryan run the ball.If It he stayed with Falcons he would have to lose weight and take a big pay cut.
Send him to Miami to train with McGahee. McGahee said he ran in Miami sandy beaches to get his speed back. Turner needs his back.

Falcon Fan

January 19th, 2012
8:47 am

MIghtyQuinn – That’s the best post on here! I completely agree, don’t dump him just to dump him let’s recoup some draft picks via trade. I trust Snelling alot more than I do Turner at this juncture. Hopefully the new OC will get Quizz his touches. Go Falcons!!

Jarrett

January 19th, 2012
8:47 am

I think getting a new punter is really stupid. Bosher did a great job down the stretch after he started off a little rough. He was a rookie after all. I thought he did a great job. How about we worry about positions of need. aight.

Adam

January 19th, 2012
8:48 am

and Harry Douglas to me seems a bigger threat than Mr. “let me get no seperation from the defender before the ball is thrown and therefore get no YAC” White.

What's that?

January 19th, 2012
8:49 am

Let’s see. Can’t get any yards in big games. Can’t get 4th and inches in a playoff game. Falls the INSTANT someone touches his feet. No speed,can’t get outside.

Verdict: Trade or release.

Hankie Aron

January 19th, 2012
8:50 am

That’s a tough one Schultzie- I say trade him for a 3rd and 5th round picks. Use the money saved towards repairing the Falcons Offensive line. Use one of your picks in the draft on a RB and go to a committee of running backs in Rodgers, Snelling, Smith, and the guy you drafted. We all know they are a dime a dozen otherwise Matt Forte would be a lot richer right now. But solid offensive line players are not as common.

Falconut

January 19th, 2012
8:50 am

Get rid of him, he’s to one dimensional, can’t run side to side or cut.

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.

WS

January 19th, 2012
8:50 am

Alot of Turner yards came against weak teams, like Bucs last game. 80 yard run against a defense that had quit on Morris. What did he do against Saints and Gaints?

anotherdawg

January 19th, 2012
8:51 am

You get rid of him only if you want to do the same thing the Falcons did the year after they went to the Super Bowl. That year the Falcons cut Cornelius Bennett, their leading tackler, allowed Chuck Smith, their best pass rusher, to go to tha Panthers, and lost Jamal Anderson, who after holding out during camp, blew out a knee. I still can’t believe a veteran like Eugene Robinson was out, on the eve of the SB, at the best little w….h….in New Orleans.

BIG O

January 19th, 2012
8:52 am

Shouldn’t we let the new offensive coordinator decide this. He will know whats best because it appears that Mr. Blanks wants a winner and will get rid of employess/players/coaches that can not get it done!!! Ala new offensive and defensive coodinators….

Mid Town Joe

January 19th, 2012
8:52 am

I think Turner has it figured out. Avoid contact by falling down at the line of scrimmage whenever possible. (prolongs the career)

Jfreak13713

January 19th, 2012
8:52 am

I love to see those who say cut Matt Ryan but I’d like to ask them who would they replace him with? Ryan is a top 10 QB even with a bad / boring offensive Coord. People don’t let your hurt feelings expose your stupidity. Unless the Pats, Packers, Saints, Steelers, or Lions are willing to swap QB Ryan is our QB and in my opinion a damn good one.

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anotherdawg

January 19th, 2012
8:54 am

Good point BIG O! I think alot of people think that Thomas, Mike, and Arthur are on here looking for advice. lol

Adam

January 19th, 2012
8:54 am

@ Jfreak13713……

Couldn’t agree more….other than some of those you’d be willing to swap him for.