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Why Michael Turner Shouldn't Be Cut by the Atlanta Falcons to Create Cap Space

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Why Michael Turner Shouldn't Be Cut by the Atlanta Falcons to Create Cap Space
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It’s a very popular sentiment right now to cast Atlanta Falcons running back Michael Turner out like last night’s trash.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently posted that the Falcons have to make a tough decision on Turner, who is set to make $6.9 million in 2013. Will Atlanta cut him or ask him to restructure his contract?

Dan Pompei wrote on National Football Post that the Falcons were in the market for a running back and would look for a younger option.

There are a slew of other hypotheses from every corner of the sports world. Most people believe Turner should be cut.

There’s no denying that Turner, who turns 31 on Feb. 13, has lost a step from his glory days with the Falcons. Last year was the first time in his career his per carry average dropped below four yards. His workload has dropped too.

In an effort to keep him fresh for the end of the season and the playoffs—the emergence of second-year running back Jacquizz Rodgers also played a part in the decision—the Falcons limited Turner’s carries in 2012. Last season was his first as a starting running back (that played 16 games) where he didn’t carry the football at least 300 times or rush for 1,000 yards.

Turner wasn’t able to burst through holes last season like in years past. Too many times he was tangled up in the backfield or at the line of scrimmage before he was able to get through the defensive line and into the second level of the defense.

Because Turner isn’t “The Burner” anymore, and because his 2013 salary is such a detriment to the Falcons, sending him packing seems like a logical choice. But it’s not the correct choice for Atlanta.

Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Atlanta should ask Turner to restructure his current deal into a more cap-friendly contract. Then the team should figure out the proper way to use Turner, Rodgers and Snelling

Why? The first reason is there’s still gas left in Turner’s tank.

Turner will never be a 1,000-yard running back again, but he can surely replicate what he did in 2012. Plus, seven of his 10 rushing touchdowns came in the second half of the season and he averaged 5.8 yards per carry in the playoffs.

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Turner shouldn’t be the featured back in Atlanta any longer, but he can still be a change-of-pace from Rodgers. Snelling can be another alternative to Rodgers—one with superb hands out of the backfield.

Rodgers, by process of elimination, should be the featured back in Atlanta. But he isn’t ready to be a workhorse runner. He has never carried the ball more than 11 times in a professional football game, and probably shouldn't go much higher than that, ever.

A good split for the Falcons’ running back-by-committee in 2013 could look like 40 percent for Rodgers, 30 for Turner and 30 Snelling. If Turner’s contract were cap friendly, that running back corps would be of great value.

There are at least two other reasons why Turner should be brought back to the Falcons at a reduced rate in 2013: 1) the free-agent alternatives are not right for Atlanta, and 2) the Falcons should look defense in the early rounds of the draft, meaning a running back taken late might not be ready to produce at the level Turner could.

Two of the free-agent names being tossed around a lot as attractive targets for the Falcons are the St. Louis Rams’ Steven Jackson and Ahmad Bradshaw, who was recently cut by the New York Giants.

The first thing Jackson has to do is void the final year of his contract with the Rams. It’s a players’ option and the popular guess is that he’ll opt for free agency.

Jackson is a hole-pounder and everything the Falcons wanted Turner to be. 

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

The problem is that Atlanta won’t be the only team interested in Jackson, who may in fact be one of the most sought-after free agents on the market. I expect his price tag to go north of $5 million for the 2013 season and he may demand a long-term deal.

A lengthy deal would be fine if Jackson was 26 years old, but he’s getting ready to turn 30 in July. Why would the Falcons get into that situation and pay out the nose to do so?

Bradshaw, on the other hand, will be a much more attractive option financially for the Falcons. But he too will have multiple teams suiting him, and there’s an injury history to examine as well.

The 2010 season was Bradshaw’s last full, uninjured season, as he’s been dealing with foot injuries his entire career. While the almost 27-year-old running back looks attractive on paper with his 4.6 yards per carry, an injury to Bradshaw would be devastating to Atlanta if the Falcons brought him in. I’m not sold on Rodgers and Snelling being able to carry the Falcons during a long stretch, waiting for an injured running back to return.

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Turner might be older, but injury history isn’t a huge concern. While he sits out practices and is known for nagging injuries, Turner plays through pain. He’s missed just five games in the five years he’s been in Atlanta.

The best bet for Atlanta is to find the best possible opportunity in the upcoming draft to grab a running back and let him learn from Turner, Rodgers and Snelling. A year or two of being buried on Atlanta’s running back depth chart might not be the most fun place for a young runner, but if Atlanta selects wisely, the move could pay dramatic dividends.

But the case all boils down to Turner and the Falcons coming to an agreement. Turner has to sign a new deal that notably reduces his cap hit to the team, and makes it easier, financially speaking, to part ways at a later date if he can’t complete his contract.

Turner at $6.9 million for the 2013 season makes absolutely no sense for the Falcons. But neither does overpaying for Jackson and not addressing other team needs or taking a chance on an oft-injured Bradshaw.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.

Knox Bardeen is the NFC South lead writer for Bleacher Report and the author of “100 Things Falcons Fans Should Know & Do Before they Die.” Be sure to follow Knox on Twitter.

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