ESPN analyst Adam Schefter didn’t completely answer the question lingering around Flowery Branch this offseason, but shed some serious light Friday on whether running back Michael Turner would be cut to clear cap space.
For the record, I’m against the move. Not so much because I believe Turner is still a top-10 back, but because the money saved in the deal isn’t enough to go out and procure a free-agent running back to replace him. This also screams my opinion that Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling aren’t the answer for the Falcons by themselves.
There needs to be a third option in the Falcons backfield and it needs to be an option that can lead the trio in touches. Rodgers has never carried the ball more than 11 times in a game, and his 15-touch Week 3 performance in San Diego was his biggest workload. Snelling touched the ball nine times in Week 15 against the New York Giants, which was his largest role of the season.
Both Rodgers and Snelling are the kind of back offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter can make great use of. They both catch the ball well out of the backfield, giving quarterback Matt Ryan an added option on every play.
But neither is ready to step up and be the main guy in Atlanta. Head coach Mike Smith has screamed for two years that Rodgers could be an every-down back, but I don’t see it.
Smith was rather coy in his response to the question at the NFL combine Friday.
"We are recalibrating our roster as we speak, going through that process," the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported from his press conference in Indianapolis. "Michael is under contract right now. We’ll continue to go through that process in terms of how we are going to recalibrate it. Myself, Mr. Blank and Thomas have had numerous discussions. There is a cause-and-effect to every decision that you make at this time of the year. You’re dealing with the salary cap and those decisions will work themselves out over the next couple of weeks."
If the Falcons cut Turner, they must get a running back via free agency or the draft who can contribute greatly in 2013. That means Atlanta will have to spend money on a guy like Steven Jackson, who’s still likely going to be too expensive. Or maybe the Falcons look at Reggie Bush, who is the kind of backfield mate Koetter likes, but isn’t much of a different type of runner that what Atlanta already has (read: Bush isn’t a bruiser who can change the pace from Rodgers).
If a free agent can’t be brought in, Atlanta will have to use its first- or second-round draft pick on a running back, greatly altering the direction most feel the Falcons are leaning right now, which is defensive tackle, end or tight end. Cutting Turner saves a great bit of money, but it also forces the Falcons to look at a guy early like Eddie Lacy from Alabama or take a shot at injured running back Marcus Lattimore from South Carolina.
Keeping Turner—and asking him to restructure his contract—allows the Falcons to bring in free agents to address team needs and then enter the draft using a “best player available” strategy. It doesn’t create another hole in the roster that Atlanta must fill.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.