In this series, I'm taking a stats-driven, no frills approach. I'm dispelling Falcons-specific untruths that shouldn't exist in the first place. Feel free to disagree. Because after all, you have every right to be wrong.
He did. And it blows my mind that some Falcoholics don't acknowledge that.
Michael Turner signed a six-year, 34.5 million dollar contract in 2008. 15 million was guaranteed. He had some good games in San Diego, but we took a risk. In four years, Turner has earned that contract and more, and he's never held out or demanded more money. He's rushed for 50 touchdowns as a Falcon; best in franchise history. He's earned 2 Pro Bowl appearances. He's navigated some of the more comedic custody battles in American history.
Since the 2011-2012 season ended, many have argued that Michael Turner should or could go before his current deal expires. He's a 7.5 million dollar cap hit in 2012 and a 8 million dollar cap hit in 2013. He already has 5 million of that, as it was part of his guaranteed signing bonus.
I think there are two real criticisms of Turner. First, he costs too much. Second, his skills are diminishing. Neither is based in fact. And I'll address them one at a time after the jump.
He Doesn't Cost Too Much
Cost is a tricky thing in the NFL. More often than not, we're really talking about opportunity cost. Management and fans speculate about what's possible, and that's fair. The salary cap is not going anywhere.
Consider what some of the premier NFL running backs will make in 2012 and 2013 (numbers represent salary cap hit):
Maurice Jones-Drew - 8.3 million and 8.8 million
Arian Foster - 8 million and 8.25 million
Fred Jackson - 2.38 million and TBD
Darren McFadden - 6.71 million and 6.92 million
LeSean McCoy - approximately 1 million and TBD
Ray Rice - 7.7 million and TBD
Matt Forte - 7.7 million and TBD
Adrian Peterson - 8 million and 11.5 million
Marshawn Lynch - 5.5 million and 8.5 million
Ryan Mathews - 2.72 million and 3.21 million
I'm not saying there aren't other options, so please don't come with any "Well he makes less than Turner!" nonsense. We may be able to replicate Turner's production while spending less. I'll admit that's possible. But if you feel like it's likely, then you are assuming a lot.
Right now, we have a known commodity, and to be frank, his market value is commensurate with what we're paying him. Jackson, McCoy, and Matthews are due for raises. Any rookie we draft may or may not produce like we'd need him to. We could transition Snelling to a full time role, but what if he goes down? I like our depth and I don't mind spending what we're spending at RB.
His Skills Aren't Diminishing
He rushed for 1,340 yards last year. Only Ray Rice (1,364 yards) and MJD (1,606 yards) outperformed him. He rushed the ball 301 times, 10 times more than Rice and 42 times less than MJD. He averaged 4.5 yards a carry; better than Arian Foster. He had 11 rushes of 20 or more yards; only Forte (12) and Gore (14) had more. He had 4 rushes or 40 yards or more; only Ray Rice (5) had more.
His advanced stats don't look so hot. Turner's DVOA (negative 2.5 percent), DYAR (76), and Success Rate (45 percent) were mediocre at best. But there's a reason. And that reason is Mike Mularkey. It's incredible that he managed a 4.5 yards per carry, because he was stuffed or tackled for a loss ad nauseum. I couldn't find an exact number, though I'd bet my Matty Ice jersey it happened a lot. Blame our offensive line all you want; the ultimate culprit is Mularkey.
Turner gave Mularkey his all and more in 2011. As a pass blocker, Turner was second to one. His pass blocking efficiency was 99 percent. In 72 plays where Turner pass blocked, he was responsible for pressure once. Just once. He pulled in 17 passes, averaging 9.9 yards/reception. His elusive rating was the third best in the league, causing 62 missed tackles (best in the league) and amassing 900 yards after contact (best in the league).
Mularkey victimized Turner. He made him look like a fool. He owes Turner a steak dinner with all the fixings.
We ran Mularkey out of town. We demanded his resignation before the season ever concluded. And despite our contempt for the man, we willingly overlook the role he played in holding Turner back. When all was said and done, if we adopt a season-long, averaged-focused perspective, then Turner wasn't particularly efficient. But if we look beyond the box score, we see that Turner is still an elite back. We'd be fools to get rid of him now. In two years, he won't be the same player. But we're not there yet. So quit acting like we are.
End of rant.