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Saturday Seasons Gone by Series: Falcons sign Michael Turner

A free agent signing for the ages.

Dallas Cowboys v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

We’re in the dead period of football (you can read about how much I hate this period here), and with it, we don’t have much to talk about except for some speculation here and there.

I figured this would be a good time to look back on some moments in Falcons history and maybe re-live them while we wait for football to come back.

That idea has given rise to a new series of “Throwback Thursday” articles I’m planning on writing throughout the dead period. Each week, we’ll re-live and discuss a certain moment in this franchise’s 52-year history.

You can find last week’s Throwback Thursday article, about the “Too Legit to Quit” team of 1991 here.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This did not wind up being published on Thursday, so with a little headline-tweaking, you can still enjoy it on Saturday)

This throwback series has already touched on the franchise’s transition from the short-lived Bobby Petrino days into the 2008 offseason, when the team hired Thomas Dimitroff to take over the front office.

Two of Dimitroff’s most significant moves ever as a team executive came right away in that offseason: the biggest was drafting Matt Ryan third overall (we’ll look at that later), and the other big move (which we’ll look at today) was signing Michael Turner to join Ryan in the Falcons’ backfield. These transactions won Dimitroff the 2008 executive of the year award and laid the foundation for the most prosperous period in franchise history.

The Falcons were riddled with holes after the 2007 season, and one of the biggest among them was the running back position. After an underwhelming year from an aging Warrick Dunn, the position had to be addressed via the draft or free agency, as the other options on the roster weren’t suited for a three-down role.

The story has been well-documented at this point. Dimitroff turned toward free agency to address the pressing need at RB, and he came away from the frenzy having hit the jackpot in signing San Diego’s Michael Turner.

Turner proved his worth for the Chargers after being selected in the fifth round of the 2004 draft, but just wasn’t able to break through as a starting running back as he was the backup to arguably the best RB in the NFL at the time in LaDainian Tomlinson. Turner wasn’t a secret to anybody in the NFL, and he was always going to be one of the major prizes to get in the 2008 free agency period.

Atlanta won that prize after Turner agreed to a 6 year/$34,500,000 contract to take over the team’s backfield duties, and I don’t think that even Dimitroff expected him to be as good as he would end up being as a Falcon.

Right from the get-go, Turner made a lasting impact: in the 2008 season he rushed for 1,699 yards and 17 touchdowns on his way to being honored as a First-Team All-Pro selection. The burner would total double-digit rushing touchdowns in every season as a Falcon and would have at least 1,300 rushing yards in three of his five years in Atlanta.

I’ll quote some stats I pulled from an earlier article where I ranked Turner as the best free agent signing in the Dimitroff era: “Turner rushed for 6,081 yards in his time as a Falcon, second in franchise history to only Gerald Riggs, and totaled 60 rushing touchdowns, by far the most in franchise history (Gerald Riggs is second with 48). His 81.1 rushing yards per game is also the best mark in franchise history by a substantial margin (Gerald Riggs is second with 72.9 rushing ypg).”

It’s clear how important Turner was to the team’s success running the ball, but what’s often understated is just how vital the burner was to a young Matt Ryan’s development. Turner took a considerable load off of Ryan’s shoulders, as he was the engine of Atlanta’s offense from 2008-2011, accumulating over 300 carries in three of those four seasons (he was injured for a good portion of the 2009 season) and leading the league in carries in 2008 and 2010 (both were pro bowl seasons).

I still feel that Turner was the best free agent signing in not only Dimitroff’s tenure as the team’s general manager, but also in franchise history, and I’ll always remember him fondly as one of the greatest Falcons of all time.

Expect these “Throwback Thursday” articles (EDITOR’S NOTE: OR SATURDAYS) to be recurring throughout the offseason, to reminisce about the team’s history and to give us some stuff to talk about. Don’t expect them to go in order, however. The next one could look back on a moment that occurred in the 90s or even a few years ago. Between you and me, I’m just making it up as I go along.