Thomas Dimitroff really hit a grand slam in his first ever offseason as general manager of the Atlanta Falcons, didn’t he?
First, he used the No. 3 overall pick in the draft to secure Matt Ryan, who would go on to become the team’s franchise quarterback for the next decade plus. Then, he brought in maybe his greatest free agent acquisition ever — Michael Turner.
Turner was the big prize of the free agency pool that offseason, hitting the market after proving himself as a capable running back in San Diego, but blocked from the starting job by the legendary LaDainian Tomlinson. Dimitroff won the Turner lottery, and lured him to Atlanta with a six year, $34.5 million contract.
Turner was spectacular as an Atlanta Falcon, especially in that initial 2008 season which was his magnum opus. He was a First-Team All-Pro selection after totaling 1,699 rushing yards and a league-leading 17 rushing touchdowns in Matt Ryan’s rookie season, leading the Birds to an unlikely 11-5 record and playoff appearance.
Turner spent five wonderful years in Atlanta, and he exceeded 1,300 rushing yards in three of those seasons (he didn’t achieve the feat in 2009 because of an injury which cost him five games). The Burner also scored double-digit rushing touchdowns in all five of his years as a Falcon.
Turner was the engine of Atlanta’s offense in Matt Ryan’s early days, and he would carry the weight of the load on his shoulders in between 2008 and 2011, earning a trip to the Pro Bowl in the 2008 and 2010 seasons (he led the league in carries in both of those years).
Michael Turner rushed for 6,081 yards in his time as a Falcon — second in franchise history behind only Gerald Riggs; and he 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 yards per game).
The numbers are spectacular to look at, and they make the Burner arguably the greatest running back in Falcons history, but Michael Turner’s impact can’t be measured simply by looking at the numbers.
A young Matt Ryan’s life was made so much easier because of Turner’s presence in the backfield, and with the knowledge that he could be leaned on when the Falcons needed it most. Ryan was able to develop at his own pace, and win right away at the same time, because of Michael Turner. Who knows how different things would be Ryan today if not for Turner’s impact in those early days.
A salute to the great Michael Turner, who once upon a time turned the power running game into an art form for the Atlanta Falcons.