For the time being, Michael Turner remains on the Atlanta Falcons roster, as an email from a team spokesman confirmed on Friday morning.
Nonetheless, Turner, a finalist in the MVP voting in 2008, appears a short-timer at best with the Falcons, as one network reported on Friday that the team would cut him. Speaking before reporters at the NFL Combine on Friday, head coach Mike Smith hardly denied that the Falcons would soon part ways with Turner.
Guys, this time of the year, there are tough decisions that have to be made, Smith said. We are recalibrating our roster as we speak, going through that process. Michael is under contract right now. Well continue to go through that process in terms of how we are going to recalibrate it. Myself, (owner Arthur) Blank and (general manager Thomas Dimitroff) have had numerous discussions.
There is a cause and effect to every decision that you make at this time of the year. Youre dealing with the salary cap and those decisions will work themselves out over the next couple of weeks.
Turner turned31 last week, and after 1,411 regular-season carries over the last five years in Atlanta (average of 282.2 carries per season over that span), appears to be on the down side of his career. His 800 yards rushing last season marked his lowest season total in his five seasons with the Falcons. His 3.6 yards per carry perhaps the more telling statistic was the lowest of his career by half a yard, a significant amount.
By cutting Turner, who is expected to earn 6.9 million next season, the Falcons will fall between 8 and 9 million under the leagues salary cap, which is expected to be about 122 million.
The Falcons have 14 players set to become unrestricted free agents, including a couple of key players who could be in line for some big contracts. The two biggest names are left tackle Sam Baker and safety William Moore, the lattercoming off a Pro Bowl season.
The Falcons will likely try to get Moore to sign the same deal as they did with fellow safety Thomas DeCoud, who signed a five-year, 17.5-million deal last year and, like Moore, also made the Pro Bowl in 2012. However, DeCoud signed his deal before he made the Pro Bowl, which could give Moore more leverage.
When it comes to left tackles, they can be far more pricey, as they generally protect the blind side for right-handed quarterbacks and Baker is coming off a career year in that regard. Denver reportedly is going to use its franchise tag on left tackle Ryan Clady, which will pay him 9.66 million.
Clearly, its in the Falcons best interest to sign Baker to a longer-term deal that is more cap friendly so as not to use up most of the savings they would get by cutting Turner.
There are also other key players whom the Falcons must decide upon. The most high-profile is that of Tony Gonzalez, but in that case the Falcons have made their desire clear for Gonzalez to return and its more of a case of waiting for Gonzalez to decide whether he wants to play or to retire. Clearly, the Falcons want him back, but if they have to pay him nearly 7 million, as they did last season, how do they clear cap room?
Defensively, do they keep cornerback Brent Grimes, who is coming off a torn Achilles tendon and whom they paid 10 million last season? The Falcons starting cornerbacks of Asante Samuel, Dunta Robinson and nickelback Robert McClain performed well last season and Grimes will be 30 but its hard to turn away a player as talented as Grimes, who made the Pro Bowl in 2010.
Those decisions do not include others that need to be made on 14-year veteran center Todd McClure and defensive tackle Vance Walker, whose 3.0 sacks ranked fourth on the team and were only 0.5 behind leading defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux.
For Turner, the handwriting has been on the wall for a while. He was a very good player and teammate for the Falcons, but the NFL has no room for sentimentality. Look for the Falcons to replace him either in the draft or with a low-priced free agent.