Turner triggers salary escalator, now a prime candidate for release
Turner hit that dreaded 30-year old wall this season - a common time for running backs' production to begin drastically deteriorating. In 2012, he averaged only 3.6 yards per carry, the first time in his career he's averaged less than 4.1, and carried the ball only 222 times, the first time he's played a full season as a Falcon without getting 300+ rushing attempts.
The burst that once allowed Turner to get to the second level with a full head of steam simply was not there in 2012. I've said it many times before, I believe that explosiveness is the most important quality of a running back. You can have other tools - agility, strength, etc. - but if you can't hit the hole quickly, you won't have the opportunity to use those tools. Turner can still barrel over defenders when he gets going, but he can no longer explode out of the backfield and hit the hole while it's still open. After seeing such a decline in production from 2011 to 2012, there's no telling how ineffective Turner may be in 2013.
Multiple sources, such as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, had already reported that Turner was unlikely to be back with the team next season, before they knew of his $1.4 million salary increase. 2013 is the final year of Turner's contract, and most of his $6.9 million would come off of the Falcons' salary cap if they cut him.
The only problem with the Falcons cutting Turner is that they have already attempted to give backup running back Jacquizz Rodgers a larger role, but he couldn't handle a heavy workload between the tackles. Rodgers' YPC wasn't much better than Turner's at 3.9, and if the Falcons do cut Turner, they'll need to find another bruiser to pair with Rodgers in the backfield.
Some of the bigger free agent backs include Cedric Benson, Peyton Hillis, and Shonn Greene, while the Falcons could also address their need in the draft with a player like Eddie Lacy or Le'Veon Bell.
$6.9 million is a lot of money to pay a running back, especially when that running back is 31-years old and is coming off a season with a 3.6 YPC mark. Unless Turner agrees to take a sizable pay cut, there's really no reason for the Falcons to keep him around.