Running back Steven Jackson to the Atlanta Falcons is all the rage over the last 24 hours since Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the Rams’ career rushing leader would void the final year of his contract on March 12.
Why not? This move looks great for the Falcons.
Jackson averaged 4.1 yards per carry and caught 38 passes out of the backfield for the Rams last year, and over the last eight seasons in St. Louis he gained just under 1,183 yards and caught 48.5 passes per season on average.
In the Atlanta offense that puts more weight now on versatility than power running, Jackson’s ability to hit holes, power through and catch passes makes him a much more valuable option that current running back Michael Turner, who is rumored to be on his way out the door in Atlanta.
He can also be the workhorse in Atlanta’s running game that I truly believe Jacquizz Rodgers isn’t ready to be. And since Thomas reported Jackson desires to play for a Super Bowl contender, Atlanta makes a lot of sense.
But there are several issues that might make Jackson signing with the Falcons a terrible move for Atlanta.
The Falcons won’t be the only team vying for Jackson’s attention. The New England Patriots, the Green Bay Packers and the Denver Broncos all have nearly Super Bowl-ready rosters and a need for a running back like Jackson. With three, or possibly more, options for Jackson to think about, his agent would be crazy not to work toward driving the price up for whichever suitor ultimately lands the running back.
There’s also the fact that the free-agent pool of running backs isn’t terribly deep. Someone is going to have to pay mightily for Jackson. To do so will greatly alter that team’s ability to do much else and stay under the salary cap.
The Falcons are without a doubt in win-now mode, so paying extra for Jackson still might be in the cards for this team. But that might mean Atlanta won’t have the funds to compete for strong safety William Moore, who already said he wants to test the free-agent market, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, or other free agents that might help this team make another deep playoff run.
There’s also Jackson’s age that the Falcons have to consider.
Jackson will turn 30 right before training camp begins. He’s still likely every bit the runner his statistics show, but how much longer can he maintain his current levels of success?
Not only will Atlanta have to pay Jackson boatloads of money, he’s likely going to ask for a lengthy contract. Will that contract hamstring the Falcons in a year or two when Jackson starts to age? Will Atlanta be in the same situation two years from now with Jackson as they are right now with Turner?
Jackson signing with the Falcons is really all about money. There’s no doubt he’s a better option for Atlanta in the short term than Turner. If general manager Thomas Dimitroff can find a way to sign Jackson to a cap-friendly, short-term contract, Atlanta would truly have a fantastic transaction by signing Jackson.
But if other teams drive the price up, Atlanta would be smart to walk away from Jackson. Overpaying and signing a long-term contract could hurt Atlanta down the road.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.