Early this morning, Jim Thomas dropped the bomb that Steven Jackson would void the final year on his six-year contract, which would have cost the St. Louis Ram $7 million; a figure that simply isn’t feasible at this point. The decision gives Jackson, for the first time, the ability to test his “worth” on the open market, likely soliciting offers from numerous, playoff-destined teams. So what are the options for the Rams now?
1) Play the Hand You Are Dealt
If Les Snead and Co. decide that other “areas of need” hold a higher priority than a bidding war over an aging running back, the front office could just let Jackson ride. Last season, the Rams invested a 2nd round, Isaiah Pead, and 7th round, Daryl Richardson, pick at running back, and snagged another back with potential, Terrance Ganaway, from New York. Richardson played well in the early portion of the season, taking a bulk of the carries from Steven Jackson, who was nursing a groin injury sustained again the Washington Redskins. Isaiah Pead saw limited reps after a abysmal preseason showing, but could benefit from a full offseason and extended time in Schottenheimer’s offenseive system. The one-two punch of Pead and Richardson might be enough to compensate for the void Jackson would leave in the backfield. However, neither have displayed the superior ball catching or blitz pick-up abilities that Jackson showed throughout his carrier. Only time will tell…
2) Sweet Home Alabama?
If Jackson does find a home elsewhere, the St. Louis Rams are in a prime spot in the draft to find a more viable replacement; should they feel Richardson or Pead are not capable of filling the spot. While there is no Trent Richardson or Adrian Peterson in this draft, there are plenty of “big body” backs that fit the Steven Jackson mold. Eddy Lacy is the first back that comes to mind, and most believe he will be on the board in the latter stages of the draft, maybe even in the 25-32 range of the first round. However, this is a much deeper draft at running back, with plenty of Alfred Morris-type prospects that will be available on the third day of the draft. Le’Veon Bell out of Michigan State is a big bruising back that showed impressive lateral quickness and reasonable straight-line speed at the combine, posting a 6.75 3-cone time and a 4.60 40-time. He would likely be available in the 3rd round, potentially as late as the 4th, if teams bite on some of the injury-riddled, “red-flag” players with more upside potential than Bell.
3) Divorcee Syndrome
The free agent market for running backs is pretty bare, at least for players within the St. Louis Rams’ relatively small budget, and the Rams seemingly have much larger holes to fill in the 2013 NFL Draft than running back. So, the last option the Rams might, and likely will, take is to pursue Jackson after he has assessed his value on the “open market.” Jackson has been expected to void out of his contract since mid-season when the first reports dropped about the negotiations. Still, in the time since, both Steven Jackson and the St. Louis Rams organization, specifically Jeff Fisher, have explicitly stated their desire for the franchise-rushing leader to retire with the golden horns on his helmet. There are already rumors that the Atlanta Falcons are interested in Jackson, which might be validated by the likely release of Michael Turner. Still, SJ39 has been all-in for St. Louis since he was drafted and has been consistent in his desire to retire in the city where he has played his entire career. If that happens, it will inevitably mean that Jackson will take significantly less money. But, as we all saw yesterday with Tom Brady, it isn’t unthinkable to assume that a player will cut down their own contract for the benefit of the team. It might take a little chasing and begging, but the front office owes it to Jackson and to the city of St. Louis to exhaust all of their opinions before letting a franchise tailback leave for another team.