One of the biggest unresolved issues for the St. Louis Rams this off-season is the contract status of long-time running back Steven Jackson. The 29-year-old Jackson is expected to void his contract and become an unrestricted free agent, but the Rams have publicly stated they would like to bring him back. The two sides have yet to really sit down and talk about this issue, but all that will change this week at the NFL Combine.
Jackson has until March 12 to decide whether or not to void his deal and the meetings this week will shed light on his decision and the willingness of St. Louis to financially commit to the soon-to-be 30-year-old running back. As of now, Jackson is set to make $7 million in base salary next season under his current contract, a figure that could lead to the running back’s change of scenery in 2013.
The Rams simply can’t afford to keep Jackson at that price, no matter how much they would like to see him stick around. St. Louis is currently a couple of million dollars over the salary cap and need to free up space in order to re-sign some of their own free agents, sign outside free agents and sign their upcoming draft class. Like Michael Turner with the Atlanta Falcons, Jackson’s age and price could lead to a new home next season.
If Jackson does ultimately void his deal, he’ll join a pretty strong group of running backs in free agency. Even if there are several teams who would like to bring Jackson in, he’d likely have to settle for less than the $7 million he was scheduled to make with the Rams as the position has not been able to draw huge contracts in recent years.
For the Rams, they would be left with 2012 draft picks Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead on the roster with the option of adding another back through free agency or the draft. While Jackson led the team in rushing with 1,042 yards on 257 carries, Richardson showed nice playmaking ability as the change-of-pace back, gaining 475 yards on just 98 carries while catching 24 passes for 163 yards out of the backfield.
St. Louis would undoubtedly like to have their offensive captain back next season, but in today’s NFL, it just doesn’t make good financial sense to pay so much for an aging running back. Both sides will have a clearer picture of what the future holds after the scouting combine, but if Jackson isn’t willing to take a significant pay cut, don’t expect to see him back in St. Louis next season.