Without question, this was an expected move based on the Rams' salary-cap situation, yet I feel like St. Louis was hoping to strike a restructured deal so Jackson wouldn't hit the open market.
Although, it seems that a restructured deal would never have gotten done before March 12 for one simple reason: SJ39 wants to hit the open market so he can get a better idea as to what his value is to not only the Rams but to the league's other 31 teams.
It's no secret that the nine-year running back will have more than one suitor on the open market; he's likely to have a few. Which means Rams general manager Les Snead could get into a bidding war that he isn't able to finish.
According to Thomas, one of the most likely landing spots for Jackson is the Atlanta Falcons.
They've made it no secret that they want to move on from Michael Turner and his high-priced salary. Turner carries a cap number of $8.9 million in 2013, so it's easy to see why Atlanta would like to part ways. The Falcons could potentially snag Jackson at half the price and get a definite increase in production in return.
However, I don't feel as if the Rams' only competition for the former first-round pick would be the Falcons. There's also rumors swirling that Ted Thompson and the Green Bay Packers would have interest in Jackson's services as well. These rumors are far from groundbreaking, considering that I myself and multiple media outlets have previously documented them.
When trying to assess Jackson's market value, it's important to consider two things: the 2013 draft class and Jackson's fellow free-agent competition. Even though it's still early, the draft class seems to be taking shape quite nicely. There's plenty of depth from Day 2 on, yet it doesn't seem as if there is one back that's worthy of a first-day selection.
For SJ39, a proven commodity, that's music to his ears. The unknown often scares away a team that has a conservative front office. Some organizations like to put all their trust in the hands of proven veterans, and it's hard to argue with that sentiment in certain situations, considering that the bust rate among rookies in the NFL outweighs the success rate.
All of the these different scenarios lead me to the ultimate question in the midst of this Jackson drama: What's next for the Rams?
Obviously they will focus on other free-agent running backs to see if they fit with what they are trying to do on offense. Not to mention, they will also try and figure out whether a back would be worthy of a Day 2 pick.
In my opinion, the biggest free-agent running back target outside of Jackson would be the New York Jets' Shonn Greene. It's not clear whether current Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer was a fan of Greene's during the former's tenure in New York, but the connection is easy to make. The terminology would be almost identical, and Greene wouldn't have to shoulder the load all by himself.
The Rams are high on Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead, and rightfully so. Richardson outproduced and outperformed everyone's expectations, while Pead has been placed on a pedestal due to his lofty draft status and big upside.
Ever since Thomas Jones left New York, Greene had seemingly been having to carry the Jets running game with little to no help. Neither Richardson nor Pead compares physically to the powerful Jones, yet that's not the point. What matters is keeping Greene fresh by bringing in fresh legs when needed.
Another potential free-agent splash that could make sense at the right price would be Chris Ivory. Ivory isn't exactly a household name based on the fact that he was buried on the New Orleans Saints' depth chart for the last three seasons.
Nevertheless, despite just 256 career carries, he managed to amass 1,307 yards. Additionally, he scored eight touchdowns and forced 57 missed tackles during that same time frame. Impressive numbers when you consider his limited snaps.
The only thing for the Rams to be unsure about is whether or not Ivory could handle an increased workload. He wouldn't be counted on as a No. 1 running back, but he would be required to carry the ball more than 137 times—that is the highest number of carries he has recorded in a single season.
Ivory and Greene both give the Rams proven production and additional youth in the backfield, something they have been longing for. Yet don't expect their first option to be a free-agent spending spree.
St. Louis wants Jackson back, and Jackson wants to be back, but it will all come down to the price. The only way the organization moves on from SJ39 is if he becomes overvalued. Then the rest of the free-agent class and the running backs in the upcoming draft slide into the forefront.
From now until the time SJ39 signs a new deal, the Rams should be exploring every avenue to ensure that the drop-off in production isn't too steep if he does indeed leave.
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