Steven Jackson Not a Shoo-in for Falcons Tailback Position
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Jackson is expected to void the final year of his contract in St. Louis, where he was scheduled to make $7 million. He's turning 30 this summer, but the 6'2", 240-pound wrecking ball has much fresher legs than Michael Turner showed this past year.
Turner, who deserves a lot of credit and love from Falcons fans for what he's helped do in Atlanta since 2008, is expected to be released by general manager Thomas Dimitroff when free agency hits.
Jackson carried 257 times for 1,042 yards and caught 38 passes last year, playing in all 16 games in what was his first fumble-free season. Much of his work was behind a makeshift offensive line.
There's reason to believe he could flourish in Atlanta's offense. Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter likes to run the tailback out of a three-receiver set, and Jackson has the skill-set to run that more cut-back style on the ground.
Through the air, Jackson is a proven receiving machine. In 2006, he caught 90 passes, and he's never gone below 35 receptions since his rookie year in 2004.
Speaking of 2004, that was the last time Jackson made the playoffs. Ironically, the Atlanta Falcons trounced him out the door in a 47-17 thumping in the Georgia Dome, a 9-carry, 32-yard performance for Jackson, following a 10-yard effort against Atlanta earlier that year.
Jackson apparently wants to be with a Super Bowl contending team and there's no doubt that his presence could have been the difference in the Falcons' inability to hold onto big leads by grinding it out in the second half of games in the playoffs.
Not only are all signs on the surface pointing to this being a perfect fit, but there's reason to believe the acquisition of Jackson would only give more fuel to Tony Gonzalez, who many are starting to believe will give in and return for a final season.
With Jackson and (potentially retiring) Gonzalez on board, the Falcons would start a Pro Bowl player at every skill position on offense. If that's not a reason for the media to drool over the Falcons in 2013, there isn't one out there.
But, how likely is it that Jackson actually does become a Falcon? If you look past the feel good headlines, it doesn't appear to be such a blockbuster.
Dimitroff is not going to have heaps of cash to hand out this offseason, and one of his biggest priorities is structuring a new, lucrative deal to lock Matt Ryan's career in Atlanta.
He will also need the cap room to re-sign critical free agents from 2012's club, including Sam Baker and William Moore.
Finally, Atlanta has a major decision to make on the cornerback front. Brent Grimes's Achilles injury that he suffered in Week 1 of last season might have been a blessing in disguise. Had he not been injured for an entire year, it would be very likely he'd leverage a major contract that Atlanta could not match.
With his health and future ability in question, it's now more possible Grimes ends up taking a more modest deal by returning to Atlanta. This decision would be a no-brainer if Dimitroff decided to part ways with Dunta Robinson, who has not done much to justify the six-year, $57-million deal he signed in 2009.
Cutting incumbent starter Michael Turner and Robinson would make some room for Dimitroff to make a significant move or two in free agency, but there's no reason to believe Jackson won't be the most expensive free agent out there.
It would certainly raise eyebrows if Jackson came to Atlanta for around $3 million to $4 million on the 2013 payroll. A pay cut like that would mean he wants to be with a championship team, which would make Atlanta an even more intriguing make-or-break story. Here's to everyone who complained about the media not paying attention to Atlanta last season.
But, tailback isn't really an immediate priority for the Falcons. Atlanta should be much more concerned with an instant improvement of the pass rush, which was a major Achilles heel in the postseason.
In fact, the Falcons actually ran the ball better than average in the playoffs, rushing for 167 yards on 26 carries in a win against the Seahawks..The truth is this is built to be a passing team. That means Jackson could find himself immediately undervalued in Atlanta.
It would make just as much, if not more sense for Dimitroff to look at a guy like Osi Umenyiora, who could make an immediate impact on the defensive side of the ball, opposite of John Abraham.
Yes, the Falcons will likely draft defensive line in April, but Dimitroff is just as known for filling an immediate need with a veteran player on a downhill contract.
Gonzalez and Robinson were prime examples. Asante Samuel rings the bell just as loud, as well. Is there any doubt the veteran presence that Samuel brought in last year was anything a rookie could have manipulated?
The point is, a veteran pass rusher is probably more of an immediate concern for Dimitroff than a star tailback.
Chris Ivory, who played his final season with the Saints last year, made just $540,000. Ivory is a versatile, poor man's Jackson, if you will.
The truth of the matter is there are a plethora of tailbacks in the NFL who are, far and away, better than Michael Turner. Atlanta will have to be hard pressed to shoot itself in the foot when making a decision on a replacement piece.
Yes, Jackson would bring a star power and "it" factor with his toughness and intangibles. There is not a tailback in the free agency market or draft that can come close to giving Atlanta the value Jackson would.
If Jackson does arrive in a Falcons uniform, fans should be more than thrilled. In fact, it could make for the most exciting time in Falcons history since the Vick years. This team would, for sure, be labeled Super Bowl or bust.
Who should Atlanta bring in in free agency?
But, knowing Dimitroff, a more modest tailback signing and bigger veteran presence on defense might be more to his liking. He's never been a guy for making the sexiest moves but, more often than not, they pan out.
Mike Foster is a Bleacher Report Featured Columnist and has covered high school football, hoops and recruiting for the Marietta Daily Journal, Cherokee Tribune and the Tuscaloosa News. He also served as sports editor for the Kennesaw State University newspaper, The Sentinel, for a year and a half.
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