Does Losing Steven Jackson Actually Make the Rams a Better Team?
In 2013, St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson produced 1,363 yards from scrimmage, which counted for 25.8 percent of the team's total offensive yards (5,264).
The next highest on the list is the rookie Chris Givens, who produced 13.4 percent of the yards (710).
With a quarter of the Rams' offensive production migrating south to Atlanta, the situation is difficult for even the most stubborn optimist to ignore, especially since St. Louis was already ranked a modest 23rd in total offense in 2013 (329.0 yards per game).
And even if the numbers are not enough to dampen the hopes of fans, there's still the fact that Jackson is a St. Louis icon.
His legacy began early on. In fact, it was during his NFL debut season in 2004 when an overwhelmed San Francisco defensive back attempted to "arm tackle" Jackson in the open field.
Jackson survived. The defender's arm did not.
From that point on, Rams football became a dried up wasteland, but Jackson was the oasis.
Will the Rams regret losing SJ39?
With eight consecutive years of at least 1,000 yards rushing, Jackson has surpassed great players such as Earl Campbell and Herschel Walker on the all-time rushing list, and he'll certainly be near the top 10 by the end of his career.
Now, St. Louis is left with two second-year backs—Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead—who combined for just 529 rushing yards and an average of 6.7 carries per game in 2013.
But regardless of the production and nostalgia associated with Jackson, is there a silver lining?
Does the departure of Jackson help the Rams moving forward?
Addition By Subtraction
According to Pro Football Talk, Jackson signed a three-year deal with Atlanta worth $12 million.
Three years, $12 million for Steven Jackson wp.me/p14QSB-7CIi— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) March 15, 2013
Jackson was set to make $7 million in 2013 under his Rams contract, but assuming he never had a shot at getting that money, the Rams would have restructured his contract. And based on his Atlanta deal, he would have likely been paid around $4 million in 2013.
According to ESPN, Jake Long's 2013 salary cap number will be approximately $4.25 million, while Jared Cook will have a similar cap number next season (according to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch).
For those capologists in Rams Nation, TE Jared Cook's contract counts $4 million against the salary cap in 2013.— Jim Thomas (@jthom1) March 13, 2013
Since the Rams have just over $1 million in cap space (according to NFL.com) and over $6 million worth of draft picks to sign, it's fair to say that retaining Jackson would have cost the Rams either Long or Cook.
Both Long and Cook are in their mid 20's and have a very realistic shot at being in the top 10 at their positions, while Jackson will be 30 in August and will struggle to be a top-10 back in the NFL.
The team cares about staying young more than clinging to veterans who have seen their best days come and go.
If losing Jackson is the reason the Rams were able to pursue Long, then the Rams made the right move.
Rebuilding the Ground Game
It's nice that losing Jackson allowed the Rams to sign a superior player, but that player doesn't run the football.
So what will the St. Louis ground game look like in 2013?
Pead and Richardson are both under 200 pounds and do not appear to be every-down backs, but Richardson averaged 4.8 yards per carry as a rookie and provides the offense with dangerous speed out of the backfield.
Richardson cannot carry the ball more than 25 times a game, and neither can Pead, but they can certainly handle 10 to 15 carries a game and work together to carry the ground game.
Not to mention, the Rams also have the 240-pound Terrance Ganaway on the roster, who can be utilized in short-yardage and goal-line situations.
If the Rams are skeptical of Ganaway's abilities, they can always turn to the draft and grab Alabama's Eddie Lacy or Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell—both players are similar in style to Jackson.
The Rams have talent to work with on the current roster and there's possibly additional talent on the way.
It's unlikely that the Rams will have a running back with name recognition on their opening day roster, but that doesn't mean the current players will fail to step up and run the football.
The blocking up front is more important than the talent in the backfield, and St. Louis improved its blocking by signing Long.
They don't need a Pro Bowl running back in order to average over four yards a carry. They just need to open up the holes.
In the End
If you are Rams fan worried about the state of the St. Louis run game, it's time to relax.
Jeff Fisher has produced a 1,000-yard rusher in 14 out of his 17 NFL seasons, and hasn't had a feature back finish below 1,000 yards since 2005.
And no, it's not that Eddie George and Chris Johnson did all the work. Fisher had players such as LenDale White, Chris Brown and Travis Henry breaking the 1,000-yard barrier.
He even had a journeyman named Rodney Thomas lead the team with 947 yards as a rookie in 1995—which turned out to be nearly half of Thomas' career yards (1,973) after seven NFL seasons.
Fisher knows what it takes to run the ball, and if he says the Rams can move the chains without Jackson, it would be wise to listen.
St. Louis is beyond grateful for the contributions of Jackson over the years. He'll always be a member of the Rams at heart and will continue to be an icon for the franchise.
But know this—the St. Louis backs will be more than ready to pound the rock in 2013.
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