Veteran running back Steven Jackson was the Atlanta Falcons' prized free-agent acquisition last offseason because the team felt that his skill set represented an upgrade over ex-Falcons running back Michael Turner in Atlanta's offensive backfield.
Despite the hype, things haven't gone as planned for Jackson in Atlanta.
To date, Jackson has started and finished just four of Atlanta's nine games. Furthermore, you could argue that the biggest impact he's had on his team's season came in Week 1, when he dropped what would've likely been a game-winning touchdown reception against the New Orleans Saints.
|Steven Jackson's 2013 Game-by-Game Stats|
|Opponent||Carries||Rushing Yards||Yards Per Carry||Rush TDs||Receptions||Receiving Yards||Receiving TDs|
Now, let's be clear about one thing: Jackson isn't the reason that the Falcons are last in the league in rushing. The Falcons' offensive line deserves almost all of the blame for that.
In fact, it's probably safe to say that Jackson would've been much more effective over the last couple of weeks if he was running behind a better offensive line.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that, after this season, Jackson will be a soon-to-be 31-year-old who's coming off a season during which he will have missed over a quarter of his team's games.
Reasonable minds could differ, but you could make a case that Jackson has already begun the inevitable decline that most veteran NFL backs sustain on the back end of their careers.
The Falcons will already have to make decisions on veteran free agents Jonathan Babineaux, Peria Jerry and Corey Peters this offseason. In addition, Asante Samuel, Kroy Biermann, Osi Umenyiora, Julio Jones and Roddy White will be free agents after the 2014 season.
Given Jackson's age and the way he's been limited by injuries this season, does it make sense for the Falcons to bring him back next season or should the Falcons cut him and move on?
Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling may not be starting-caliber running backs, but they are both solid role players who have played well under the circumstances this year. Could they carry the Falcons' rushing attack along with a late-round draft pick or mid-level free-agent running back?
These are difficult questions to answer at the moment—partly because we don't yet know if the Falcons will make any changes to head coach Mike Smith's staff after this disappointing season, and we don't know what the Falcons are going to get from Jackson over the last seven weeks of this season.
For now, Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter is certainly committed to Jackson, even though some fans may want to see more carries for Rodgers, Snelling or even Antone Smith at this point.
"My opinion is Steven Jackson is a workhorse running back and we haven't been able to work him," Koetter told ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure. "I mean, I think Steven is one of those guys that gets better the more he touches it."
Perhaps Koetter's determination will pay off for the Falcons because it will give them an idea of what Jackson's ceiling is at this point.
If Jackson misses significant time with an injury over the last seven weeks of the season, the Falcons may not be inclined to bring him back.
Alternatively, if Jackson gets back on track on the ground and through the air as a pass-catcher, he could force the team to hold on to him for another year.
You can be pretty sure that the Falcons are going to make some key personnel decisions this offseason following this woeful campaign. The next seven weeks should clue us in to how Steven Jackson may fit into the team's plans.
What do you think? Should Jackson stay or should he go? I'll hang up and let you answer.