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Not yet: No decision near for Jackson/PD
Not yet: No decision near for Jackson : Stltoday
• By Jim Thomas
To void or not to void?
Nearly three weeks into the Rams’ offseason, but nearly two months away from the start of free agency, running back Steven Jackson still has plenty of time to decide.
“He hasn’t made any final decision on that,” Jackson’s agent, Eugene Parker, said this week. “There’s no urgency. The season just got over. So there hasn’t been any discussion with the Rams on the future.”
A late-season tweak in Jackson’s contract pushed back the deadline for him to reach a decision on whether to void the final season (2013) of his deal. Originally, the deadline was five days after the Super Bowl, which would have been Feb. 8. But in an end-of-December contract revision, Jackson now has until the start of free agency — or March 12 — to reach a decision.
Jackson can void the final year at any time before March 12, but again is in no hurry. He reiterated that point Friday in an appearance on the NFL Network.
“We’re going to sit down this next coming month, in February,” Jackson said. “Both sides have been very classy about how they’ve handled the situation. We’re going to talk about my possibilities, where I want to go, and does it fit? I believe we’ll get everything resolved before March.”
Rams executive vice president Kevin Demoff said the void provisions stemmed from concerns expressed by Jackson a year ago, before even the hiring of coach Jeff Fisher.
“He had expressed concern about whether this would be another rebuilding project and the direction of the team, ” Demoff said. “Steven has been a great player, a great leader for our team, and he’s never had the chance really to be with a competitive team through no fault of his own.
“And this would allow him, if he was unhappy with the direction of the team after the 2012 season, to look around and be able to leave and to see what free agency would be like. He’s never been a free agent.
“The void was not intended for him to leave; it was intended to give him the option to explore. Obviously, he had a very good season on the field. I think he’s excited about the direction of the team, as we are. How that plays out this offseason, we’ll see.”
There are several factors for Jackson to consider as he weighs his options. For one, he wants a contract that carries beyond 2013, in theory at least giving him two or three more years of security. After nine seasons in the league, Jackson knows he doesn’t have much time left in the NFL, so it’s more important than ever to play on a winning team, to be in the playoffs.
Jackson has never experienced a winning season in St. Louis — the best he’s done is 8-8 as a rookie in 2004 and 8-8 in 2006. He has played in two playoff contests, both as a rookie.
And obviously there are financial considerations. He’s due $7 million next season under his Rams contract. But it would be understandable if the cap-strapped Rams were a little nervous committing that much money to a 30-year-old running back, even given Jackson’s durability and consistency. As a vested veteran, that money becomes guaranteed after the first game of the regular season.
So Jackson will listen to whatever the Rams have to say in February. Do they want him to finish his career in St. Louis? If so, what kind of numbers over how many years are the Rams looking to offer?
Jackson knows it’s possible he will hit the free-agent market, which again was something he reiterated Friday on the NFL Network. He also, mostly playfully, has thrown out the possibility of retirement, although those who know him don’t think that’s a serious option.
By the time March arrives, Jackson may have a good idea of what his free-agent options are. By league rule, no contract negotiations with outside teams can take place until two days before the start of the March 12 free agency period. Even so, teams and agents have a way of talking. He’ll have an idea.
The three teams that look like the most logical suitors are, in no particular order, Green Bay, Pittsburgh and Atlanta. All are perennial playoff contenders, although Pittsburgh didn’t make the postseason this year. All could use help in the running game.
But Green Bay and Pittsburgh historically aren’t big spenders in free agency. And none of those three teams is expected to have much salary cap room. Jackson isn’t expected to get anywhere near the $7 million he’s due to make on his 2013 Rams contract. Somewhere between $3 million and $5 million a year is probably more realistic.
“Obviously he’s expressed how much he’s enjoyed his time here,” Demoff said. “And I think for those that are around him, he was the happiest I’ve seen him at the end of the 2012 season with the direction of the team, with Coach Fisher, with this locker room.
“We really had a strong finish and he was part of that. He’s probably more encouraged about his future here than he may been at the beginning of the year. But that being said, he’s been a great player who’s never really gotten a chance to experience a deep playoff run or a Super Bowl.
“Obviously for any player who gets towards the end of their career, they’ve got to make a decision on how important that is to them. And whether they can get there in their current spot or whether they’ve gotta go somewhere else. I think he’ll make his decision on where he has the best chance of winning more than anything else.”
If that’s the case, it could be elsewhere for Jackson. But make no mistake, St. Louis and the Rams are a strong tug for him.
“The tide has turned around here,” Jackson said the day after the Rams’ season-ending loss to Seattle. “Last year at this time we were filled with uncertainty, and what direction we would go. Coach Fisher came in right away and made an impact, bring in guys like Cortland (Finnegan), and drafting guys like (Michael) Brockers and (Janorris) Jenkins.
“Those guys are going to be around here for a while. And are gonna help turn this franchise around. ... I would hate to watch this organization go and be successful — as I believe they will — without me.”
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