Swan song for Steven Jackson?

5 hours ago • By Jim Thomas jthomas@post-dispatch.com 314-340-8197

Both parties are saying all the right things, and sound sincere in their sentiments. But when it comes to the business of the NFL, happy endings are far from guaranteed.

So when Steven Jackson runs out of the tunnel shortly before noon Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, it could be his last appearance as a Ram in the Edward Jones Dome.

“We’ve stated all along that we hope he’ll be able to finish his career here,” coach Jeff Fisher said Thursday.

“I expect to be back next year,” Jackson said Thursday.

But Isaac Bruce didn’t finish his career as a Ram, nor did Torry Holt. If it can happen to them, it can happen to anybody.

When the possibility of Sunday being Jackson’s Rams home finale was broached with quarterback Sam Bradford, he said, “Man, I just got goose-bumps when you asked me that.”

And not the good kind.

“Jack’s been probably the most valuable asset that this organization has had since he’s been here — at least since I’ve been here,” Bradford said. “Jack’s a guy that’s always done things the right way.”

“He’s helped me so much in my maturity. Just helped me become a leader. Helped me handle different situations, tough situations. It’s really hard for me to imagine this locker room without Jack because he’s been such a big part of it for my time here.”

The scenario should be familiar to most Rams fans by now. Jackson has an option to void the final year of his contract and thus become a free agent after this season. It was an unusual compromise reached between the Rams and Jackson’s agent just before the start of this season after failed attempts to agree on a contract extension. Jackson is due $7 million in 2013 under his existing contract.

He may want to test the market. The Rams may want to take the $7 million off the books, in part because running backs can lose it in a hurry once they hit 30 — an age Jackson reaches next summer. Then again, the sides may try once more to agree on an extension that’s more cap friendly for the Rams.

“It’ll be something that I look forward to dealing with and handling at the end of the year,” Jackson said, adding, “I’m very optimistic that I’ll finish my career as a Ram.”

As for the possibility of this being his final Rams home game?

“Have I thought about it? Yes, I have,” Jackson said. “Will the emotion be high? It’ll be high because Adrian Peterson is on the sideline.”

That would be Minnesota Vikings star running back Adrian Peterson, who enters the game as the NFL’s leading rusher with 1,600 yards, and on a tear. Jackson always gets excited at the prospect of going head-to-head with another marquee back.

“I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t,” Jackson said. “He’s having an unbelievable year. I’m actually really happy for him, the way he’s bounced back (from knee surgery). It’s very inspirational. To see him play with the passion and the grit and the attitude that I think the game should be played, it’s pretty amazing.”

While Peterson is streaking towards 2,000 yards rushing and the possibility of breaking Eric Dickerson’s NFL single-season record of 2,105 yards, Jackson is closing in on some meaningful milestones of his own.

With 71 yards rushing Sunday against Minnesota, he becomes the 27th player in NFL history with 10,000 career yards rushing. He would be only the 15th to rush for 10,000-plus with one team.

And with three games to go, Jackson needs 164 yards rushing to reach 1,000 yards for the eighth consecutive season. Only five players in NFL history have rushed for 1,000-plus in eight or more consecutive seasons: Emmitt Smith (11 straight), Barry Sanders (10), Curtis Martin (10), Thurman Thomas (8), and LaDainian Tomlinson (8). Not exactly a bunch of ham-and-eggers there.

“It doesn’t say enough about him, just because it’s not easy to run the football in this league,” Bradford said. “When you can do it for eight straight years and get over a thousand yards, No. 1, it means that you’re a heck of a runner.

“But No. 2, you’ve been able to stay healthy. And with the beating that he takes week in and week out, for him to be able to play each week and play at the level that he does, it’s incredible because a lot of guys can’t do it.”

Jackson, who has been slowed by a nagging foot injury the past few weeks, has missed only 11 games over his eight seasons as a full-time starter.

“Nine years ago when I came in here, I was always taught to be consistent and to be dependable,” Jackson said. “That’s what I’ve tried to be my whole entire career. For me to put myself in this position to be able to hit these milestones, it says that I’ve done just that.

“I share these accomplishments not only with myself, but the guys that are in the locker room, the guys that I played with in the past. Everyone’s contributed to my success.”

When he passed Dickerson as the Rams’ all-time rushing leader, that game was played at Tampa Bay in 2010. Last season, when he became just the seventh player in NFL history with seven or more consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, that game was in Pittsburgh.

For a change, Jackson has a chance to reach a milestone in a home game, particularly hitting 10,000.

“I would like to be able to give our fans that,” Jackson said. “They’ve been very supportive of me through my career. I have to go out there and do my job, though, and that’s to go out there and run hard.”

As always, he will have some help trying to get there Sunday.

“Just as much as those 71 yards matter to him, the same thing matters to us,” left tackle Rodger Saffold said. “Whether it’s grudgingly or whether it’s easy, we’re gonna try and do our best to get that to him.”

When all is said and done, Fisher may have just one season as Jackson’s coach. But it has been a good season.

“He’s been nothing but a professional,” Fisher said. “I know he’s finally having fun. He’s expressed that. He’s got great leadership qualities, and he loves Sundays. He’s got the capability to take over a game — and we like guys that like Sundays.”

Even though he split time with rookie Daryl Richardson early in the season. Even with some nagging injuries. Even with the contract issue looming, Jackson does seem happier this season.

“I think everybody can see the direction we’re headed,” Fisher said. “Winning takes care of a lot of things. And fortunately, we’ve got a couple under our belt now, and he’s been a big part of it. He’s gonna be a big part of how we finish as well.”