The St. Louis Rams are set for a starting running back. Steven Jackson is easily one of the best all-around backs in the league, a guy who can do it all for the offense on every snap. There's just no way the Rams would draft any player other than a complementary, backup running back for Jackson, right? Not necessarily.
One name that continued to surface in Jim Thomas' chat with fans over at the PD yesterday is that of Alabama RB Mark Ingram. The 2009 Heisman Trophy winner is easily the best running back in the 2011 NFL Draft and a sure fire first round pick. Unlike his former teammate WR Julio Jones, Ingram is also likely to be on the board still when the Rams make their pick at #14. Thomas said in his chat that the Rams "like" Ingram, and how could they not?
But doesn't that seem a little, um, unnecessary given that the Rams already have Steven Jackson?
It sure does, on the surface, but there's a lot more to it than just doubling up on talent. First and foremost, Ingram could be the best player available to the Rams with their pick. Split carries aside, the pairing of Jackson and Ingram gives the Rams a double threat in the backfield on any down. They could use Ingram on some of those pounding short yardage situations. Jackson could see more work on third downs, where his skill sets make him one of the best third down backs in the league. And just imagine what the offense could do with both backs on the field for plays, one in the slot, one in the back or whatever combination you choose.
As far as the time share is concerned, it carries the obvious benefits, saving some wear and tear on Jackson. And, should the Rams lose Jackson to injury for any extended period of time, having Ingram wouldn't leave strip their offense of a key dimension.
Jackson makes no secret of his desire to carry a full load. Why would he? He carried the Rams on his back for a long time. I can't imagine he'd be happy about sharing carries, but the veteran leader could probably live with it.
Drafting Ingram entails another financial concern in that it would tie up a fair share of money in two running backs. Jackson will make $7.2 million this season and $7 million each year in 2012 and 2013 before hitting free agency.
However, there's a potential out clause in Jackson's contract that will have a lot to do with his performance this year. The final two years of his deal are voidable if he averages 1,200 yards rushing and 400 yards receiving over the first four years of the deal, 2008-2011. Through three years, SJ is averaging 1,233 rushing yards and 361 receiving yards. Getting his receiving yards up and maintaining his rushing yards average is going to be harder to do with more help in the running game. It is possible. And if does meet those targets and voids the last two years of his deal, the Rams would have a running back ready to go with Ingram on the roster. Jackson would probably want out of time-share situation in that case too, and land a big time free agent deal with a couple years left as full-time No. 1 running back.
If he doesn't meet those benchmarks, the Rams might be looking for a way out from his deal, with two well-paid running backs on the roster, providing that they drafted Ingram. Football is likely to happen this year, but under the 2010 rules, which means no rookie salary cap, i.e. rookies making what they've always been making. Last year's 14th picks, Seattle S Earl Thomas, signed a four-year deal worth $21 million and $12.3 guaranteed. Granted that's not as much as what Jackson makes, it would still be costly enough to force the team to decide on tying up those resources in two running backs. Remember, by 2012, there could very well be a cap in place again.
Something to think about...