It's a done deal, or it will be soon enough. Steven Jackson, the St. Louis Rams all-time leading rusher and one of only five backs to run for more than 1,000 yards in eight straight seasons, will void the final year of his contract, according to the Post-Dispatch. On March 12, Jackson will be a free agent.
The news does not come as a surprise. Jackson was reportedly leaning toward voiding his deal with the Rams, part of a restructured contract he and the team worked out last year. Rams executive VP Kevin Demoff told TST at the Combine that he expected Jackson to reach free agency this year, even as both sides were talking.
St. Louis could still bring him back into the fold. Head coach Jeff Fisher and GM Les Snead have both praised Jackson lately, both for his on-field ability and his leadership inside the team's locker room. Snead revealed during his Combine press conference that he keeps a picture of Jackson in pass blocking hanging in his office. In hindsight, the sweet talk may be part of the effort to bring Jackson back to St. Louis at a friendlier rate this season.
That could be difficult. A number of other teams are in the market for running back help, teams with more money to spend on free agents, even 30-year old running backs. ESPN's Adam Schefter said he believed that another team would be willing to pay $7 million a season for him.
He'll definitely be the biggest name on the market at running back, even with questions about his age. The good news for interested teams is that the Rams have limited his workload last season and the year before. He had just 257 carries last season, but still managed to rush for 1,042 yards and an average of 4.1 yards per carry.
Ideally, Jackson would land with a team that leans heavily on the pass and/or pairs him with a second, speedier back. Green Bay was reportedly interested in Jackson last year at the trade deadline, and that would certainly give him a solid chance at a late-career Super Bowl run. Dallas has been mentioned as an option in the past. He could split time with DeMarco Murray.
It's hard to understate Jackson's place with the Rams and the entire NFL. His 10,135 yards lead both Eric Dickerson and Marshall Faulk, by almost 3,000 yards. It's a record unlikely to be touched for a long, long time. His 56 rushing touchdowns are the second-most of any Rams running back. Unfortunately for Jackson, the Rams were mostly incompetent beyond him through his career in St. Louis. His stats could have been even better had the offenses he played with been able to move the ball and block with any frequency.
As a fan, the idea of the Rams without Jackson is a bitter pill to swallow, a painful reminder of how the business works. Soon enough, we'll have his bust in Canton and his jersey hanging in the rafters to mark his place with the team and within the game. Our memories of No. 39 eating up turf, juking linebacker and running over the 49ers will never fade.