The St. Louis Rams figure to have new leadership in the building come January. Whatever the composition of the new cabal, they have their work cut out for them, turning around a franchise now more identified with eight years of losing than any Show in the past. Their first task will be evaluating the roster they inherit casting an eye toward the 2012 NFL Draft and, more urgently, the free agent season. One of the first questions to ask in reshaping the roster for 2012, should the Rams trade running back Steven Jackson?
On a visceral level, fans say no. There's an attachment to Jackson, who was plays his tail off here, despite the franchise's ability to put a winner around him. For me, I'd really hate to him leave, but the business and practical side outweighs the sentimental.
Had the Rams season gone more like everyone envisioned, Jackson would have been able to opt out of his contract. All he needed to do was reach an average of 400 receiving yards and 1,200 rushing yards per season between 2008 and 2011. That isn't going to happen, and he'll be under contract with the Rams for two more seasons at $7 million per year.
The losing is taking its toll on Jackson, and he deserves a shot with a team that has a real shot at the Super Bowl. For St. Louis, they could use the draft picks or player(s) they could get in return for Jackson. They could also use the cap space. When we talked to Rams COO Kevin Demoff in October, he told us that the Rams will be "somewhat constricted" against the cap in 2012, with about $10 million in cap space. Adding $7 million back into the pool doesn't necessarily mean they should go on a spending frenzy, but a new regime will be looking to bring in their own players.
Jackson is averaging 4.6 yards per carry, his best since 2004. He also figures to break the 1,000-yard mark for rushing for the seventh consecutive season of his career. His numbers will suffer over these last four games, with tough defenses and an offensive line made of wet cardboard. Despite that, he would still be a very desirable asset to competitive teams. The Detroit Lions could certainly use him in a pairing with Jahvid Best next year, and with Cleveland fed up with Peyton Hillis, there's another former coach who could make the call.
As for the potential return, it's hard to say. Jackson will be 29 next season, but he is still productive and an asset to any locker room. Buffalo traded Marshawn Lynch to the Seahawks last year for a fourth-round pick and a conditional pick. New England traded Laurence Maroney and a sixth-round pick to Denver last year (one of Josh McDaniels' ill-fated personnel moves) for a fourth-round pick. Jackson should be worth at least a third-round pick, if not a second.
It was hard to watch the Rams move away pieces of the old GSOT, guys like Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt and Orlando Pace. Fans dealt with it because it signaled ushering in what then looked to be a promising new era. A new regime will come to Rams Park with the same goal, and, hopefully, will be better qualified to make it happen. It would be just as difficult to watch Jackson get traded away, but the guy deserves a shot at winning, just like Rams fans do.