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St. Louis Rams: The Players to Keep - Steven Jackson

I'm not quite sure about the word "heroic" when it comes to sports. The term seems more readily reserved for soldiers serving their country, or firemen and police officers who save lives every day.

There are inspiring moments in sports, some even inspire Hollywood movies commemorating efforts in their "expansive" way. If "heroic" is applied to a player of sport - to me anyway - the definition can't be relegated to a few singular efforts or acts. It's about a body of work serving as proof that the player rose above an implicit challenge. He or she didn't just seize a day, they seized a career; a body of work...

The St. Louis Rams have been blessed with a player that defines "heroic" as it can be applied to sports. In the 2004 NFL Draft, the Rams selected a running back named Steven Rashad Jackson. He was given the jersey number "39", and told to step into the shadow, the legacy, of one of the most powerful offenses in NFL history as it slid into decline. The years that followed Jackson's draft with the 24th pick in the 2004 NFL draft have been marked with teammates moving on, coaches shown the door, and the game of football morphing into a "pass first" world. Throughout Steven Jackson's career, he has excelled in spite of the team around him...

Statistics and charts courtesy of one of my faaaaavorite NFL info sites - RotoWorld

Current Season Stats
Year Rushing Receiving Fumb. KO Ret Punt Ret
Year Team G Rush Yds Y/G Avg 100+ TD Rec Yds Y/G Avg 100+ TD Lost Yds TD Yds TD
2011 STL 15 260 1145 76.3 4.4 4 5 42 333 22.2 7.9 0 1 1 0 0 0 0
Career Stats
Year Rushing Receiving Fumb. KO Ret Punt Ret
Year Team G Rush Yds Y/G Avg 100+ TD Rec Yds Y/G Avg 100+ TD Lost Yds TD Yds TD
2004 STL 14 134 673 48.1 5.0 2 4 19 189 13.5 9.9 0 0 1 79 0 0 0
2005 STL 15 254 1046 69.7 4.1 2 8 43 320 21.3 7.4 0 2 3 0 0 0 0
2006 STL 16 346 1528 95.5 4.4 6 13 90 806 50.4 9.0 2 3 2 0 0 0 0
2007 STL 12 237 1002 83.5 4.2 2 5 38 271 22.6 7.1 0 1 2 0 0 0 0
2008 STL 12 254 1043 86.9 4.1 4 7 40 379 31.6 9.5 0 1 3 0 0 0 0
2009 STL 15 324 1416 94.4 4.4 7 4 51 322 21.5 6.3 0 0 2 0 0 0 0
2010 STL 16 330 1241 77.6 3.8 4 6 46 383 23.9 8.3 0 0 1 0 0 0 0
2011 STL 15 260 1145 76.3 4.4 4 5 42 333 22.2 7.9 0 1 1 0 0 0 0

In 2008, Jackson held out for a new contract, as his bargain basement 5 year - $7 million rookie contract wound down. He became the highest paid running back in the NFL at that time, signing a new six year contract in 2008 that at it's maximum could earn him $49.3 million over the life of the contract. The contract included $21 million in guarantees, some of which was covered in a $11.4 million signing bonus.

Steven Jackson has deserved every penny he been paid. The 2011 season for Jackson was marred by a freak injury in the Rams first game of the year. It turned out to be an omen of things to come for the Rams, as player after player fell to injuries that were at time bizarre, if not absurd. (See Cadillac Williams and Bradley Fletcher)

The 2012 season brings with it yet another change in coaching and front office regimes for Jackson and his Rams teammates. It also brings some new fiscal realities too. The Collective Bargaining Agreement signed after the 2011 NFL lockout has redefined player value, and not just for newly drafted players covered by the rookie salary cap. How it will all shake out will be interesting to see, with many seeing the new CBA as a boon for veteran players in free agency. Others are postulating that player value, at or near their career apogee, will be more closely watched than ever before as Salary Cap pressure builds, and ways to aleviate it are sought.

While everyone ruminates over this player or that, the cold hard facts are that in the St. Louis Rams current Salary Cap state, ($10 miliion +- under the CAP) the front office, ownership, and coaches will be examining virtually ever player on the team. They will look at obvious player with behemoth contracts that haven't performed. (see: Jason Smith) They will also be looking at Steven Jackson, and will try to establish some kind of cost to benefit ratio to establish his future or immediate worth.

Steven Jackson's contract

"8/21/2008: Signed a six-year, $44.805 million contract. The deal contains $20.5 million guaranteed, including an $11.395 million signing bonus. Another $4.495 million is available through incentives. He must average 1,200 yards rushing and 400 yards receiving over the first four years to void the final two seasons on his contract. 2011: $7.2 million, 2012-2013: $7 million (Voidable Years), 2014: Free Agent" - Via RotoWorld and the St. Louis Post Dispatch

The St. Louis Rams new head coach, Jeff Fisher, has a history of being a "Run First" kind of coach. His new offensive coordinator, Brian Schottenheimer, is said to be a "run oriented" guy too. If this were 2006, with Jackson coming off a great season, no one would even think about #39 as a possible fiscal casualty. Personally, I'd be appalled if Steven Jackson's career with the Rams ended based on a "penny here - penny there" mentality.

If you consider the highest paid running backs in the NFL today, Jackson's contract is so reasonable, that it borders on the ridiculous (See: Chris Johnson). Steven Jackson has value that transcends his statistics. His leadership on the team is second to none. If every Rams player had Jackson's work ethic, the St. Louis Rams headquarters would be littered with Lombardi Trophy-s. On a team with few shining lights, Steven Jackson has quietly been a beacon.

On game day at the Edward Jones Dome, as players are introduced, applause fills the air. When Steven Jackson appears through whatever simulated smoke or fireworks the Rams PR people dream up, you see someone that's different. Someone that inspires thoughts of the heroic...